Seed Germination And The Three S’s: Stratification, Scarification, Soaking

You’ve got your seeds, seed starting mix, containers, domes, heat mats, and grow lights. You’re officially ready to start some seeds for this season’s outdoor garden! But before you get started, there are a few things you can do to give your seeds their best shot at germination. The three S’s – stratify, scarify, and soak!

Seed Stratification

Some seeds need a chilling period before germination, including some perennials, wildflowers, wild grasses, and some varieties of cannabis. Stratification means exposing the seed to cold temperatures, imitating the wintering period they’d experience if left outdoors.

Stratification may sound complicated, but it’s not! All you need is a fridge, a bag or container, and some seed starting mix.

Moisten the mix and add your seeds. Place the container in the fridge, and never let the mix dry out as the seeds stratify. This process can take anywhere from two weeks to two months, so research what you’re trying to grow to allow yourself enough time.

Seed Scarification

As gentle as you need to be with seedlings, some seeds require a little tough lough to germinate. Enter seed scarification, a process reserved for hard-shell seeds like peas and legumes, squash, spinach, nasturtiums, morning glory, and cannabis. The thick coat on these seeds can prevent moisture and gases that trigger germination from entering, so you’ve got to be cruel to be kind.

In reality, scarification isn’t cruel at all. You’re simply imitating nature! For example, animals eat seeds, and their digestive systems break them down, softening them before they ‘exit’ and are ready to bloom. In the absence of animals, your job is to scar the seed so that moisture can get inside and help it germinate.

Take some sandpaper or a nail file and scratch the seed’s coat. Don’t remove too much of the shell, as this will damage the inside of the seed.

Seed Soaking

As the name implies, some seeds enjoy soaking and need their shells to soften before germination. Nasturtiums, peas, tomatoes, beans, squash, beets, and more will germinate faster if soaked in lukewarm water for 24 hours before planting.

You can place them in a bowl of water or, for smaller seeds, a damp paper towel before planting. Then, regularly refresh the seeds with warm water to them the best chance at germination.

There are plenty of ways you can jumpstart your seeds! Read the seed packet carefully before starting for your best germination chances.

Starting & Saving Seeds: Grow The Perfect Vegetables, Fruits, Herbs, and Flowers For Your Garden, by Julie Thompson-Adolf, is a super resource for all gardeners!


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Catherine Sherriffs

Editor at Garden Culture Magazine

Catherine is a Canadian award-winning journalist who worked as a reporter and news anchor in Montreal’s radio and television scene for 10 years. A graduate of Concordia University, she left the hustle and bustle of the business after starting a family. Now, she’s the editor and a writer for Garden Culture Magazine while also enjoying being a mom to her three young kids. Her interests include great food, gardening, fitness, animals, and anything outdoors.