Seeds must overcome dormancy to germinate successfully. Many seeds produce a hard seed coating that prevents them from germinating too early. The seed depends on wet weather or animal consumption to soften the outer coat. Soaking allows you to mimic nature and soften the seed coating at home. Not all seeds require soaking, only those with the hard coating including most trees, shrubs and some flowers like morning glory or lupin.
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Benefits of Soaking
Soaking softens the seed coat so the seed takes in moisture and begins the germination process. The small sprout inside the seed doesn't have the strength to push through the outer seed coating unless it's softened or cracked first. A soaked seed germinates much more quickly but it is also more prone to fungal problems due to the high moisture conditions. Seeds require immediate planting to minimise the chance of fungal disease on the seedlings.
Hot water softens the seed coat more quickly than cool water. Boil the water before you begin to soak. Place the seeds inside the water once it stops bubbling. Soak the seeds until the water cools to room temperature or overnight. Tree seeds may require longer soaking than flower seeds. The seeds swell to at least twice their size as they begin to absorb the water. Some seeds may even begin to crack open and sprout, depending on the plant variety. If you soak seeds at a temperature less than 77F, it may take up to two days to sufficiently soften the seed coat, so use hot water when it's available.
Scarifying the seeds before you soak minimises the soaking time required. Hard tree and woody plants seeds benefit from additional scarification, as does smaller seeds, such as morning glories. Scuff the outer seed coat with a metal file or sandpaper just until the lighter coloured internal seed coating is visible. Scuffing too deeply into the seed may damage the plant embryo inside. The seed absorbs moisture more quickly through the scuffed area so it requires a shorter soaking time to soften it.
Plant seeds immediately after soaking them to minimise dangers from fungal organisms and rot. Drain the water from the seeds before you plant. Sow the seeds at the depth required for the specific plant type. Generally, larger seeds require deeper planting than smaller seeds. Most seeds are planted to a depth two to three times their width. Keep the soil moist but avoid overwatering. The seeds must not dry out during germination but soggy soil can cause the already soaked seeds to rot.
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