Presoaking seeds for faster germination...

kawaiineko_gardener(5a)September 9, 2009

My name is Amy. I live in Boyne City Michigan; Boyne City is in the northern part of the lower peninsula. My gardening zone is 4.

I've heard that if you presoak seeds in water for a certain length of time this will make whatever you're growing germinate faster as opposed to if you didn't soak the seed.

To my knowledge seeds that make good candidates for presoaking are seeds that are large in size; I know that seeds that have a large size produce large seedlings (generally the bigger seed, the bigger the mature plant will be, at least this is what I've been told).

The seeds I think would be good for presoaking based upon this rule-of-thumb are these:



*butternut squash


*summer squash

*acorn squash

*spaghetti squash


*bush beans

*snap peas (sugar and/or snow)

I know that smaller seed varieties probably won't work because if you were to try and presoak them they'd probably just crumble apart due to their small size.

I do have a few questions about presoaking seeds. What is the minimum length of time they should be presoaked for? What is the maximum amount of time they should be presoaked for? What should the temperature of the soaking water be? Warm? Cool? Room Temperature? Should you use a solution of water and bleach as the soaking solution as a way of "sterilizing" the seeds that are being presoaked? If so,

what is the ratio of bleach to water I should use?

Does presoaking seeds make them more vulnerable to disease and problems once they're planted?

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I presoak large seeds (beans, squash, pepper, melons) overnight in tepid water. That is water that is warm, but not hot. I make sure that the seeds are covered at least twice their size with water. I don't add anything to the water, but when planting them, I do water them in with manure tea.
I've never experienced a disease problem with pre-soaked seeds. The theory is that the seeds need to absorb moisture to germinate, and if you get them hydrated before planting, the time to germination is cut down. I don't think that would lead to disease.
One thing that is important--do not plant hydrated seeds in dry ground. The moisture will wick out and you are back where you started! I wait until a nice rain (which in Texas could be quite a wait!) or water the garden area thoroughly the day before planting. Moist seeds, moist soil=quicker germination. After that, you have to watch your seedlings and make sure they don't dry out or that they are not drowned by over-enthusiastic watering.
It sounds like you have a good grasp of gardening!

    Bookmark   September 9, 2009 at 8:24PM
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I think you are right, Amy. tiny seeds do not need to be soaked because they have a small volume(high surface to volume ratio) and can absorbe moisture from the soil in no time.
Cucurbita seeds only needs to be soaked to loosen up the shell. Gourd seeds in particula are very tough and some people even scratch the sides of tips to make it easier to germinate. I soaked them a little and also wrap them in wet toilett tissue before planting. This will help to keep them moist. But these are just gardeners fun things. You can just sow double the number of seeds per hill and if worse comes to worse at least half of them will germinat.
Another factor is the soil in which you plant them. It should be very fluffy, not hard clay with small stones etc.
I get some screened soil and mix it with some peat moss or good old compost and plant the seeds in it and top them with it too.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2009 at 9:51PM
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I pre-germinated my peas this year and will continue to do so but I don't plant a large area of peas. I tried soaking my beans this year and won't do it again because the way I plant the beans (and I plant a lot more beans than peas). I usually set a bunch of the seeds where I want them and poke them into the ground with my finger. When I tried this with soaked seeds, I felt like I was likely to damage the seed.

With smaller seeds, you can make seed tapes if you plant in rows or if you plant in blocks, you can even just glue them to a thin paper napkin with some Elmers glue (the white, water soluble kind) to ensure the spacing you want without having to thin them. Purely optional though.

Here is a link that might be useful: Tales of a Transplanted Gardener

    Bookmark   September 9, 2009 at 10:18PM
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I do think I've oversoaked bean and pea seeds in the past, almost to the point where they are falling apart, and that it has weakened them. The soak time would depend on the size of the seed I would think, but never more than a few hours. I would make an exception for certain tough-shelled xeric perennials like Baptisia australis or Salvia apiana when I don't feel like scarifying - those I've soaked for over 24 hours before, some of the Salvias I've even used boiling water for, to simulate the heat of a moderate fire (you might have noticed that's part of our ecology here in SoCal)

I would never use bleach in the soaking solution. If you are worried about contamination, try soaking in chamomile tea or 3% hydrogen peroxide instead. If the seed is purchased, I wouldn't bother.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2009 at 11:38PM
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You actually can soak small seeds... I presprout my carrots indoors on damp coffee filters because it's the only way I can get them to sprout at all! They're just a pain to handle when you go to plant them out--they're so delicate, small, and wet they tend to stick to your fingers...

