Should You Soak Sweet Pea Seeds Before Planting?
If you've grown sweet pea seeds before you will probably have heard that you should soak your seeds. And... you've probably also heard that you should not soak your seeds. Soaking sweet pea seeds is supposed to soften the tough outer skin so that the seed can germinate more easily. BUT, some experts will say that soaking will reduce the germination.
It's conflicting advice and confusing too because I have soaked sweet pea seeds and they have grown. And... I have sown seeds just as they are and they have grown. I find that sweet pea seeds usually have a very high germination rate (if using fresh, good quality seed), but I have never kept a tally of how many seeds have germinated using the soak or no soak methods and I never expected it to be 100% either way.
Finding I had a little extra time this autumn, I thought that I would do a small trial to find out what germination rates I got with soaked and unsoaked seeds. I tried to set this experiment up in as scientifically as possible (yes, I thought back to high school days of sciences class reports comprised of 'Aim', 'Method' and 'Conclusion'), but it was just a test carried out in my boot room, so take from it what you will!
I started with a few hundred sweet pea seeds - all freshly harvested this year and of the same cultivar. I then selected 100 seeds that were uniform in shape, size and color and divided them into 2 groups of 50 and placed them in jam jars.
50 seeds were then soaked for 12 hours and 50 seeds were left dry.
Meanwhile I prepared two identical 50 cell seed trays with moistened potting soil.
Over the many years I have grown sweet peas, I have always thought that one major factor that influences how many baby plants I get is the depth at which the seed I placed in the soil. The general rule of thumb is that a seed should be planted 2 or 3 times as deep as it is wide. However, I have found that sweet peas germinate better for me if planted a little more shallow than that - about a ¼ inch deep seems to work well.
I use a Ticonderoga pencil to make the holes for my sweet pea seed because the rings on the end are conveniently spaced at ¼ inch (remove the eraser to make this work!). Take a ruler and pencil and you will see what I mean.
I followed this rule for this 'experiment' and made sure that each seed was covered by no more than ¼ inch of potting soil.
The seeds were kept at around 63F simply because that was the ambient temperature of the room they were in. Sweet pea seeds can germinate at lower temperatures, but this was the temperature I had.
Once I planted the seeds, I did not water them again until I saw germination occur i.e. seedlings start to emerge (always exciting, no matter how many times you see it!).
I excluded light until germination occurred using a seed tray turned upside down over the plants cells.
I observed first signs of germination after 3 days, but I waited a full 14 days before counting how many seedlings I had in each of the groups. Once I saw babies emerging (day 3), I placed the trays in full light.
Thank you for reading this far, or did you just skip down the page to the 'results' section? Either way, thanks for checking out my post! The unsoaked, fresh, good quality seed won! I got 100% germination rate on the unsoaked seeds! I was surprised at that because (as I mentioned above) I don't usually expect 100% germination rate in ANY seed I plant.
The soaked seed didn't do too badly either. Only 3 of the seeds failed to germinate. That means that the soaked seeds had a 94% germination rate. Doesn't sound too bad hey? And really, for most of us, a 94% germination rate is going to be just fine. If you soak 10 sweet pea seeds to grow in your garden, then you probably won't notice the one that doesn't make it.
Worth noting: I only tested one sweet pea cultivar. Sweet pea cultivars will all likely have different rates of germination - the cultivar I tested just happened to have a great germination rate whether or not I soaked the seeds, plus the seeds were fresh and of good quality. You may see different results on different sweet pea cultivars and with seeds that are older etc.