cover seeds, do not cover, cover lightly

pippi21(Z7 Silver Spring, Md.)January 15, 2010

Guess I didn't have all information in front of me when I started planting my seeds. I see one place that I should have left the balloon flower seeds uncovered. I sprinkled potting mix very lightly on all my seeds. For those that I had bought myself, I did read the instructions. Some said barely cover, some said cover lightly, some said cover with 1/4 in. soil(which to me is same as lightly)What happens if I covered lightly what should have been planted "naked?" Will it take longer for germination or will I have no germination at all?

I'm sure I'm not the only NEWBIE that needs to ask this I'm asking it for all of us!

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silverkelt(Z5b/Southern Maine)

I mostly cover all my seeds at least lightly.. however the seeds get shifted around with the rain, the containers keep them in though. I wouldnt worry about it too much. Somtimes they get driven deeper, sometimes brought up to the surface.

Lightly covering the seeds isnt going to do much you will still get germination.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2010 at 11:20AM
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I have taken the advice of El Capitan Token (I'm think I'm going to start calling him El Capitoken), and he says he doesn't cover anything. They apparently will shift in the soil anyway. I've already covered some that should have been left open. From now on they're all being sprinkled on the surface of the soil and that's it.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2010 at 11:59AM
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I too never cover any of my seeds. I sprinkle them on top, spray with the kitchen sprayer, and call it good. I have never had a problem so it definately works.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2010 at 12:14PM
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hdiperna(5 PA)

I am glad this question was asked. I didn't cover anything, but I really wasn't sure what was right or wrong!!


    Bookmark   January 15, 2010 at 1:07PM
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"I mostly cover all my seeds at least lightly.. however the seeds get shifted around with the rain, the containers keep them in though. I wouldnt worry about it too much. Somtimes they get driven deeper, sometimes brought up to the surface."

That's pretty much what I figured. The ones I have packets for I try to follow the instructions, some cover with soil, some a little vermiculite and some a light sprinkling of both (the ones that don't like light).

I like the ones the best where it says to lightly press into the soil. How does nature do it? Some seeds do seem to be pickier, and I just do the best I can.

The ones I saved, I have to wing it because I don't have planting instructions. Some had the instructions on the lower inside of packets with too many seeds left, not about to rip open the packets to read.

Put out enough containers, I know I'll have success with some. And there will in all probability be failures. Some of those could even be with what are supposed to be easier seeds.

The ones I'm most concerned about are my pansies and violas. All the packets say they must be covered with newspaper until they germinate (inside sowing). And that might just work with WS but I'm not taking a chance on it. I did some googling and found where some don't worry about those, leave them uncovered, and they do just fine.

A rule of thumb is that larger seeds, with few exceptions, USUALLY need to be covered with at least 1/4 inch of soil. I've generally had good luck with that.

Another thing I noticed on some some seeds under my lights. I have a pot that I evidently covered unevenly. One spot was bare, and I was chagrined because I like even germination. Not to worry. They are poking up this morning. Now I'm worried about when to water them and how. A sprinkling can I intuit is too harsh on tiny seedlings or is it? All I can do is mist (my kitchen sprayer is broken and I like to let tap water sit for awhile first), and I know you don't want to get inside ones too wet because that makes damping off almost certain. I may just mist with H2O2 solution and try to gently water later, hoping they won't start falling over.

I'm sure grateful to the poster whom I can't recall who put me on to H2O2 solution. It really can help in some situations.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2010 at 1:33PM
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floodthelast(5 N. OH)

In my experience so far the only seeds that really need covered for germination are marigolds and they come later so they don't get as much settling I suppose.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2010 at 4:26PM
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ontheteam(5a-6 (S.Eastern, MA))

H2O2 solution? Please s'plin Lucy!

    Bookmark   January 15, 2010 at 5:52PM
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ontheteam, it was this link (useful link, not second I posted) or one like it, jotted it down in a shorthand notebook I keep handy, too many notes to plow through and can't find it in my computer notes.

