Abstract Seed germination and seedling growth of Zostera marina L. were monitored in the Chesapeake Bay in 1979 and 1980. Harvested seeds were placed in small acrylic tubes at several sites representing the salinity range of Z. marina distribution. Seed germination was observed first in late September and continued through May, with peaks in the fall and spring. The majority of seeds that germinated (66%) did so between December and March when water temperatures ranged from 0–10°C. There was no correlation between sites (different salinity regimes) and frequency of germination rates, indicating that salinity was not a major factor in the germination process in this study. Additional information on seed germination was available for seeds collected in 1977 and 1980 and subsequently monitored for germination at only one site. These data were similar to germination frequency recorded in 1979–1980. Seedling growth was measured from individuals collected from an existing Zostera marina bed. Seedlings were collected from November through May, at which time we could no longer distinguish seedlings from existing vegetative stock. Growth was characterized by the increased length of the primary shoot, number of leaves per shoot and numbers of shoots per plant. Seedling growth was slow during the winter months (water temperature ⩽ 10°C) but rapidly increased in the spring (temperatures > 10°C). The size range of the harvested seedlings indicated that seed germination in the field probably occurred from October through April, corroborating evidence from the seed germination experiments.