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Tips for germinating hard to start seeds

Mar 16, 2012 -
  Tips for germinating hard to start seeds
Tricia shows how to help "hard to germinate" seeds. Do you know the three easy ways?

Sometimes we all need a 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 seeds to germinate are:




Tricia demonstrates them all in our new video.


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. To “scar” or abrade the seed coat and allow more water inside, use a pair of nail clippers or a file, or soak in hot (not boiling) water. 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 24 hours in room temperature 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.

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.

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