how to soak seeds

How to Soak and Plant ITTY-BITTY Seeds

Introduction: How to Soak and Plant ITTY-BITTY Seeds

An old, not-very-secret trick gardeners have is to soak seeds overnight before planting; it softens the seed coat and makes seeds sprout 2 or 3 times faster than normal. I am horribly impatient, so I always soak my seeds. And it’s easy enough to do with big honking seeds like peas and pumpkin, but what about the really tiny ones?

Lettuce and carrot seeds are not only itty-bitty, they also have long germination times of 2 to 4 weeks, so they are ideal candidates for this method, which combines “seed soaking” with “seed taping”. The result is seeds that sprout quickly, and are spaced out so that thinning is minimal. I’ve been doing this method for the last couple of years, and it has worked really well for me, even for slightly bigger seeds like basil and cilantro. Hope it will work out for you too!

Step 1: Gather Your Stuff

  • seeds
  • paper towels that are strong enough not to fall apart when wet
  • spray bottle of water
  • a flat container that can be covered, with lid or saran wrap
  • *optional facial tissue, or just more paper towels

(I’m using Black-Eyed Susan seeds here, and they are the tiniest ones I’ve worked with so far! It’s literally thin as a hair!)

Step 2: Sprinkle Your Seeds on the Paper Towel

Lay your paper towel on the container (I’ve got a fancy new cake pan here) and sprinkle your seeds on.

Move them around as needed to space them out.

Step 3: Spray, Layer, Spray Again

Pretty much what it says in the title: Spray it lightly just so your seeds will stick to the paper and won’t get jostled. Lay the tissue paper on top. Spray again until it’s thoroughly saturated, but not dripping.

Step 4: Cover Up and Wait

Was in a rush and did not get a pic, but cover your container with saran wrap, or in my case, matching lid of my fancy new cake pan. Wait at least 8 hours, but 24 is even better, but make sure to keep it moist the whole time.

You can do this with larger seeds, but for really large seeds, I worry that the paper towel is not enough to soak it, and I prefer to soak them in a bowl, before putting them on paper towel.

Step 5: Plant It, Paper and All

After this “soaking” period, place your whole sheet of paper towel onto prepared ground, cover with more soil or mulch, and watch your seedlings emerge in just a few days instead of 2 or 3 weeks! They will grow right through the paper towel, I promise! I usually just leave it as is, but if seeing the paper towel bothers you, wait until the seedlings are established and tear it away.

And you’re not limited to the size and shape of the paper towel either. Cut it into strips or other shapes if it amuses you. Or cut into tiny shapes for your seed starter peat pots. I often use a small piece studded with seeds in a garden container to fill in where something has failed, or I decided to move it. The second pic there is showing how I used this method to plant all the lettuce surrounding the other plants, when I realized how sparse it looks at the bottom. It took just over one month for them to go from seeds to what you see there, from April 19th to today May 23. Not too shabby!

Hope this was clear and helpful! Happy growing!

How to Soak and Plant ITTY-BITTY Seeds: An old, not-very-secret trick gardeners have is to soak seeds overnight before planting; it softens the seed coat and makes seeds sprout 2 or 3 times faster than normal. I am horribly impatient, so I always soak my seeds. And it's easy enough to d…

Is Soaking Seeds Before Planting Worth Your Time? How Do You Do It?

Jennifer is a full-time homesteader who started her journey in the foothills of North Carolina in 2010. Currently, she spends her days gardening, caring for her orchard and vineyard, raising chickens, ducks, goats, and bees. Jennifer is an avid canner who provides almost all food for her family needs. She enjoys working on DIY remodeling projects to bring beauty to her homestead in her spare times.

To soak your seeds or not soak your seeds prior to planting, that is the question…

Among gardeners, at least.

The short answer is that soaking seeds is a matter of personal preference, but I’m going to share with you why you should consider soaking them.

I’m also going to give you information on how to soak your seeds, the best seeds for soaking, and a few additional processes you can try when soaking.

Before you start putting too many seeds in the ground, take the time to review your research and make sure you give your garden what you feel is the best start.

Here’s what you should know about soaking seeds prior to planting:

Which Seeds Should (and Shouldn’t) I Soak?

All seeds aren’t created equally. You have some which are tiny and hard enough to handle when they’re dry and solid, such as carrots.

Yet, you have other seeds which are large and in charge. They’re big and have rough surfaces. These are the seeds which could benefit from a good soak before planting.

