For any gardener, few projects are more rewarding than planting a seed and watching it grow. Most seeds need little more than warm, moist soil to grow...
The first step is simple: start with good seeds. They should be less than a year old, come from a reputable source or brand, and be suitable for your growing region. The backs of seed packets are valuable information sources when it comes to growing conditions, timing and overall plant care.
Seeds need to germinate in a growing medium that is different than the soil in the ground. There are seed starting soils available to ensure the proper growing medium. The key is to not start your seeds indoors too early, so they are not too large when you transplant them outside.
A number of seed species, such as spinach and morning glory seeds are somewhat impervious to water and gases, which can delay germination, for instance spinach and morning glory seeds. You can improve germination if the seeds are “scuffed” right before planting, a process known as scarification. It can be as simple as lightly scratching the surface with some light-grade sandpaper or a metal file. Scarification alters the seed coat and makes it more permeable to water. However, scarified seeds should be planted as soon as possible, as the protective coating has just been compromised.
Another technique to jump-start seeds is stratification. Seeds from plants native to temperate zones actually require a cold period to germinate, something that happens naturally during the winter. By imitating nature, you can get an earlier start on the season by artificially chilling seeds. There are a number of ways to stratify seeds. A common method includes protecting the seeds in a mixture like a peat moss, placing seeds into a plastic bag and keeping them in a refrigerator at a temperature somewhere between 4 to 5 degrees C, making sure they don’t freeze. After the required chilling period, they are removed and planted in pots allowing them to germinate and sprout. Again, the key is researching the appropriate stratification process for the seeds you intend to plant.
A third and time-honored technique is seed soaking. And it is a popular for seeds like edible peas, sweet peas, parsley, beets and chard. The process is simple: placing seeds in tepid water, generally for more than 4 hours but fewer than 24 hours. When soaking seeds, it is important to discard those that float to the top, as they could be considered “bad” for planting. Then, after the appropriate soaking period, plant them in a container with a seed starting medium as soon as possible. Another soaking method is to place the seeds between layers of wet paper towels.
Whatever process you choose, starting seeds ahead of the spring thaw will give you a jump on a season’s worth of growing enjoyment. All it takes is a little extra time along with a few tools and materials found in most households., as well as some simple research—in your favorite gardening magazine or book, online, or at your local garden center-- to make sure the seeds you plan to plant have the best chances to sprout.
*Generally, if purchased in a seed packet, processes like scarification and stratification are not needed.