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Fix-It Chick: Improve seed germination

February 27, 2014

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When it comes to sowing seeds, there are a few tricks of the trade that can help increase overall germination.

Step 1: Read the seed package and do some research before sowing. Different seeds require different conditions for proper germination. Temperature and lighting needs play a big part in plant growth and patience is a virtue. Some seeds germinate in a day or two; others can take weeks or even months to sprout.

Step 2: When stored properly, most seeds will remain viable for many years. If there is reason to think the seeds are compromised, a germination test may be in order. Place 10 seeds between two moist paper towels; for seeds that require light to germinate, place them on top of the moist paper towel. Place the towels in a sealed bag or air-tight container to keep the towel moist. If less than half the seeds germinate, consider planting new seeds instead.

Step 3: Increase germination by presoaking seeds in warm water. Sow immediately after soaking. Small seeds, like carrots, should be soaked no more than 10-15 minutes. Larger seeds can be soaked for up to 24 hours.

Step 4: Properly soaked seeds will swell slightly. If a soaked seed does not swell, scarify (scratch) the seed by rubbing it across a rough piece of sand paper. Do not scratch too deep and focus on the rounded bottom of the seed, rather than the pointed top portion.

Step 5: Choose a good quality, lightweight seed-starting medium to germinate seeds, rather than actual soil. The airiness of the medium allows wiggle room for tender seedling roots and the lack of heavy dirt helps maintain proper moisture levels.

Step 6: Plant each seed at the correct depth. Typically seeds should be sown at a depth equal to two or three times their width.

Step 7: Seeds will not germinate if the temperature is too hot or too cold. Different crops require different temperatures. Cool weather crops like lettuce and kale germinate best in 50-60 degree weather, while tomato and pepper seeds require a minimum temperature above 75 degrees. Using heat mats beneath seed starting trays is an excellent way to provide the appropriate amount of heat for each crop.

Step 8: Keep the seeds moist, not wet, throughout the germination process. Once seedlings appear, provide adequate lighting to ensure proper growth. Transplant seedlings before overcrowding occurs.

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