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I've read many times guides on how to properly start seed growth by wrapping them in wet towels or placing in a bit of water and storing in a cool place (like basement or refrigerator) for a few days, but I never found out why do that in the first place.

I know it's not required because I've had success growing plants from seeds that I took directly from live plants and put right into soil. So why do it then?

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Depends on the plant and its seed - some seeds might be hard to germinate in soil, so its more successful to germinate them on wet towels, or they may require a period of cold in order to trigger growth, or may require heat, or damp and heat. But many seeds germinate perfectly well just being sown in soil or seed and cutting compost.

  • Is there any general rule for when one should bother with this? Perhaps only specific types of plants require it, or does it improve growth chances for all plants? – user1306322 Oct 15 '16 at 12:49
  • No general rule - its dependent on which plant/seed you're growing. And it does not necessarily improve germination rates for all seeds - for some its simply not necessary. – Bamboo Oct 15 '16 at 12:51
  • So people do it so often and for so many common seeds just because they heard it's a thing to do, and not because it's useful in their case? – user1306322 Oct 15 '16 at 12:53
  • I can't speak to other people's motivations, I've no idea why they do what they do... all I can do is answer a direct horticultural question. – Bamboo Oct 15 '16 at 12:56
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    The ones with hard seed covers seem to benefit most. I get my bitter melon en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Momordica_charantia to sprout in 5 days rather than 20 by soaking the scarified seed overnight in 2g/L potassium nitrate. Squash/pumpkin is same way. – Wayfaring Stranger Oct 15 '16 at 13:14
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People very commonly do this to test germination rates (because you can know the moment they germinate), especially for old or questionable seeds, or sometimes maybe seeds that just take a long time to germinate. Some people do it to germinate seeds generally, without regard to testing rates, but it surprises me that it would be recommended in multiple guides you've seen as standard practice for anything but testing germination rates or the other things I mentioned in the same sentence, except maybe for certain kinds of seeds (but not common vegetables, anyway).

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    It's not really a recommendation, but I've found that about half of the time when I google "how to plant seeds of X plant" a guide comes up which shows how to soak them for a few days first and then plant into soil. So that can be taken as the way to do it, and whenever a guide mentions both ways, it usually says "either way is fine" without elaborating on the why of it. – user1306322 Oct 15 '16 at 22:20
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    Different plants, different families, different genus all have different germination tactics. Some seeds do well germinated in wet paper towels, some need to be put through 'fire', some need to be scarified (like road rash when puttin' your bike on its side and you are still causing friction with the asphalt). Vegetative propagation gives one an identical clone of the single parent. Seeds require 2 parents. If one has a seed and does not KNOW both parents well there is no way to know what germination technique is best nor what you will have once germinated. – stormy Oct 17 '16 at 5:38
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Beans are such plants, which is good to germinate before to plant. The reason, in case of beans, is to reduce deceases: less time that they remain in vulnerable state, before to growth. Note: beans are softer then most of other vegetable seeds.

Personally, the only germinated plants I plant are beans and potatoes (but in this case, not from seeds).

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