Stuff You Missed in Botany: Germination

Stuff You Missed in Botany: Germination

One of my favorite Podcasts is Stuff You Missed History Class. I thought it might be enjoyable use this format to talk about stuff in Botany that will help gardeners.

With everyone getting their seed packets out, I think it’s a good time to talk about germination. Learning about seeds can help you increase your germination rates, helping you get more plants to yield each year. We all want that, right?

For the most part, a seed is very much like a chicken egg. They have a shell, or seed coat, an embryo that is a baby plant, and a food source, called cotyledons.

If we stopped here, it would be all you would need to help you get your seeds out of the ground. If you remember this:

  • Every seed has a different kind of seed coat. Some are hard and thick, some are tender and quite thin.
  • Every seed has a different amount of stored food. Some have enough food to come from deep below the soil, others need to get to the surface rather quickly to not use up their stored wares.
  • Each seed has a preset code of ideal germination conditions. In other words, each seed has its own temperature, moisture requirements, and light needs, in order to perform its best.

This is one of the things that amazes me each year. Some seed packets are extremely elaborate with the instructions for germination. “Soak seeds for exactly 71/2 days in a water sugar solution that is 72°. Jump up and down 3 times while holding a male tabby cat in a burlap sack over the seed. Results vary.” Okay, I jest. But c’mon, how did anything but the most simple forms of life survive with germination standards like are on some of these packets?

When you take a step back and look at it, it becomes clearer. The people that are selling you the seeds have a vested interest in each person that buys from them being able to get some viable plants from their seed packets. The instructions on the packets are in essence saying, “In a perfect world…this is what you would do to get the most plants from this packet. Please buy from us again next year, blog about us, and tell all of your friends to buy from us also. Thanks.”

The instructions on the packets are guidelines and if you follow them, you really should be able to have measured success with their product. It still doesn’t stop me from wanting  them to be more like this,

My favorites are the packets that suggest scarification. How would this occur in nature. I just picture a bird with his little piece of fine grit sand paper scraping away.

“What are you doing Hattie?”

“Oh, I’m getting some Morning Glory seeds ready for planting.”

“So you’re going to soak them overnight after you buff them?”

“Don’t you know it. See you later Frannie,”

Allowing that I know the seed company wants me to have overwhelming success, I’m okay with the complex instructions for say, a Morning Glory seed. Having studied Botany, I translate this information as, “This seed has a hard seed coat, that will be better accessed by nicking the seed or scratching it with sandpaper, then soaking it in water to activate the food source.” By doing these things, I’ll get more plants and more flowers.

The steps of germination for we gardeners.

  1. The seed coat breaks, water is absorbed,  the plant baby begins growing rapidly.
  2. The embryo becomes to large to stay inside the seed coat. The plant emerges from the coat and grows in two directions. The roots go down, the leaves, up.
  3. The leaves break the surface of the soil, photosynthesis begins.
  4. Photosynthesis now nourishes the new plant, allowing the roots to dig deep and continuing to put out more stem and leaves upward.
  5. Voila. Baby seedling has two sets of true leaves, the temperature is right for it to be transplanted. Yay! Easy Peasy. (Or the ease of peas…ohhh that was bad)

So, follow your seed packets as carefully as you can for best results and if you’ve been storing seeds, make sure you do this simple germination test to make sure your seeds are still viable. This can save you time, money and frustration.

  1. Put exactly ten seeds on top of a damp, folded paper towel.
  2. Put the towel and seeds into a plastic sandwich bag and seal.
  3. Label the container with the date and seed variety being tested.
  4. Leave at room temperature for a week or so. (Leave parsley, carrot and celery longer; they’re slow.)
  5. Count the number of seeds that sprout: 
    • 10 = 100% or perfect germination
    • 9 = 90% or excellent
    • 8 = 80% or good
    • 6-7 = 60-70% or poor — sow more thickly
    • 5 or less = 50% or less — throw the seed out!

Have a Paisley sprouting day!~KeriAnne



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