Nicking Seeds

lboyce(Z5NY)March 11, 2006

Okay...I give up!! There HAS to be an easier way to nick seeds! Somebody out there in this BIG wide world MUST have invented something by now that I am not aware of! I have a bunch of seeds with hard shells that need to be nicked. I have tried every method possible but I have just one question....if I don't nick the seeds, will they germinate? I'm guessing that the worse that can happen is that they will take longer to germinate? I have some seeds that are so tiny that have to be nicked and by the time I finish nicking all my seeds, it will look like I tried to commit suicide!! I even have tried soaking for 24 hrs in hot water and then set them on my heat mat and then tried to nick the shells. I tried to nick the shell with a box cutter but no luck. So I went ahead and soaked another 24 and still no luck.

If anybody has any suggestions, I sure am listening with both ears!! I have tried the nail file, emory board, x-acto knife and even a sharp knife. My main problem is the smaller seeds. Thanks...


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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

Linda, I'm trying to imagine what seed you have that is so hard coated and yet that small - none are coming to mind.

As a last resort, you can put them in a jar of coarse sand and shake to help weaken seed coat. Or lay them several at a time on a sheet of sandpaper, cover with a second and rub...

    Bookmark   March 11, 2006 at 4:05PM
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morz8...Thanks so much for the suggestions...never tried rubbing between two pieces of sandpaper. Have used sandpaper but only one piece to rub. The seeds that I have right now that are small are the orange morning glory seeds and the LeFleur datura seeds. With the orange morning glory seeds, I was literally sandpapering my fingers!

What happens if I don't nick the shell? Will they germinate?


    Bookmark   March 11, 2006 at 4:51PM
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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

For morning glory, I find (Druse) "soaking seeds for 24 hours or nicking them will greatly aid germination"

I don't see scarifying mentioned for datura, but isntead soaking 24 - 72 hours, followed by peeling off the outer softened seed husk; or, 1 month moist chill before sowing to aid in germination.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2006 at 5:07PM
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I don't know about that datura, but my datura seeds did fine with a soak of a few hours. I did not remove the seed husk, either. They really did not have a hard seed coat.

I have heard of mixing poppy seeds with sand to sprinkle them evenly over the soil.


    Bookmark   March 12, 2006 at 3:01PM
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magus(8a BC)

Actually I have come across a few very small seeds that need to be nicked - yes, smaller than either the morning glory or datura. Two that come to mind are dionaea (venus flytrap) and kennedia nigricans. Mind you, the soaking supposedly works with kennedia too. There are much smaller ones I've come across, but I can't remember which they are at the moment, but they sure had me scratching my head on how you're supposed to nick seeds I can barely see!!!

    Bookmark   March 12, 2006 at 9:35PM
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girlndocs(8 WA)

I don't bother nicking my morning glories anymore (mind you, I only grow the common annual kind).

When I nicked them, they wouldn't germinate. Maybe it was just too easy for me to nick them *too* much. When I soak them overnight, some of them have little tiny roots by the time I fish them out and plant them in peat pots ... and two years in a row now I've had "Grandpa Ott" germinate the very next day!

    Bookmark   March 13, 2006 at 12:12AM
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geoforce(z7a SE PA)

I have found that the large "Toenail clippers" sold in drug stores work wonderfully for most seeds except the giant ones too big to fit between the nippers. for smaller ones the standare fingernail clippers work as well. Some folks also have recommended a file, but that is a lot slower and harder on the fingers.


    Bookmark   March 13, 2006 at 9:01AM
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little_dani(9, S. Tex Coast)

Also, you can use a rock tumbler with some sand in with your seeds, if you are nicking a lot of seeds.

In the case of a lot of seeds........

Take the matter of planting Blue Bonnets here in Texas. The seeds are very hard, and should be nicked. It is cautioned that all the seeds should not be nicked, for they will all germinate close to the same time. Should conditions be just right for your seedlings to be attacked and killed, you would likely lose the whole crop. If you nick half, you have the chance that the un-nicked seedlings will survive. The un-nicked seeds will usually germinate, tho they are slow.

And in the case of Blue Bonnets, the seeds are expensive! Just something to think about.


    Bookmark   March 30, 2006 at 10:23AM
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For sweet peas, (might work just as well with other seeds)I just soak them for two days and they are plumped up and ready to germinate. I gave up nicking seeds last year in frustration.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2006 at 5:47PM
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If you have steady hand, use a razor. I nick the seeds on top of a piece of sandpaper which helps keep them from squirting around. I have had seeds so hard that even a razor couldn't nick them (mucuna). Then I used one of those mini drill tools- very carefully. Small seeds, I use sandpaper. I don't think that some seeds will germinate if not nicked. They are impermeable to water. In the wild, they would blow around for a while and the coat would wear down.
Nicking Datura ? I don't think so.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2006 at 8:43PM
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For seeds that are large enough, I really like pet nail clippers. They give pretty good control, and it's nearly impossible to hurt yourself (if I used a razor, I'd be liberally fertilizing my seedlings with my own blood).