'Hi Dawn,

'If you search it here you'll find different people doing it different ways but I started with 3% hydr. peroxide (the basic drugstore kind) and mixed it 1 part to 10 parts water.'

I think that's about the strength I mixed (1 H2O2 : 10 water). Got rid of mold and that furry stuff in no time, didn't return after leaving the lid open. For aphids, I think it's one part Ivory Liquid to nine parts water spray daily while present (or hose them off). When aphids are really bad, I can mix it up in my pump sprayer.

Mix in measuring cup with lip and pour in spray bottle; my spray bottle is opaque grey which should keep longer than clear or lighter bottles, maybe should make fresh, just misted a little on my seedlings because the top of the medium was looking a little dry.

There is a chart at other link I copied and pasted in, other good info at that site. I looked on my bottle from Walgreen's, brown bottle, says 3%, so be sure to use the right chart and column for whatever H2O2 you pick up.

There are many other garden uses for it, more than I realized. I use it on cuts and wounds as first defense. Had a bad hangnail this past week that hurt and wasn't healing looked like it was starting to get infected, finally put neosporin, well Walsporin, on it and a bandaid for a few days, looks and feels much better.

Here is a link that might be useful: Hydrogen peroxide on GW

    Bookmark   January 15, 2010 at 7:05PM
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clc70(8 Wa.)

When I don't know how deep to plant i just spread some seed on top, scuff up the soil, pat it back down then then surface sow some more and pat down. That way I figure no matter which way they like it there is bound to be some getting the right requirement.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2010 at 9:42PM
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kqcrna(z6 SW Oh)

aliska: best way to water tiny seedlings is bottom watering. Just put it in a pan or flat with water. As they grow another nice option is a small Haws watering can. I have both a 1 pt and a 2 pt one. The rose gives a very gentle spray, and it's only about an inch in diameter so doesn't spray much water.


Here is a link that might be useful: Haws cans

    Bookmark   January 15, 2010 at 10:26PM
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I will try bottom watering but the pots are maybe quart or even half gallon size, tall. Guess I can tip the pot and use my narrow spout can if worse comes to worse. I think a mistake to sow dill indoors, plants get very large and don't like transplanting but I'll try. Other herbs ok and want to start a few seeds inside.

That Haws watering can looks great and affordable, not one of those expensive copper ones. But not one more thing on my charge until I pay it off. Things came up, not much to do w/gardening. But marked it and very high on my list.

I can't find this company back I liked where I bought a bunch of flats and oversize 6-cell packs that fit in them perfectly. The flats don't have holes in them which is sometimes good. I can burn some in but might weaken them, not sure how many and should be in the bottom most ridges. I will need holes when they're maturing in cell packs outside. Learned that the hard way, had to be very watchful, take all the packs out, empty them and replace.

Thank you! Been forgetting my manners lately.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2010 at 11:01PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I was planning on starting more containers this morning and decided to make a list of those that give directions 'Do Not Cover'. Here is a list of those I found that suggest not covering the seed....

Any grasses
Bells of Ireland

Does anyone has any to add to the list?

I was also wondering what is the difference between those that say 'Do Not Cover' and those that say they need light? Wouldn't those need to not be covered too?

    Bookmark   December 26, 2010 at 9:11AM
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Today I went out to organize my containers and looked inside them. Most of them I lightly covered with either soil or vermaculite. It's only been a few days and some are already above the surface. Seems like hit or miss to me. I think in the wild when a seed self sows, there is going to be some natural mulch to occur, then the normal freezing and thawing which would move them around anyway.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2010 at 1:31PM
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Prairiemoon, I thought the same exact thing. It always seems that when it says seed needs light to germinate it is always a seed you do not cover.

