Soaking seeds earlier than planting: is it crucial?

Are you just starting to grow from seeds? That's OK! It's a great time to start! Growing from seeds is a wonderful option for people who love gardening. All of these seedlings can add up in price, and often a whole world of diversity is available to people growing from seeds. If you're just starting out and have grown from seeds for a while, it's a good idea to soak the seeds before planting. This can have a dramatic impact on your germination rate and overall gardening success!

Soaking seeds gives your plants a jump start at the very beginning of their life. The water both softens the seed coat and supplies the inside of the seed with water. Once soaked, seeds and the plants within them use this moisture to grow and encourage new growth.

By soaking the seeds before planting, especially in a well-lit area, you mimick the rainy weather and lighting conditions that seeds would be exposed to in nature. The difference is that you do this in a bowl on your counter rather than outside in the elements. If possible, expose your soaked seeds to some heat too, warm enough for a cozy space but not too much that it would be too hot to touch.

Not all seeds are good when soaked. Some seeds like violas need moisture and darkness. Some are too small to soak and just crumble. Others are biologically programmed to sprout after a fire … why? Because then the competition for light and water will just die out! Some seeds have a very thick shell and are used to going through an animal's digestive system and so may benefit from a method known as scarification before soaking. Every seed is different. With a little research, you can find out what conditions your seeds are optimal for.

Before you soak your seeds, it is a good idea to assess the size of your seeds. Is it big enough to handle once soaked? Is it papery? Or difficult? Do a little research and make sure you soak the seeds before planting what needs to be done with your seeds. Each plant has its own needs for heat, light and water.

Is it necessary to soak seeds?

Should you soak seeds before planting? We're going to look into that today. Source: Carol Browne

Gardens are often quite forgiving. The plants we see all around us wouldn't be here if nature didn't have this wonderful little trick to find a way to survive. Even so, we often try to get plants from across the world to grow in a location that doesn't suit their natural climate or growing conditions. Because it does so often, soaking your seeds is a great way to start your seed life.

The natural way to germinate seeds is to let nature be nature. Nature leaves seeds on the ground for the animals to eat and poop, or leaves them for the elements to get wet to start the germination process. In this way, people can find “volunteers” from last year's harvest in their garden.

However, if you are excited about growing a certain type of pepper, or are just trying to grow a certain type of flower that you have never grown before, you don't want to leave this to chance. Plants produce thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of seeds with the chance that only 2-3 will survive and reach adulthood and reproduce. If you went through the hassle of buying seeds or getting them from a friend, then these are not the chances to be okay with.

As a rule of thumb, if you don't soak your seeds before planting, your seeds will still sprout. However, with soaking, the germination time decreases and the germination rate increases. Seeds that are constantly absorbing moisture have a much higher chance of success. If you have a schedule or the climate only gives you a short window of time to grow, soaking your seeds can make all the difference in getting the most out of your garden.

What happens when you soak seeds?

Seeds consist of baby plant parts that are surrounded by a seed coat. While the insides of a Monocot and Dicot seed are different, in both cases the seed coat is in place to protect the baby plant until the right time to germinate. They contain the parts that will sprout and become the plant's first leaves and stems, as well as food for its initial growth. The seed coat is part of the seed's natural defenses against the harsh forces in nature. It prevents the seed from sprouting when conditions are not optimal. By soaking the seeds, you are telling the seed that it is the right time to germinate and become a plant.

For example, let's think of a sweet pea. Sweet peas are early season harvests. They produce beautiful flowers and a wonderful scent that is said to induce bees to pollinate them. After flowering, seed pods will grow that are similar to other pea pods, but with a slightly more furry appearance. They stay on the vine and eventually mature and dry out. A single pod contains many seeds, sometimes 10 or more, and the plant produces up to a thousand seeds. These seeds then go through a hot summer (which can be wet or dry), autumn, and winter. These seeds do not need to germinate until the seed feels that it is cool enough and wet enough for the plant to live a full life and reproduce.

For gardeners looking for their precious sweet pea seeds and bringing them in safely for safekeeping, these seeds will not encounter the normal forces in nature that would wear down the seed coat over time. It can go through a digestive system, or be crossed by animals, or get stuck between rocks. In late fall or early winter, when it is time to start the growing process, a gardener soaks the seeds after stealing the seed coat and soaking it for 24 hours. This process mimics what the seed would go through in nature, but does it when and where the gardener wants it to grow. This process is known as seed scarification.