    Bookmark   September 10, 2009 at 2:23PM
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naturegirl_2007 5B SW Michigan(5B SW Michigan)

Large seeds do produce large seedlings. However, seed size does not match up so nicely with final plant size. For example: most tree seeds are smaller than bean seeds, tomato seeds are much smalller than bush bean seeds.

Bean seeds may split if soaked for more than an hour or two. However, even this short soak will speed up germination. I usually don't soak anything over 12 hours....unless I get busy or forget :)

In your zone 4, pregerminating, kinda like soaking in only a little water, may be helpful. Pregerminating in a warm home before planting can help get seeds growing in the spring when your soil may be so cold that seeds take a very long time to sprout. It may give you a head start with some cool weather veggies such as peas, spinach, and lettuce. It takes less time, space, and supplies than growing transplants indoors and still gives you a jump start on the season.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2009 at 11:23PM
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dancinglemons(7B VA)

I soak:

Collards & Kale
OKRA !!!! (48 hours)

So far I've not had any problems with disease or any decrease in plant vigor. For the carrot and lettuce seed I pour them out on a paper towel after the soak and the white towel makes them really easy to see. Now planting those wet carrot seeds is a real pain but they germinate in 2 days usually.


    Bookmark   September 11, 2009 at 2:03AM
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Check out the link below for a possible solution to the difficulties of planting wet or presprouted carrot seed.

Here is a link that might be useful: CSU ext fluid seeding

    Bookmark   September 11, 2009 at 2:35AM
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I think you can sort of soak smaller seeds this way:

First, mix it all up with some good starter soil in a pot with drainage. water it. Cover it with plastic to prevent drying out. Keep it in a warm place for a couple of days.
Then just sprinkle the whole thing in the garden and cover it as needed. Lightly water frequently.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2009 at 9:45AM
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makete(U.P. of Mi.)

I soak most all big seeds. I let them soak til they are big and full, or til they start to sprout a small root. Have had no problems so far. Corn, beans, peas, squash(some)and pumpkins. I feel like it gives me and the plants a head start. Then I gentley place them in the ground. You have to treat them gently because they are more fragle at this stage. And like others have said keep soil moist.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2009 at 11:07AM
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In my view, a better technique involves watching the weather forecast at the appropriate time of the year. When 80%+ rain is forecast, abandon any other project and seed the hell out of the garden. There are a few windonws of opportunity during the year when direct seeding is easy.
Part of the art is knowing when the time is right for direct seeding. It is not just the rain but also the overcast skies that help.

This works well in spring and early summer around here. Rains are fairly frequent, and seedlings "know" that if they emerge and the air temp is a bit low they should stick close to the ground for a while. There will be no transplant shock, and the workload is truly minimal (minimal work is always interesting to me). When the temps increase, they are 100% ready and take off.

In August this does not work so well, if you have to plant your kale for Fall and winter. Then soaking, followed by twice a day misting, is the least worst technique. Still, if you have your seedlings coming up under a searing sun it not good. You still want to look at the forecast and see if you can catch a cloudy day or two. Lacking that, keep those Ikea cardboard boxes around, opened flat. They can cover a bed in mid day if needed.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2009 at 11:46AM
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I soak any seed that is large enough to handle for 12 hours (overnight or all day). It does shorten the germination time.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2009 at 1:08PM
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Thee is a lot of information here that is not well thought out or fully tested.

Most larger seeds do not benefit from pre-soaking. Larger seeds contact the soil better and do a very good job of absorbing the moisture needed from the soil. The smallest seeds benefit dramatically from pre-soaking, with germination taking place in two to four days.

Seeds such a mustard, carrot, onion, spinach, and particularly tomato, become super seeds when pre-soaked. I soak for 24 hours then plant in well watered (soaked)soil. Sprouting takes place almost universally in in that 2 to 4 day period. Initial growth is faster with a shorter time from sprout to true leaves.

I, over the years, pre-soaked in tepid tap water, and water adjusted both towards acidic and basic pH. But the best pre-soak I have used is straight VF-11. It is a very mild foliar feeder solution that most notably causes my tomato seeds to break ground 2 days earlier that just water soaking.

First year I thought it was a fluke, but I have been trying water vs VF-11 for 5 years now with the same results. Other nutrient solutions also speed up the emergence of the plant too, but care has to be taken to not make the soaking solution too strong. VF-11, right out of the jug, works.

A hint: Really small seeds like onion can be planted more easily than when they are dry. Put them in a small squirt bottle with water. Shake the bottle to keep the seeds suspended, invert the bottle and squirt the water/seed suspension, shaking frequently, along the row. I get better uniform distribution than I ever did with dry seeds. . .and almost 100% germination.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 9:23PM
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