Seed Preparation: Don’t believe the whole Internet

Seed preparation for redwood does not necessarily involve five days of soaking without air.

Free at last! Free at last! Redwood, other redwood and coffee tree seeds celebrate their ability to breathe.

So I was talking to my friend Mia this afternoon – our usual chatty chat about how our day has gone, whose neighborhood is hotter (I win! Take THAT, Inland Empire!), what she’s got for sale in her Smart Seeds Etsy shop, what I’m planting, and so on.

I mention it’s time to take the redwood and coffee seeds out of their soak since it’s been five days since I put them on the paper towels in their baggies, and keep talking about the 50 chia seeds I planted “by accident” because my hand slipped and I was going to —

“Wait. What?” Mia.

“What what? I’m going to plant some —” Me, rewinding.

“No. No no. Before that. What you said about baggies. What do you have in baggies?”

“Dawn redwood, those coffee tree seeds, and some other redwood. Why?”

“Why do you have them in baggies!?”

“Aren’t I supposed to soak them? I read on the Internet how to —”  (I think I hear my friend and ever-patient Master Gardener swearing under her breath in a most ladylike manner.)

Then she explains to me that seeds need to be able to BREATHE. Seed preparation isn’t something that applies to every seed you get your hands on. Some want to be nicked. Some have to be soaked. Some you can just plant – like those 50 chia seeds. Why on earth are you planting 50 chia seeds anyway? (I can hear her giggling as she hangs up.)


I raced to the dining room table and liberated five dawn redwood seeds, three coffee tree seeds and a handful of the other kind of redwood seeds whose name escapes me.

I swear one gasped, “Ahhhh, air! I can breathe! Thank you, tall human with big glasses.”

Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet. Please. Even if your best friend is a Master Gardener with patience beyond measure.

Oh, and don’t bother soaking chia seeds before you plant them, whether it’s five or 50. They turn into goo. I read that on the Internet – and then I tried it (and they were right).

To your garden success!
Casey – the Garden Lass


Germination: How long will it take for X to grow?

Seed germination in two to three weeks, according to the label.

“Germination in 2-3 weeks.” They forgot to tell the basil seeds inside this packet.

The easy answer about seed germination time is “not normally overnight.”

One of the most common questions that new gardeners come up with is “how long will it take this seed to get going?” The best answer is “it depends.”

I know that’s not satisfactory… but when you think about all that’s involved for a seed to decide to grow, it’s pretty dang accurate.

Sweet corn, for instance, takes 4-12 days if the germination conditions are right:

  • – if the soil temperature is between 60F and 95F
  • – if the soil is prepared properly
  • – if the planting depth is at an inch
  • – if the seed is viable (alive and in the mood to grow)
  • – if the birds don’t dig it up and eat it
  • – if the seed isn’t too old or too dead to grow
  • – if it isn’t overwatered and turned to mush
  • – if the right nutrients are present
  • – if the right amount of moisture is provided.
Overachiever basil ignores seed packet instructions showing germination at 2-3 weeks.

Overachiever basil ignores seed packet instructions showing germination at 2-3 weeks.

This Basil is Ignoring Germination Guidelines

Here’s a basil that popped up after three days. The packet says to expect it in two to three WEEKS. Overachiever? Basil can’t read? Perhaps, or maybe it’s because all the germination conditions were perfect and the seed was in a hurry to get going. Who knows.

Maybe it knew I needed more basil.

Germination General Guidelines

I wrote about this earlier, but failed to take my own advice. I figured if I were going to ignore it ( and apparently so is the basil), it bears repeating.

So before you call your friendly seed purveyor in a panic, here are a few germination times for things you might want to grow.

Here, too, is a nifty Seed Germination Guide from Thompson & Morgan, which used to be included with each seed order. I don’t know if they still do that, but it’s a great way to get started.

To your garden success!
Casey – the Garden Lass

Germination Times for the Patience-Impaired

no germination happening here, just empty peat pots waiting for seeding mix and seeds

Is it soup yet? Is it soup yet? is it…

To keep my 7-year-old Inner Child from checking on freshly seeded pots every 10 minutes – (“Is it soup yet?” “Is it soup yet?” “Is it… ” you get the picture) – here’s a list of some common vegetable germination times.

  • 2-10 days:
    • potatoes (domestic white)
  • 7-14 days:
    • beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collards, corn, lettuce, onions, peas, potatoes (red), radishes, spinach, turnips
  • 7-21 days:
    • cucumbers, squash
  • 7-30 days:
    • tomatoes
  • 7-60 days:
    • peppers (varies widely)
  • 14-45 days:
    • gourds, bitter melons
None shows germination times under an hour. Checking if they’ve germinated each time the clock chimes is a waste of time.

Germination varies by growing zone and general climate, but a good rule of thumb is:

  1. Follow packet instructions
  2. Find instructions online if the seed packet doesn’t have them
  3. Germination happens when the seed’s ideal conditions are met
  4. Keep plants with the same germination needs in the same area
  5. For ideal germination results, give seeds consistent light, heat and moisture
  6. Invest in a germination mat or light (or both)