Does nicking seeds speed up germination?

This was originally submitted as a question on our old Trebrown forum.

“I was wondering if nicking seeds helps speed up germination on bananas and palms, specifically Jelly Palm seeds? What I mean by nicking is that you cut, scrape or grind away a small piece of the outer seed shell/husk so moisture can quickly enter the seed. I do this on some of my tropical water lilies and lotus and it works great. Thanks, Mike.”

The process is called scarification, where the outer seed coat is scratched to better improve water permeation to reach the Endosperm (seed). It can be done, and many people will swear by it as speeding up germination. We here germinate hundreds of thousands of seeds every year and we NEVER do this. If you attempt this you must be very careful not to go too far and break through and damage the seed. This is the best way to rot your seeds. Of-course the seed needs water to germinate, and many hard coated seeds, if they are very dry or oily will reduce that flow of water. I know from experience that the best way to hydrate seeds is to soak them for longer. Up to a couple of weeks if necessary, but usually 3 days will suffice. Warm to hot water is better. However, make sure you change the water daily or you’ll deplete the required oxygen from reaching the seed, and fungus could also attack the seed. Seeds have hard seed coats to protect the seeds. It’s natural, and seeds will germinate with their coats on. Perhaps one exception could be used if you are persistently trying to germinate as many Jubaea chilensis or Butia species as you possibly can. This process cannot be used for all Butia species, just the fatter seeds. That is, if you’ve tried to germinate a batch of seeds and there are a few remnants after trying for a whole year, then you can try completely removing the whole shell. To do this you would need to crack open the shell in a vice and carefully remove the soft seed without damaging it. It will be obvious to you if the seed is still good or not. The good seeds must then be dipped in a fungicide and germinated in sterile conditions. These will either germinate within a month or die. So always leave this method as the last option. There are many methods used for germinating different kinds of seeds. The oily seed requirement is an important one, which requires frequent washing and leaving seeds in the sunshine to heat-up and dissipate the oil, a process developed for pre-treating Oil palm seeds (Elaeis). There are too many methods for me to list in this thread. I’ll leave those for specific species questions. But I will answer your questions here Mike. Bananas – always soak for a few days. Adding a teaspoon full of potassium nitrate to the water will soften the shell. Always plant the seeds in a regular seed mix. Don’t try the baggie method. 30°C. Keep the soil moist, and the plants humid. Jelly Palm – Butia capitata (I mentioned it above) Soak the seeds for up to 2 weeks if necessary. Adding a teaspoon full of potassium nitrate to the water will soften the shell. Germinate in sealed plastic boxes in a simple medium like Perlite, Vermiculite, Coir or Peat, where the seeds lie on the surface or half buried in the medium. There must be an inch of air space at the top of the tub. And the temperature must fluctuate between about 5°C – 35°C (40°F – 100°F). Seeds will take a month or 2 to start germinating. The ungerminated seeds can then be soaked again, and tried again.

“Thank you Phil for the quick reply. Wow that was a great explanation. It made a lot of sense. I was already soaking the Jelly Palms but will continue for another week with regular water changes. Where do you get potassium nitrate from? Mike.”

Potassium nitrate is the saltpetre, or saltpeter (American spelling) used in gunpowder manufacture. Chemical formula KNO3. I don’t know where you are in the world Mike, but you can no longer buy this off the chemist’s shelves here in the UK. It used to be easy to get, but I guess these days they’ve found alternative remedies for the ailments it was used to treat, and it’s a banned product for obvious reasons. Ironically, those who want to buy it to make explosives can still do so in the large quantities they need direct from the wholesale suppliers in the USA. That is your problem! You would need to buy it in massive quantities, which is not practical for the average seed grower. It really isn’t necessary to use this though. Just soak your seeds for longer if necessary. Seeds from Butia, Jubaea and the rest of that family respond well to temperature fluctuations. Whenever, you need to re-soak your remnant seeds try putting them in a glass jar of water and leave it in the hot sun in a glasshouse all day. That method of soaking really makes them jump.

“Well all this info came at the perfect time. I have Butia x Jubaea seed that arrived today. Cheers, Las Palmas Norte.”