For the best results, consider the plant’s natural habitat
An overnight soak speeds the germination of all kinds of seeds. Avoid soakings longer than 24 hours to prevent rotting the seeds.
Photo/Illustration: Scott Phillips
Many seeds are simple to grow. Scratch up a patch of open soil, scatter the seeds, and there you go. But other seeds will do best under more controlled conditions, or with special treatment that mimics the conditions of their native habitats.
The seeds of many plants that are native to regions with cold winters, for example, germinate most readily after a period of moist chilling in a dark place. In the wild, that’s what winter provides them. It’d be wasted energy—and very anti-Darwinian—if the seeds sprouted in late summer or fall only to be laid low by winter cold. Instead, they wait out the inhospitable winter. During the seeds’ deep sleep, their seed coats soften, until the warmth and moisture of spring make them explode into growth.
For other seeds, especially many desert dwellers, a period of rain (or synthesized rain, a.k.a. the garden hose or a good overnight soak) may be all that is necessary to burst that seed coat wide open.
On the other hand, more extreme treatment may be necessary to get the most out of wildflowers from hot places. In the Southwest, it can be fire that turns the key. I had a lot of trouble getting Texas bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) to sprout with abandon until one year when a kitchen fire scorched an envelope of seeds. That’s the end of them, I thought, tossing the charred seeds out on the bank. Naturally, every last one sprouted into a vigorous, healthy plant.
How do you know which seed needs what? Read the package, for starters. The information that is crammed onto the back of a seed packet is like having a plant encyclopedia at your fingertips. Planting dates, time until bloom, instructions, special needs—it’s all there, even if you do need a magnifying glass to read it.
When seeds are harvested commercially, they don’t get to experience the natural cycle of the seasons—the cold, the heat, the rain—and they may need to be tricked into growth. Here are three easy techniques that will fool just about any reluctant seed.