Seed pretreatment

April 7, 2021

Seed pretreatment - \ ˈsēd prē-ˈtrēt-mənt/ - noun

A technique used to help a seed overcome dormancy and prompt germination. Some seeds take a very long time to germinate naturally, but seed pretreatment techniques can help speed along this process. Common seed pretreatment techniques include soaking the seed in water or nicking the exterior of the seed to allow water to soak in more easily and begin the germination process. 

Seed pretreatment in the Forest Garden

Farmers in the Forest Garden Program are trained on various pretreatment methods as certain techniques will not be effective depending on the seed coat. In order for a pretreatment technique to work, the technique must help the seed overcome dormancy by introducing the appropriate conditions to allow the seed to germinate. Not all seeds require pretreatment to germinate well, seeds with a hard seed coat are more likely to benefit from pretreatment.

Soaking in Water - The most frequent methods are soaking in water, either room temperature or recently boiled depending on the seed type. (Make sure not to boil the seeds in the water though!)

Scarification - For seeds with even harder seed coats, the soaking technique may not be as effective as the coat does not allow water to penetrate and promote germination. Instead, a method known as “scarification” is applied. This is when the edge of the seed coat is scratched or nicked to now allow for moisture penetration that will eventually induce germination.

Stratification - In areas with more extreme temperature variation (freezing winter and hot summer) some seeds might require stratification, alternating between warm and cold environments before they are ready to germinate. This happens naturally from seasons but can also be induced by the farmer by placing seed in alternating warm and cold places for a period of time. 

While not all seeds require seed pretreatment to germinate, farmers are still able to leverage this technique to their advantage. Seeds remain in a dormant state until the germination process is triggered. If a farmer has a large amount of a specific type of seed that they want to grow and they choose to sow the seeds without any pretreatment, the seeds may reach the proper germination conditions at different times, which can be challenging when it is time to outplant. By pretreating seeds, a farmer is able to better align a uniform germination for all of the seeds. 

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