How do seeds know when to germinate?

A seed is a plant embryo, ready to germinate and grow into a new individual. Although seeds cannot move on their own – instead relying on forces like wind, water, and animals to carry them around – they are able to detect when conditions are favorable to begin their new life.

Since a seed can only germinate once, after which it is fixed to its location, survival depends on making a good choice about when to germinate. The question of when, in this context, includes both place and time.

The basic requirements for a plant’s survival are soil, sunlight, and water. Thus, a seed will not germinate until it detects that it has good contact with soil, access to light, and a little bit of water. This one fact is very valuable for a gardener to know. To encourage a seed to begin growing, simply provide it with these three things. To prevent seeds from germinating, arrange your garden so that no location provides all three of these factors to any seeds that may arrive.

In addition to detecting conditions, plants can also track experiences. This helps them to avoid germinating at unfavorable times, in order to increase their chances of getting a good start in life. For example, the seeds of some plants will not germinate until they experience a cold period, followed by a warm period. This process, known as stratification, helps a plant ensure that it is germinating in the spring, so that it can maximize its growth before the arrival of the next winter.

Some seeds are equipped with a tough outer coating, and require a process called scarification to break through their shells and begin to grow. In nature, this requirement is normally satisfied by a trip through an animal’s digestive tract. That is, some seeds have evolved to not only survive being eaten, but to benefit from it! A gardener can mimic this process by rubbing seeds between two sheets of sandpaper.

Starting a garden from seed is fun and economical. Reputable seed sellers will provide information on what special conditions each type of seed needs in order to germinate.

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How do seeds know when to germinate?

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