Information about the effects of biological soil crusts (BSC) on germination, seedling survival and growth of vascular plants is controversial because they can have positive, neutral or negative effects. This controversy may be because most studies conducted until now have just analysed one or two recruitment stages independently. To understand the BSC effects on vascular plants, it is necessary to consider each stage of the recruitment process and synthesise all this information. The goal of this study was twofold. First, we analyse germination, seedling survival and growth of three vascular plants (Agave marmorata, Prosopis laevigata and Neobuxbaumia tetetzo) on BSC (cyanobacteria and mixed crust) from a tropical desert region of south-central México. Second, we synthesise the information to determine the total effect of BSC on plant species performance. We conducted experiments under controlled conditions to evaluate the proportion of germinated seeds, proportion of surviving seedlings and seedling dry weight in BSC and bare soil. Results showed that BSC have different effects on germination, seedling survival and growth of plant species. Plant species performance was qualitatively higher on BSC than bare soil. The highest performance of A. marmorata and P. laevigata was observed on cyanobacteria and mixed crusts, respectively. The highest performance of N. tetetzo was on both crust types.