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Tips for Germinating Hard-to-Start Seeds

Mar 05, 2015 -
  Tips for Germinating Hard-to-Start Seeds
Tricia shows you tips on how to get "hard to germinate" seeds started.

Sometimes we all need a helping hand.

If your favorite seeds are in the “hard-to-start” category, we have tips for you on techniques to give them a hand and get growing.

The three basic methods for “encouraging” the hard-to-start seeds to germinate are:

Scarification - scar or scratch or nick the hard seed coat

Stratification - exposure to a period of cold temperatures

Soaking - hydrates seeds with tougher seed coats

Tricia demonstrates all the methods in our video, Seed Germination—Scarification, Stratification, and Soaking.

Seeds 101

A seed is made up of a seed coat that encloses the plant embryo and the endosperm. The endosperm is the food supply for the early growth of the embryo.


Seeds that are hard to germinate often have a tough seed coat. Nasturtiums, morning glories, and moonflowers are popular seeds with hard coats. If you are not sure if the seed needs scarification, soak a seed in water overnight. If it swells up, no need to scarify.

To “scar” or abrade the seed coat and allow more water inside, use a pair of nail clippers or a file. Be careful. If you make a deep cut you can hurt the plant embryo just under the seed coat.


Some perennial seeds need moist cold to germinate. You can mimic the freezing and thawing of winter by putting your seeds in the refrigerator. First, mix 1 part seeds with 3 parts moist sowing medium, like perlite. Place the mixture in a sealed, plastic bag and put it in the refrigerator. Check once a week to be sure the mixture stays moist. The length of time in the refrigerator depends on the plant variety. When you plant the seeds, plant the moist medium along with them.


Soaking helps seeds with tough coats, and also draws out harmful chemicals. For legumes like peas and beans, soak them for 2-24 hours in room temperature water. Beets contain a germination inhibitor, therefore germination will be enhanced by a 2 hours soak in water.

Parsley is a special case and needs to soak for 24 hours, then have its water changed, then soak for a second 24 hours. Parsley is very slow to germinate and do best when seeds are in complete darkness. So cover seeds well and be patient when planting this out in the garden.

For more information, the very thorough, and highly regarded book, The New Seed-Starters Handbook, will be your best friend.

A short and clear booklet, with a handy list of hard-to-grow seeds and how to deal with them, is Starting Seeds Indoors, from the Storey Country Wisdom Series.

Now, go stump your friends by talking about how you’re going to stratify seeds—and enjoy your new plants!

Categories: Organic Seeds, Organic Heirloom Seeds, Organic Vegetable Seeds, Organic Herb Seeds, Organic Bulk Seeds, Organic Hybrid Seeds, Vegetable Seeds, Vegetable Seeds Organic, Vegetable Seeds Heirloom, Vegetable Seeds Bulk, Hybrid Vegetable Seeds, Biodynamic Seeds, Bulk Seeds, Bulk Organic Seeds, Bulk Vegetable Seeds, Heirloom Seeds, Flower Seeds, Herb Seeds, Organic Gardening 101

Sarah Benton Says:
Mar 26th, 2012 at 4:35 pm

I tried cold stratifying Delphinium exaltatum seeds but didn’t have any luck. Any ideas?

Llan Starkweather Says:
Mar 28th, 2012 at 8:25 am

Basil and pesto are a basic food group.
Every seed from 2010 started 1/4” deep covered with brown paper and glass to keep in moisture. Lettuce same. Every small seed.
Same basil seed last month without covering from light didn’t come up at all.
You might mention basil in your instructions.

Donna Hohenschuh Says:
Apr 7th, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Extremely difficult to start delphiniums.  I have tried on the surface, in the dark, under lights, on heat pads.  Very little success.  What’s the key?

illini Says:
Aug 25th, 2012 at 5:05 am

how does one germinate teak trees (tectonis grandis)

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Jan 28th, 2013 at 12:44 am

Lian, Thank you for your suggestion! U of Minnesota says that basil germinates best when directly sown outdoors under 1/4” of soil http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/m1219.html

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Jan 28th, 2013 at 12:48 am

Sarah and Donna, Delphiniums are hard to germinate. The cold scarification should have worked. Cornell Univ also suggests growing delphiniums from cuttings http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/homegardening/scene09de.html

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Jan 28th, 2013 at 12:51 am

illini, The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew have detailed instructions about growing the hard-to-germinate teak trees http://www.kew.org/plants-fungi/Tectona-grandis.htm

Allison Says:
Apr 28th, 2013 at 9:52 am

I’m trying to grow “fakous,” a summer squash common in the Middle East. They look like cucumber seeds but with a hard coat. I’ve nicked and soaked them to no avail. I even, as a Palestinian friend suggested, soaked them with garlic!

I’d be grateful for any tips you might have!

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Apr 30th, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Allison, We have been unable to locate any Middle Eastern squash with that name.  All squash from that origin is similar to various forms of zucchini which do have a seed with a shell.  The lack of germination may have more to do with seed storage rather than the coat.  They may indeed need a sandy or peaty starting medium or a pre-soak to compromise the shell, but not knowing the actual name of the squash type, we are limited in what we can advise.