My rule of thumb is if it is seed like dust I toss it and do not even press it. Like lobelia is a great example. Something a tiny bit bigger like balloon flower or poppy seed, I toss and press. Something like rosa rugusa seeds, or anything in the rosa family, I toss press and sprinkle mix on top, water cover lightly with soil to where I do not see any of the seed. For pawpaw seeds I bury. A pawpaw seed is about an inch long 3/4 inch wide and about 1/2 inch thick. I maybe buried it with 1/2 inch soil on top of it.

Very few seeds do I cover!! Extremely few that I bury!!

    Bookmark   December 26, 2010 at 2:40PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Thanks gardenunusual and Carolyn...I do see that some people don't cover anything. That would certainly make things simple. I guess I wonder about the seed drying out and yes, the larger the seed, the more you would think it needs covering. Then you think about seeds that just drop in nature and germinate. They must get covered somehow, because you don't see seeds sitting on top of the soil, germinated.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2010 at 2:57PM
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You know I thought about that also. Well this year I was pulling and plunking all kinds of stuff in my flower beds to make room for my new plants I was planning on sowing during the winter. Well I looked at my soil, it was not smooth, it was very uneven. Well when you start reading about native seeds, one thing they say is that they distribute in disturbed areas. So to me that would make me think of areas that are uneven, bumpy, people walking in those areas or critters. So yes I think there is some help out in the wild but it may simply be disturbing the soil enough to make it "bumpy".

I am sure hoping that made sense!!

    Bookmark   December 26, 2010 at 3:10PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Yes, it did make sense.... lol!

    Bookmark   December 26, 2010 at 3:50PM
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pippi21(Z7 Silver Spring, Md.)

Prairiemoon..that's a great list. I copied about 16 pages from some garden book from the library and it tells what seeds need covering, what doesn't, what needs lightly covered. I wished I'd written down the name of the book that I got it from. Usually I will even make a copy of cover and write down the # they use to shelf the book by..or call #, whatever so if I want to look for that same book again, it'll be easy to find in the library system. Don't know why I didn't do it for this information. It reads Germination requirements at top of page and every other page reads plant propagation . I think your idea of making a complete list of what needs to be covered and and what Does not need to be covered is a good idea. Seperate the seed pkt. according to that list and do all in that category, then start on others with another germintion requirement. This book didn't separate the perennials from annuals, in making up this list so that will also have to be taken into consideration.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2010 at 4:44PM
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littleonefb(zone 5, MA)


The difference between "do not cover" and "needs light" is this.

Some seeds are so small that if they are covered the seeds can have trouble sending out their sprouts through the soil or whatever is used to cover them. Then it again it can also just be the difference in wording and that "do not cover" really means "needs light" to germinate.

"needs light" means just that. the seeds need light to germinate and if covered, then germination will be either none or very few seeds will actually germinate.

My favorite instruction is "needs dark to germinate". It is some kind of gimmick that the seed companies came up with and they forgot to tell mother nature about it. Every time I see that, I'm laughing as those words are on seed packets that have seeds that reseed if you let he seeds fall to the ground.

As for a list of seeds to cover vs not cover, I always follow my grandparents instructions on that one that I learned as a little girl. They new what they where talking about as they where farmers with a veggie/flower farm.

"If the seed is a pain in the neck to actually count the seeds or is "dust or close to dust in seeds", just sprinkle on the ground and leave them alone. Mother nature will take care of the rest. Big seeds need to be covered, things in line with beans, peas, corn, 4'clock etc. Other seeds like hibiscus, coreopsis, zinnia, tomatoes, cukes etc. do will with a light sprinkle of soil. And marigolds, well give them cover or they will not germinate. They are a pain in the, well "I can't say that word, grandma will be angry,""

Now to add to PM2 list above

Alyssum all kinds
Baby's breath
Dianthus all kinds
Herbs, all kinds
Lychnis (rose campion, etc)
Monkey flower

And I'm adding Sweet Pea even though that really is a large seed.

Until I got some Sweet Pea seeds from Thompson and Morgan my luck with germinating sweet pea seeds was all but nil. No matter what I tried and how I tried to so them, germination was a couple of seedlings if I was lucky and most times it was none.

