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I have planted Russian heirloom Black Cherry tomato seeds twice now (4 seeds in total) and I have not had a succesful germination. I have planted in potting soil as opposed to the recommended soilless growing medium, but I would expect this to not matter. What could be going wrong? Does anyone have experience with this species? (Note, many of my other seedlings are thriving.)

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@bstpierre has a lot of good tips. I would also plant a lot more seeds. With peppers (very similar), I find germination rates vary by condition and variety. Even one end of a seed tray might do better than the other end due to water, sun, etc. –  winwaed Apr 15 '12 at 15:32
    
Yes, what @winwaed said. I've even seen one end of a seed tray do better when I've got them positioned under lights in what should be a uniform, controlled environment! –  bstpierre Apr 15 '12 at 23:26
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up vote 6 down vote accepted

I've grown cherry tomatoes, but never Black Cherry.

Some possibilities, in decreasing order that I would suspect:

  • Old seed, or seed that was poorly stored (too warm and/or too much humidity)
  • Too low temperature for germination (though if you have other tomato seeds that have germinated ok, this probably isn't the cause)
  • You didn't wait long enough -- in my experience, some varieties take longer to germinate than others.
  • Failed to keep the growing medium moist during germination.
  • Kept the growing medium too wet during germination.
  • You used soil from your garden and it has some kind of germination inhibitor. (E.g. winter rye was growing where you took the soil.) But you said "potting soil" so I'm assuming this is bagged soil from a store, so this is highly improbable, and I'm only listing it for completeness.

Things you could do to increase the odds of germination:

  • Keep the soil temperature at 75°-80°F during germination. (A heat mat with thermostat would probably be the best bet. I also frequently hear putting them on top of your fridge as a recommendation. I don't do either, but I haven't really had germination problems except when I use old seed.)
  • Use a sterile, soilless medium.
  • This won't increase your germination percentage, but it will increase the likelihood that you will get a successful germination: plant more. Yes, this may waste seed, but if it isn't germinating anyway, what are you going to lose?
  • If you're using seed that you have held over from a previous year, and you haven't stored it under ideal conditions, give up on this batch and either plant a different variety or buy some fresh seed.

If you do everything right, and you're still not getting a high percentage germinating, you should complain to your seed vendor and/or find a better vendor.

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The seed was new and the supplier should be reliable, they are the major seed supplier in Ontario. I might not have watered enough, although I checked the moistness of the soil with my fingers and never found it to be dry - maybe this means I overwatered. I will go with increased seeds to see if I get a germination. I have a 'salsa' pepper and some asparagus that are refusing to germinate also. Maybe this means my potting soil (fresh from a bag) is not great. –  Om Patange Apr 15 '12 at 22:00
    
One reason the soilless "seed starting" mix is often recommended is that it is usually made of a vermiculite and peat (or similar) mix, and so it is free draining (the vermiculite) while retaining just enough moisture to germinate seeds (the peat). It's also very fine and light, so small seeds don't have any problem pushing through the surface. –  bstpierre Apr 15 '12 at 23:24
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