The seeds you don’t want to soak would be seeds like:

  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Radish
  • Celery
  • Turnips
  • Spinach

Seeds which could benefit from being soaked would be:

  • Corn
  • Pumpkin
  • Beans
  • Chard
  • Beets
  • Peas

Why Soak My Seeds?

If you’re new to gardening, you may be wondering why even bother with soaking your seeds. The idea is to speed up the seed’s germination rate.

When seeds are in nature, they’re designed to be tough because the elements can be rough on a small seed.

Plus, seeds were designed to hold off on germination until the time is right. When soaking your seeds before planting, you’re doing many things:

1. Boosting Moisture Rate

Seeds know when it’s safe to germinate and when it isn’t. When you soak the seeds in water (or any liquid) it signals the moisture around them has increased.

Moisture is an indication which the seed needs, to know it’s okay to germinate, and they have a safe area to begin growing.

2. Removing the Protective Coating

Certain seeds have a protective coating around them. This coating is to stop the seeds from germinating when they live in the moist climate of the parent fruit.

When soaking the seeds, it gently removes this protective coating, and sends signals to the seed it’s outside of the parent fruit and free to start growing.

3. Softening the Seed

You soak your seeds because as the seed absorbs water, it begins to break down the outermost shell of the seed.

The shell is the hardest part of seeds because it’s meant to protect it. By soaking the seed, it enables the new growth from the inside to push through the hard shell and grow.

4. It’s Natural

In nature, seeds are frequently consumed by animals. Some of the best plants grow from animal scat. When soaking seeds, some people choose more acidic liquids.

Acidic fluids, as you would find with digestion, again aids in softening the shell. The seeds experience something similar to digestion and are encouraged to germinate and grow wonderfully.

How to Soak Your Seeds

You now know why you soak seeds and which seeds are the best fit for soaking. If you’re interested in trying this gardening technique, this is how you go about soaking your seeds:

1. Place Seeds in a Shallow Bowl

To begin soaking your seeds, place them in a shallow bowl. It doesn’t need to be deep because you’re going to cover them as you would beans you were presoaking for cooking.

Alternatively, consider placing the seeds into a plastic baggie. Put enough water in the bag to keep the seeds moist.

Once the seeds and water are in the bag, seal it. You can also allow seeds to rest between two wet paper towels; ensure to keep them constantly moist.

2. Choose Your Liquid

Once your seeds are in a shallow bowl, choose the liquid you’d like to soak them in. You can go with just water, or you can choose more acidic liquids like coffee or vinegar mixed with water

If you choose to add acidic liquids to the seeds, add approximately one tablespoon to the water you’re soaking the seeds in.

Also, if you warm the water the seeds soak in, this can speed up the germination process. Be sure the water is lukewarm and not hot, or it will cook them.

3. Let the Seeds Soak It All Up

You should allow the seeds to soak in the liquid for approximately 12 hours. If the water they’re soaking in is warm, it may take less time.

Keep an eye on the seeds because if they soak too long, they’ll begin to disintegrate. When the soaking is complete, it’s time to plant.

4. Watch the Weather

Before soaking your seeds be sure to check the weather. Make sure you have a good day to plant after the seeds are finished soaking.

The reason being, once the seeds are done soaking, they’re ready to go into the ground. If you leave them waiting around to plant, they could easily begin to mold or rot.

Therefore, don’t start the soaking process until you know you will be able to put them in the ground the next day (if you allow them to soak overnight.)

Tell Me More About Scarification

When dealing with extremely tough seeds, it’s a good idea to practice scarification before soaking them. Scarification is a process where the seeds are scraped to remove the outer layer.

However, you don’t scrape the seed to the point it becomes punctured. This will allow the outside of the seed to breakdown faster when soaking.

Again, this is an optional step, but it could help if you’re dealing with tough or wrinkled seeds which may be harder to breakdown.

If you’d like to practice scarification on your seeds, use a dull item such as a butter knife to scrape the outside of the seed without running the risk of puncturing the seed.

You now know why you should soak your seeds, which seeds are a good fit for soaking and which aren’t, how to soak seeds, and how to perform the scarification process.

Hopefully this will help you make an educated decision on whether soaking seeds is worth the added effort when planting your garden.

Plus, it’s our hope by knowing more about different gardening techniques, you can find what works best for you and have a lush garden with a bountiful harvest this year and for years to come.

By soaking seeds before planting them you soften the hard outer shell, and make it easier for the seed to germinate. Read about the process and some tricks.