Please let us know other names for the squash and we can do further research.

Allison Says:
May 9th, 2013 at 8:03 am

Thanks for your efforts. I seem to have exhausted all my avenues to find the scientific name of the plant. So it looks like growing fakous is not in the cards for me.

I thought the seeds came from a garden center of some sort. But maybe they came from someone’s kitchen—and then who knows how they were stored!

I have had great success growing another Middle Eastern plant called “mloukhia.” Which reminds me, I’d better get it planted!

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
May 10th, 2013 at 9:49 am

Allison, Hmm, interesting vegetable mystery! Let us know how your mioukhia grows—we are always looking for new vegetables to add to our seed offerings.

I'll have to look at my notes but I Think molohkia Says:
Aug 29th, 2013 at 2:15 am

Joe Bowen

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Sep 10th, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Thanks very much, Joe! Based on your suggestion I found this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mulukhiyah for Allison’s second vegetable.

Anne Says:
Mar 24th, 2014 at 8:08 am

Hello - this question is for Allison listed in the comments and for Charlotte. I am looking for a seed source for fakous and I can’t find one in the U.S. - any recommendations you have would be great! Thank you

Stephanie Brown Says:
Mar 24th, 2014 at 8:58 am

Hello Anne,
Wasn’t able to find anything about that squash variety :( I hope you’re able to find a source.

Mona Twocats-Romero Says:
Mar 7th, 2015 at 11:16 am

I have been trying to germinate narrow leaved coneflower, echinacea angustifolia with no luck at all.  I’ve stratified them for two months, with no luck.  A friend says she soaks them in water in a baggie and then freezes them for two months, thaws and plants and gets pretty good germination.  If you have any other tips, I’d appreciate them.  They are all purchased seed from peaceful valley.

Barbara Jacobson Says:
Mar 7th, 2015 at 12:39 pm

Fakous is not a squash but a seedless cucumber.
That is the reason you can’t find it.

BarbaraJacobson Says:
Mar 7th, 2015 at 1:21 pm

I was in Palestine and was shown a plant that was called “cats eggs” in English.
It had green egg shaped fruit that was full of water. We ate it. It grows wild. Any idea what it is and where to get it?

Madeline Says:
Mar 7th, 2015 at 1:57 pm

Ok, I have a quasi-challenge for Peaceful Valley! Hard to grow, hard to find “aji dulce” used for Caribbean dishes is a sweet version of a pepper that looks identical to the Scotch bonnet. I found only one source online. These peppers are available in grocery stores in the NE, like NY and NJ. Ten seeds were sold to me for $5, and only one germinated. Obviously, I’m being very careful with the plant and will not transplant until it is a strong plant. One more suggestion, an herb called “culantro,” from Cuba, not to be confused with cilantro. The plant looks like a low-lying weed, resembling a dandelion whose leaves are completely different from dandelion , like mini machetes with saw teeth.

Bettye Boone, former owner Boone-Fox Herb Farm Says:
Mar 8th, 2015 at 4:31 am

In regards to germinating basil, I disagree that it germinates best by direct seeding outdoors.  I germinate basil in a germinating medium, barely cover the seed, and bottom water until the medium is moist.  The basil seed will develop a mucus looking covering which let me know the seed is viable.  Basil is very easy to germinate and grow!
As for parsley & dill, I direct seed these since they do not transplant well.

Suzanne at Peaceful Valley Says:
Mar 10th, 2015 at 5:05 pm

Sounds like you did what you needed to do, stratify seeds. Did you keep them moist while in the cold? Just got a response from one of our nursery staff that just did some and they took 3 weeks to germinate. She covered them lightly and kept the soil moist and located in an unheated greenhouse.

I am not sure about the freezing them. You can always try a few seeds and see what happens.

Suzanne at Peaceful Valley Says:
Mar 10th, 2015 at 5:10 pm

Barbara, I did an extensive search for “cats eggs” and did not find any thing.

Suzanne at Peaceful Valley Says:
Mar 10th, 2015 at 5:12 pm

So the sounds like from all the comments that fakous is actually an Armenian cucumber.

Charlene Carney Says:
Mar 10th, 2015 at 9:47 pm

Dearest Peaceful Valley, you are far and away my favorite source for everything gardening. Please do a video or article on winter sowing and include as many varieties as you can. Thank you so much. P.S. I winter sowed my Echinacea Purpurea, Borage, and Scullcap.

Suzanne at Peaceful Valley Says:
Mar 16th, 2015 at 10:13 am

So peppers are challenging to germinate. You need to get the soil warm enough but you don’t want the humidity so high that damping off occurs. A heating mat is a must for starting peppers, especially hard to start varieties.

Cynthia Martin Says:
Mar 26th, 2015 at 4:14 pm

I’ve started nine varieties of basil, several kinds of peppers, way too many tomatoes, and many other vegetables, herbs, and flowers three weeks ago 1/4” deep in peat pots on top of the old-fashioned radiator in my apartment and they are all doing beautifully.  I had meticulous notes for each variety but I got carried away and ignored them.  I move everything under a grow light (on the floor in front of a radiator) after they sprout.

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