What kind of seeds does a presoak need?

Not all seeds are easy to water. Small seeds in particular can clump together in the water and be a nightmare to work with afterwards. Larger seeds with a thick seed outside are ideal for soaking to kickstart the germination process. Others that are wrinkled seeds, like peas, do especially well after soaking. After you put these seeds in water, they will be plump and ready to sow the sow right away.

A short list of seeds that like to be soaked are peas, beans, squashes and other winter squash, Swiss chard, beets, sunflowers, lupins, beans, and cucumbers. Most other medium to large sized vegetable and flower seeds with thick layers will benefit from soaking.

What types of pre-soaked seeds can be sown directly?

After you've soaked your seeds for 12 to 24 hours, many larger seeds can be sown straight into your garden. This has the advantage that seeds do their best when sown directly – the process of transplanting seedlings slows the growth of a plant somewhat and prevents its roots from reaching the depth they would otherwise have grown to. While this is not an option for everyone, especially those growing in confined spaces or in regions with frost. Direct sowing should, however, take place whenever possible.

Are there any seeds that you shouldn't soak?

Pumpkin seeds are soakedPumpkin seeds are soaked well before planting. Source: Call me a safe bet

There are a lot of small seeds that don't really benefit from soaking. Not so much because they don't have a seed coat that needs moisture to trigger germination, but because they are so small that planting wet little seeds is just not practical.

Smaller seeds like basil, chia, tomato, lettuce, black-eyed susan, foxglove, and lisianthus are examples of times when you shouldn't soak your seeds. Simply sowing in trays or no-till in areas where you can keep the soil evenly moist should be sufficient. They still work similarly – their seed coats need to be moist to germinate, but watering first thing in the morning and keeping the area in the shade will speed up their germination time and get growth in no time. Tomatoes, basil, and chia in particular all have a seed coat that absorbs and holds moisture around the seed to improve germination. Hence, all they need to survive is to keep soil moisture constant.

There are also seeds like zinnias and bachelor buttons that have a paper-like seed coat. These seeds come from very arid regions where seeds sprout at the first sign of rain. These seeds can be sown directly into moist soil without first soaking.

Other germination methods besides soaking

Seeds can germinate using other methods as well. Try placing smaller seeds like tomato or pepper seeds on a damp paper towel, damp sphagnum moss, or finely textured moistened vermiculite. Keep the medium evenly moist with filtered water (not tap water). In this way, the constant moisture helps the seeds to germinate. These seeds shouldn't be submerged in water as they can stick together or dissolve if there is too much water. Starting seeds is pretty easy with this method.

Let the seeds soak up the water and watch for signs of germination. Be sure to spray every 12 hours to keep it from drying out. Once the seeds have germinated, transfer them to seed trays or directly into your garden. Keep in mind that seeds generally need to be planted at twice the depth of the seed unless your seed supplier advises otherwise. And if the seed sticks to the paper towel, tear out the segment of the paper towel that it is stuck to and plant it!

There are several other unusual ways to produce seeds that result from the wide range of climates around the world. Various plants have only evolved to germinate at certain times during a year or after major events such as a fire.

Some seeds, especially tree seeds like tulip trees, golden rain trees, oak trees, and chewing gum, require long periods of refrigeration before they reach the right conditions for germination. These can benefit from a short time in the refrigerator's freezer drawer before soaking and planting.

How to soak seeds

Soak variety of seedsA variety of seeds soaked in preparation for planting. Source: Aismist

Use a regular bowl or glass to soak your seeds and fill it with filtered warm water. If the water is too hot for you to put your finger in, it will be too hot for your seeds. Aim for water that is barely warm to the touch, but not hot. Soak the seeds in water and let the pre-soak process continue for 8-24 hours depending on the size of the seeds. Try using filtered water instead of tap water if available and don't let them soak for more than 24 hours.

Immediately after the soaking time has expired, the seeds must be planted out. They cannot dry out again as this would keep them from germinating in the first place. Make sure you know where the seeds are going and that you have either your yard or the seed trays ready when you start soaking the seeds.

After soaking and transplanting the seeds, make sure the soil remains continuously moist for the first few weeks of growth. While your seeds are in this tender and young state, they cannot dry out without the risk of dying off. At a young age, their roots extend only a few inches deep into the ground and they need moisture close to the ground. Once they are established, you can water less frequently and prepare to enjoy the fruits of your garden!

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