Getting plants into the ground at just the right time can be tricky business. Never mind the weather choosing to co-operate or not, the seedlings have to be the right size to head out into the garden on time; and if they’re not, you just have to wait…
One way to make sure your seedlings are in tip top shape and ready to go right on schedule is to boost your germination rate and the speed of germination by giving seeds a head start as you go.
Most seeds (excepting lettuce) require no light to germinate. But did you know they also require no fertilizers, plant food or other nutrients? Seeds have everything they need packed right into them to germinate. The trigger that gets them started is moisture. Once they get wet, the signal is sent and the seed gets to work getting ready to send out a sprout.
What most people don’t know is that seeds actually do something pretty amazing when they start this process: they breathe! They respirate in the moist soil and use up the nutrients stored in their outer layer, as well as splitting open that layer, so they can spout. That’s why if you sow your seed in a soil mix that is too wet they won’t germinate: they can’t breathe and they will rot. Same thing happens if you get super rainy weather outside after planting – the seeds can’t breathe and they die.
So here’s a trick for giving your seeds an extra boost to get them off to a healthy start, especially those indoor seeds that need to get growing in a tight time-frame in order to get into the garden on time…
1. Make up a solution of .05 to 1% hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle. [Dilution: Using 3% H2O2: add 2 parts filtered or distilled water for each part 3% H2O2. Using 35% FoodGradeH2O2 add 1 to 2 TBS to 1 quart (32 ounces) of filtered or distilled water.] Note: when possible do not use chlorinated water, as it inhibits seed growth; if necessary, fill a pitcher with tap water and let stand for 24 hours to allow the chlorine to dissipate; otherwise use filtered or distilled water. (Rain water works fine too!)
2. Saturate a paper towel with the spray and carefully fold the seeds into the center of the towel, keeping them in a single layer if possible.
3. Place the little packet you’ve made on a clean plate or in a clean bowl overnight, or, if you wish, until you see the tiny sprouts start to emerge.
4. Keep the towel moist with the H2O2 solution, but not soaking wet. And DO NOT let it dry out!
5. Plant your seeds, in pots, flats, or right out in the garden, according to the seed and the timing of your sprouting.
This method will cut at least a week off most larger seeds (peas, corn, squash, cucumber, melons, sunflowers etc.) and can cut as much as two weeks off germination time for those finicky folk like celery, peppers, eggplants and spring flowers.
If you’re not sure you’ll have time or patience to keep them in the towel and moist until they sprout just plant them after at least 24 hours of this treatment, they’ll still come up faster. Why? Because the H2O2 oxygenates the seeds and gives them a kick start.
So, next time you’re fretting that you’re late getting those vegetable starts into flats, don’t fret. Just follow these instructions and you’ll get caught up for planting time in a jiffy.
Oh – and one more tip: once you start them in the flats, you can continue to spray them with a mist of 1% peroxide as they grow – they’ll grow faster and stronger too.
And don’t forget, once they sprout they will absolutely need to be kept moist, and will be ready for a little compost tea or other nutrient rich meal – they have enough stored energy to sprout all by themselves, but once they sprout, they will be hungry!
If you’re not sure how tender the seed is, just use the lesser dilution and experiment. A 1% or less solution seems to be safe for just about any seed, but test it out for yourself and determine the dilution rate that works best for you. We’ve used .05 and 1% with equal success.