I have started smallish seeds that were supposed to be nicked (most recently oxytropis), and I got limited germination.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2006 at 10:48PM
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Try holding the seeds with tweezers. I bought some inexpensive tweezers and dipped the tweezing ends in rubber tool grip coating. That way the seeds are easier to grip when nicking with an exacto knife.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2007 at 1:30PM
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I've got a crop of morning glories and moonflowers (I. Alba, not datura) going this year and I simply soaked the seeds overnight in lukewarm water.

What might be a little "different" however is the fact that I put them in a 1/2 pint mason jar and put them in the window to get sun heated during the day and made sure to shake the jar vigorously every time I happened to walk by them.

By the next morning the seeds were plump and you could see little bits of the hard coating had been brushed /cracked away.

I've even soaked seeds, decided not to plant them and dried them back out only to plant them months later and they're _STILL_ viable and growing at a healthy rate.

You're not trying to remove all of the shell, just enough so that you can see the pulpy material in a couple places on each / most of the seeds.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2007 at 3:32PM
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I use the baby nail clippers. That's the only thing I've found that keeps me from nicking my fingers more than the seeds.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2007 at 11:30AM
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Randomly, i just found that if you soak morning glories for 24 hours, remove all the water but leave the seeds in the closed mason jar in the sun for another day, they'll actually begin to sprout, in-vitro.

Got tied up on friday and couldn't plant until sunday night. By that time all the seeds not only wore down their shells from soaking, but they had also started to poke out of their little rootlets as well. Yea!

    Bookmark   May 21, 2007 at 10:23AM
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albert_135(Sunset 2 or 3)

I have probably experimented with all the above. My favorite is still emery cloth from the auto parts store (Or, if you only have a few seed a fingernail emery works fine.). They will have a package of several sizes of grit and there is always one for my seed. If the seed is too small to handle, and if I really want to scratch it I have even put a cylinder of paper inside a round glass jam jar and put the seed inside and let it roll around inside the back of my truck for a few trips, this works rather like little_dani lapidary suggestion.

You can also use the coarse emery to sharpen you hoe too.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2007 at 2:34PM
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pse64mac(9/Sunset 16)

Sweet pea sowing has always been a problem, but ...
Mid December I planted sweet pea seeds and for the first time in a long time I got a good germination. Previously I have blamed all kinds of critters on my failure, but this year I tried a new method of scarifying the seeds and it sure worked. The secret? I put them in my little food processor with a blade/knife cutter, with 4 ounces of water and pulsed them until I started to see a bit of the seed coating in the water, then I looked at the seeds and they all looked ok, except for a few of them. No soaking! No finger nail cutters. Most of the seedlings are now about 3 inches high, and hopefully beyond the bird/snail problem stage.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2009 at 1:14PM
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nckvilledudes(7a NC)

If you plant seeds with hard seed coats in the late fall or early winter and live in an area with freezing temps in the winter, the natural freeze thaw cycle will take care of most scarification needs. This works wonderfully well for me for nasturtiums and sweet pea seeds. If you don't have this cycle, then soak the seeds overnight, take a needle and gently prick the seed coating with the end, resoak overnight again, and that normally will do the trick. Used this last technique on vigna caracalla seeds that had not germinated after a month and they all germinated within a week of replanting them and keeping them in a warm spot.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2009 at 6:49PM
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neil_allen(z5/6 Chi IL)

One other method for very small seeds is to poke them with a pin or needle.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2009 at 4:04PM
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busylizzy(z5 PA)

I use the 2 layer sand paper method for Geranium seed.

Sweet Peas are easy, soak over night, drain an let sit another 24 hours, I then plant with legume inocculant (pea/bean). The pea bean inocculant is not just for edibles.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 10:52AM
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I am mildly new to seed-starting, so I have a beginners question that may seem silly. When you nick the seeds... Where exactly are you nicking? Around the edges, on the tops and bottoms, on the sides?

Also, to answer a question that was asked a few times, "Do seeds not nicked germinate?" I have planted several sunflower seeds which I did not nick at all that have all come up sprouted.

Thanks, Happy Gardening!

    Bookmark   April 17, 2010 at 5:18PM
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taz6122(N.W. AR.6b)

I don't think it matters where you nick them as long as you pierce the shell. I use a dremel tool with a cutoff wheel for Ipomea and canna seeds and get 95-100% germination. Without the dremel very few germinate.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2010 at 11:54PM
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you can take two paper towels and put them on a plate. Wet the towels so that it has a skim of water over it. spread the seeds on this. put one paper towel over the seeds and if necessary add water to create the skim. you can set this in a window with sun. It will dry out quicker than you think so make sure you watch closely. Wet to replace skim of water. Once you see some of the seeds start to open reduce water to just dampen the towels. Plant when seeds are all sprouted. Good luck.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 11:03AM
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albert_135(Sunset 2 or 3)

I always preferred to grind a bit with a Dremellike tool. Some nail files were good.

As for germination on paper towels, some say use the brown ones if you plan to remove and plant the seed after germination as the root hairs are supposed to be less disturbed by removal from the towel.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2014 at 3:02PM
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