Plan the perfect garden with our interactive tool →

How to Prepare Seeds for Planting

Planting a seed and watching it grow is a very rewarding experience. It gives many gardeners a sense of completion and self satisfaction to nurture the seedlings along, encouraging their growth. But it takes more to get things started than tossing a handful of seeds in the dirt and watering them. Seeds must be prepared prior to planting in order to achieve a high rate of germination. A number of techniques have been developed to achieve this goal, as different types of seeds have different characteristics, but the basic goal is the same- trick the seed out of dormancy.

Small seeds

Sprinkle small seeds across a paper towel or coffee filter and thoroughly soak the seeds and surrounding material with water.

Wet a second piece of paper and place it over the first, covering the seeds.

Leave the seeds soaking for up to 12 hours, checking every hour to see when they begin to swell. Add more water to the seeds if the towel or filter dries out. Once the seeds appear to be approximately double in size, remove them from the towels and plant them according to package directions.

Hard-shelled seeds

Scratch the surface of seeds that have hard casings with a small file or paring knife. This cuts through the layers of the tough outer coating to allow water to penetrate the seed and end the seeds' dormant phase. This only needs to be done at one location on the seed.

Place scratched seeds into a bowl of water for three to four hours prior to planting.

Treat stubborn seeds with acids such as sulphuric acid or gibberellic acid-3 (GA-3). Purchased through chemical supply companies or occasionally marketed through garden centers, the acid stimulates germination making it possible to grow seeds that would otherwise require prolonged or complex treatments. Seeds are soaked in the acid for 30 to 120 minutes, depending on size. Then the acid is washed away with water and planted. The timing is critical as overexposure will kill the seeds, therefore this method is not as common among amateur gardeners.


Distribute seeds that have been soaked for 24 go 36 hours evenly across a layer of peat moss to get sprouts started.

Transfer the peat moss to a plastic tub and place the tub in a refrigerator for four to six weeks, spraying with water as needed to keep the peat moss moist.

Use a combination of cold and moisture to encourage germination. If you have several months, this can be easily accomplished by placing the seeds into a plastic freezer bag with a damp paper towel and tossing them into the freezer for up to four months. The damp, cool conditions mimic winter, preparing the seeds to germinate when warmer conditions begin.


Read the back of the packet for seed specific instructions regarding germination techniques if you're unsure which method would be best for you.


If treating seeds with acids, handle with care as they can be caustic to the skin and eyes.

Garden Guides