The Q&A Archives: Echinacea Germination

Question: I started echinacea purpurea seeds almost two weeks ago, supplying bottom heat. I used a large flat with about 100 seeds, and so far only 5 have emerged. I have read that the germination rate for echinacea is low. Now I am concerned- should I take the plastic humidity cover off, lower the bottom heat and supply bright light for the sake of the seedlings, or keep conditions as they were so that more will germinate? Can I move seedlings with just seed leaves to separate containers?

Answer: Echinacea can take three or even four weeks to germinate at about 70 degrees (I'm not sure the mat is necessary), so don't give up yet! If the rate is still lousy the next step is to cold stratify them by setting the pan in a cold spot (say between 30 and 40 degrees) for three or four weeks, then bring them out and try again. This is the type of situation where starting the seeds in a tiny pan and moving them out as they germinate is pretty much a necessity.

I am assuming here that you have put the flat in a bright spot out of direct sun and covered the flat with clear plastic to maintain constant levels of moisture and humidity. The moisture level of the soil should be like a wrung out sponge so that there is not much condensation at all on the cover. If not, that might be part of the problem with slow germination.

Obviously, you will have to move the ones that have emerged to a separate container before you chill the rest of them. Whether or not to do it now while waiting for more to germinate is a tough call. They will be healthier in fresh air (humidity in that closed container can cause all kinds of problems) and definitely must have bright direct light as soon as they come up -- but moving the entire pan to those conditions may risk allowing the seeds to dry out and if that happens the remaining seeds will die. I would move the flat under fluorescent lights and tent the plastic wrap or raise the cover a tad as a compromise. I would also remove the heat mat. Otherwise, I think you will have to move the early sprouters and hope the rest come on soon in more of a group. You can do it if you are careful.

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