Pre-Treating Seeds: a Guide

Planning now to get a hop on spring? Then learn how to germinate your seeds in advance. That means you'll have your veggies and flowers ready to grow on your time as well as Mother Nature's. 

Not every germination method is right for every type of seed. Some plants produce vigorous seeds, for instance, while others produce seeds that require much more delicate handling in order to sprout.

In addition, some seeds have a thick seed coat, which must be breached in order for the embryonic plant to get out. 

So let's start there. Go ahead and pre-soak large, hard-shell seeds such as pumpkin, squash, watermelon, peas, corn, and beans:

If You Need to Pre-Soak Your Seeds


Remember: this method is for large-size, hard-shelled seeds ONLY. You DO NOT need to pre-soak smaller, softer seeds.

1. Place seeds in a shallow dish, in a single layer.

2. Add warm (NOT hot) water, just enough to cover seeds.

3. Allow the seeds to sit a minimum of 8 hours and a maximum of overnight - just long enough for them to swell. DO NOT exceed 24 hours. The seeds may begin to rot.

Chitting the Seeds


Also known as "pre-sprouting," chitting has been a popular method of germinating seeds for centuries. Here's today's way to chit your seeds:

1. Place your seeds on one half of a paper towel, laying them in a single layer.

2. Spray the seeds and the entire towel with water until very damp but not dripping.

3. Gently fold the wet top half of the towel over the bottom half of the towel, where the seeds are. Press VERY GENTLY so the seeds stick to the towel.

4. Place the wet, folded towel into a plastic bag.

5. Leave the bag in a dark area of the house. Check daily for root growth.

6. As SOON as you see the radicle (the tiny tip which will be the plant's first root) begin to emerge from the seeds, take them outside and sow them as you would normal seeds or place in planting mini-pots.  This is important.  You do not want the seeds to grow into the paper towel. 

Should You Scarify Your Seeds?


Nicking or "scarifying" (literally, producing a cut/scar in) seeds can work for very thick-hulled seeds that just won't sprout. 

We don't recommend this method unless you're experienced at it, but if you're willing to take a risk, try scarifying if you're germinating tree or shrub seeds, morning glories, canna or other very large-size seeds.

1. Use a nail file or your own finger nail.

2. LIGHTLY scratch the seed in one or two places, nicking/opening just ONE side of the hull. Do not cut all the way through the seed!

3. Continue with chitting, as described above. You will not need to pre-soak scarified seeds.

Germinating seeds is fascinating, as you're getting a glimpse of Mother Nature's work in your very own cabinet. Kids love this, too - especially watching for that very first sprouting - so if you're a teacher or a scout leader, this is the perfect late-winter activity for your little group. Enjoy!

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