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What are the Best Tips for Seed Germination?

By Ray Hawk
Updated May 17, 2024
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The best tips for seed germination apply to almost all seeds, but their effectiveness will depend on how old the seeds are and what type they are. The primary ways to aid in seed sprouting are to introduce the presence of water; create a flaw in the seed shell, if possible, such as a nick, crack, or cut; and to alternate temperature levels. The embryo of a seed is sustained by endosperm, a form of food source that keeps it alive in a dormant state. Though some seeds can seem to last forever before use, such as varieties of lotus known to survive for over 2,000 years, others such as maple seeds need to be germinated within two weeks or they will die.

Pre-soaking seeds overnight in water prior to planting them is an effective first step in seed germination. For small seed or those that tend to sprout easily, placing them inside several layers of wet paper towels will provide enough exposure to water. If the seeds are old and seed germination is questionable, other steps should also be taken before they are planted in the ground or in a container.

Larger seeds will benefit in seed germination success if you nick the seed coating slightly prior to planting it. The testa, or seed shell, should be gently breached with fingernails or a fine piece of sandpaper on a side of the seed away from where it sprouts. Soaking them in water or wet paper towels after this will give the embryo inside an easier time at penetrating the testa.

Temperature changes can help with seed sprouting as well because it mimics the processes of nature. Seeds that normally are dormant in the ground during a cold winter season can benefit by being placed in the freezer for a few days prior to planting. Other seeds of plants native to warmer climates that get wet and cold in the winter, but not extremely so, will benefit by being placed in a wet environment in the refrigerator. Refrigerated seeds can be planted first and watered as long as the surface of the pot is covered so that the moisture doesn't evaporate away.

Some gardening experts also recommend adding a small amount of dish detergent into the water that the seedsare soaked in. This changes the composition of the water slightly, allowing it to more easily penetrate the seed testa. Basic liquid soap, if diluted, has no adverse effect on most plants, from seed germination to mature stages, as long as they continue to receive adequate water and sunlight.

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Discussion Comments
By Heavanet — On Jan 14, 2015

@ocelot60- Your tips sound very much like the methods my grandfather used when planted seeds in his gardens. I always enjoyed helping him, and monitoring the seeds as they sprouted. His gardens were always full of a large variety of healthy, strong vegetable plants.

By Ocelot60 — On Jan 13, 2015

I think that this article has a lot of interesting tips for getting seeds to germinate. I have been gardening for years, and have always just put the seeds in the ground. This has always seemed to work for me, though I may try piercing my larger pumpkin seeds this upcoming growing season to see if that helps them sprout faster.

When I have plant seeds, I always simply put them in soil that I watered just before planting them. Then I cover them loosely with well-tilled soil. This not only gives the seeds the moisture they need to sprout, but the nutrients in the soil get them off to a good start for creating healthy plants.

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