But these packets of seeds said to "soak over night and surface sow". I thought that was crazy, surface sow seeds that size, but figured it was the only thing I hadn't done to germinate them and gave it a try.

Soaked them over night, surfaced sowed and out in the containers they went in early April.
2 containers with 18 seeds in each. Low and behold, 2 weeks later there where 18 seedlings in each container.

At the same time I sowed those seeds I had 4 packets of sweet pea seeds from other companies that said to soak or nick and sow, cover 1/4 inch with soil.

So, the experiment began.

4 containers of these seeds where sowed as instructed and out they went in their containers the same day as the TM seeds. 18 seeds in each container

Also did 4 containers of the same seeds following the instructions for the TM seeds and out they went on the same day.

2 weeks later, 4 containers with seeds covered with soil had 2 seedlings in one container, 1 seedling in another container and nothing in the other 2 containers. 18 seeds where sown in each container

the other 4 containers with seeds soaked and surface sown per TM seed instructions had 18 seedlings in each container.

So, from now on, all my sweet pea seeds will be sown by soaking overnight and surface sowing.


    Bookmark   December 26, 2010 at 5:26PM
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mnwsgal 4 MN(4)

Thanks for the info about the sweet peas, Fran. I will use your suggestion this spring.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2010 at 6:52PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

pippi21, that was my thought, was to be able to do all those at the same time, and I wanted to get something out quickly today and it seemed easier to just do those that didn't need covering and get them out. There's so much great information on this forum, it's great.

Thanks Fran for adding to the list of seeds to leave uncovered. It's nice to have them all in the same thread to keep going back to refer to. I love your experiment with the sweet peas. I would not have guessed to sow them on the surface. Come to think of it, I think I had no germination on sweet peas in the past. I'll have to give that a try.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2010 at 6:59PM
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I guess my jugs will be okay. But I'm going to sow the seeds' more lightly moving forward. I'm heavy handed, naturally.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2010 at 8:17PM
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pippi21(Z7 Silver Spring, Md.)

What do shasta daisy seeds need? Covering lightly, needs darkness or Do not cover. My original plant came from Home Depot as a starter plant so I have no idea. Can't seem to find the original plant tag.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2010 at 2:25AM
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pippi21, I grew shasta daisy from seeds this summer. Lightly covered them, and they grew so nice and green. No blooms, I expect to see those this year. I even transplanted some, and just when I thought they would die from the shock, they perked right back up. Strong plants.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2010 at 7:02AM
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I'll second gardenunusual re: Shasta daisies. I WS seeds over which I sprinkled bird grit lightly and I got great germination. The sprouts grew into nice size plants that I hope will bloom in 2011. Seeds were harvested from neighbor's established plant (with permission) so I don't know the specific, named cultivar.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2010 at 8:05AM
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Here is a link that might be useful: Sowing Depth

    Bookmark   December 29, 2010 at 9:32AM
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pippi21(Z7 Silver Spring, Md.)

ADD Geum, Liatris, and Rose campion under DO NOT COVER..

I know Token has mentioned that he doesn't cover most of his seeds unless they are large ones. Somebody posted that they take the tine of a plastic fork and scuffs up the potting mix and the seeds fall in those ridges and then they spray the seeds lightly and they made contact with the potting mix that way.

Karen, you mentioned that you "bottom water" your containers, are you saying that the soil is completely dry when you do your planting? I water my potting mix and let it drain before I sow my seeds. Is that wrong?

PrairieMoon2..thanks for making this list. I was looking in my Propagation book from AHS that I bought last year and it shows a round wooden tamper with handle..wonder where you buy something like that? I use the bottom of a nursery pot that I've wrapped with Glad Press&Seal wrap..lot cheaper I'm sure.

