Soaking seeds is an old trick that many new gardeners ignore or never knew to try. Using this trick is supposed to decrease how long it takes for seeds to germinate.
When I first heard of this trick, I wondered if soaking seeds was really necessary? Does it ACTUALLY make a difference?
Being the skeptical gardener that I am, I had to try it for myself.
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Why You Should Soak Seeds Before Planting
In nature, seeds encounter different conditions. The weather can be hot or cold, wet or dry, or your seed may live in a bird or small animal’s stomach for a while. Life is not gentle on seeds.
But, we are gentle with the seeds. Soaking seeds before you plant them helps break down the natural defenses your seed develops to defend itself against Mother Nature. Breaking down the defenses leads to faster germination.
Another reason to soak seeds is to activate their internal gauge to germination mode. Seeds determine when it is time to germinate by the moisture content around them. Increased moisture sends the – hey its time to sprout – signal to the seed.
So, soaking seeds before planting quickly increases the moisture content around the seeds. In turn, all of the moisture sends a memo to your seeds that it’s a safe time to start growing.
Another interesting reason to soak seeds is that some seeds contain germination inhibitors. What does that mean? Well, inhibitors stop seeds from germinating inside of the fruit.
So, in nature, rainfall washes away the inhibitors, allowing the seed to eventually germinate. It does take some time for this to happen. If you soak seeds at home before planting, you wash away the inhibitors faster and speed up this process.
So, soaking seeds is going to speed up germination. I know I like faster germination, but I don’t have much patience.
Soaking Seeds: Is It for All Seeds?
Big, wrinkled seeds are the best candidates for soaking. These seeds have a very hard coat.
Some seeds you might want to soak are:
Don’t soak little seeds, such as lettuce or radishes. They don’t reap the benefits, and wet, small seeds are hard to handle.
Examples of seeds that you don’t want to soak include:
How Do You Soak Seeds?
Soaking seeds is easy! All you need is a bowl of water and the seeds. Fill up your bowl with hot, tap water. Put your seeds into the bowl, and let them stay in there as the water cools down.
I had some readers ask about the temperature of the water. Typically, you want it as hot as your tap allows. Some seeds can even tolerate boiling water, but that varies species by species.
So, I recommend using hot water around 120 degrees F.
You can find other recommendations that suggest you substitute water for acidic solutions, like weak tea or coffee. The idea behind using acid is that it imitates the stomach acid of an animal, but you don’t HAVE to do this. It’s an optional idea.
You can over soak a seed, so you can’t leave them in the water and come back in five days. You never want to soak for more than 48 hours. The recommended soaking time is 12 to 24 hours. Put them in the water before you go to bed, and they will be ready for planting the next morning. Just put the seeds right into your garden!
Other Tips for Soaking Seeds
Don’t soak your seeds if the weather forecast calls for rain the day you are planting. You want good planting conditions if you want to plant soaked seeds. Otherwise, the seeds will soak too much, and the soil will be compacted.
Large, harder seeds sometimes benefit from scarification. That basically means nicking the seed coat, but not puncturing all the way through! You can use a dull knife or a nail file just to nick the seed to encourage germination once soaked.
Give Soaking Seeds a Try
I love learning something new. I can attest to the benefits of soaking seeds. Last year, I heard about the recommendation, and I gave it a try with my green beans. I saw green bean sprouts in my garden beds in record time. For those impatient gardeners, give this trick a try!