If I remember correctly, Gardenweed doesn't cover her small seeds either. See, we learn so much from each other through these websites. In that AHS book, it showed how one can take and put fine seeds in a creased piece of cardstock or heavy paper and tap them lightly and sow where you want them to go. I also saw where somebody uses a wooden pasty tart tool to press their seeds into the potting mix to help them make contact with the soil. I know I've got one of those around here somewhere that I rarely use. Now to find it is another story! One could wrap Glad Press&Seal around that so it doesn't make contact with the soil just in case I want to use it for baking sometime. I wrapped a glass jar with Press&Seal and use it.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2011 at 10:55AM
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kqcrna(z6 SW Oh)

Pippi, when sowing, I moisten the soil first in a tub, mixing and stirring to make sure it's evenly moist, then I fill jugs with moist soil and sow the seeds. But I generally bottom water later, after the seedlings are growing. I just sit them in a big tub of water and let them soak up whatever they want.
It keeps them from being crushed or disturbed by overhead watering and encourages roots to go deep for moisture.

I do the same with indoor seedlings and cuttings, too. Bottom watering works well.


    Bookmark   February 7, 2011 at 11:26AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Hi pippi,

I prepare a milk jug with holes and then cut a flap out of one side that starts about 3.5 inches above the bottom of the jug, Write the name on the top, and the bottom with a marker that is permanent and UV resistant and fill it with potting soil, then I water it in my kitchen sink with a spray nozzle and let it sit there and drain well. Then I sow my seeds, and spray the surface with water from a spray bottle. Sometimes I use a plastic fork to pat the seeds into better contact with the soil, before I spray it. if a seed is large enough like a morning glory seed, I would push that down into the soil with my finger. Although I read that someone had more success with sweet peas, by not covering them, which is not the usual recommendation. And those are larger seeds. If a seed reports to 'need darkness' I might 'barely cover it' after sowing, and then spray it with the spray bottle.

I have had experience with sowing seeds many of which were very successful with excellent germination rates. Aquilegia, Dianthus and Digitalis being the best. This year, I am concentrating on trying different techniques on seeds that have not given me good germination in the past. Which could have been because of a number of reasons, but I want to make sure it's not because of sowing techniques and I'm using fresh, commercial seed in those instances, so I know the seed is viable.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2011 at 3:15AM
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kimka(Zone 6B)

I'm with Token, deanna_in_nh and the others who don't cover anything but the largest seeds like morning glory and sweet pea. Frost heave seems to take care of whatever covering the seeds need just like in nature.

Nature doesn't sprinkle anything lightly over seeds. But we are looking for somewhat better germination than nature often provides.

So I avoid smoothing the top of my soil once it goes in the containers. If I think the seeds did not get good contact with the soil, I pat the top of the soil very lightly with a dry hand and dust off any seeds or soil that might adhere to my hand anyway back into the container.

Doing it this way can mean that germination can be a bit uneven, but by second set of true leaves I find that the plants are uniform enough for HOS planting.

As for water, I pretty much bottom water completely with all containers. My soil is pretty moist (just less than wet) when I sow. I put smaller conatiner like cups in the large aluminum foil catering trays. I make four slits on the trays about 2 inches up from the bottom (two on each long side) so that rain cannot over fill the containers. Larger containers stay moist enough through germination from condensation and what snow and rain get in through the top vent holes. I also use a couple of other catering trays to bottom water larger conatiners once the weather gets warm enough or germination enough to have to open containers so that evaporation starts drying them out. I move the larger containers in and out of the "watering tray" leaving each set in about 4 hours or overnight. How often the large containers need this water depend on heat and rain, but not very often. That stage only lasts a couple of weeks at most (if I need to do it at all) before the plants are sturdy enough for hose watering on the gentle or sprinkle setting.


    Bookmark   February 8, 2011 at 10:13AM
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celeegra(6 NYC)

Everyone, this is so very helpful! I've been studying the notes on the wintersowing website, but it's nice also to have feedback on different people's experiences. THANK YOU FOR SHARING! (& wish me luck!)

    Bookmark   February 8, 2011 at 4:34PM
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