Do I need to orientate my seeds when sowing?
Written by Bill Date Posted: 16 November 2015
I’m often posed a familiar question by eager new gardeners looking to make the most of their efforts: "Do I need to orientate my seeds when sowing?"
My answer? "No, not really." But you certainly can, and you may wish to.
When considering whether or not to use proper seed orientation it's important to understand that although most seeds do technically have a correct orientation, for most home gardeners seed orientation probably won't effect your results much either way.
Let’s take a closer look at matters, shall we?
Orientation, Geotropism, and the Radicle
As mentioned, most seeds do have a "correct" orientation, although it varies by seed type. Additionally, seeds will self-correct their own orientation regardless of how they are initially planted. Understanding how this works requires a knowledge of a couple key terms:
First, there’s geotropism. You see, seeds actually have an innate ability to re-orient themselves regardless of how they’ve been sown. They do this with the help of gravity. Roots grow naturally toward the pull of gravity, while the shoot of the plant will grow away from it. Gravity always wins out regardless of how a seed was inserted in the soil. This process/ability is called geotropism.
There’s also something called a radicle, this is the embryonic root inside the seed that will grow downward and it's the first part of the seedling that will emerge from a seed during germination. The radicle is located differently depending on the type of seed, but the important thing to remember is that if you accidentally plant a seed with its radicle facing in the "wrong" direction (upward), the stem and root will change direction naturally due to geotropism, thereby correcting the issue. This is why most home gardeners need not lose too much sleep over seed orientation when sowing. A good rule of thumb is that the radicle will normally emerge from the same side of the seed that has the seed scar (this is the scar where the seed was originally attached to the plant) and this scar should face down when sowing.
That said, this doesn’t mean there aren’t benefits to getting it technically right...
Benefits of Sowing Seeds In Their Correct Orientation
Although seeds can self-correct their orientation, there are potentially slight benefits to sowing the seed with its radicle properly pointed downward in the direction the root will naturally grow with gravity, especially when dealing with larger seeds.
Whenever a seed is forced to change direction after being sown against its natural orientation, there is some wasted energy that will never be recovered. This small handicap can delay your seedlings from emerging for a day or two. In some situations such as professional seedling production this disadvantage can be critical.
However, while there has been discussion that improper sowing orientation can decrease the vigour of a plant in more substantive ways, there is little hard evidence to support this sentiment, and even some contrary evidence. Additionally, we know for sure that small, round seeds are not substantially affected by orientation at all.
Orientation According to Seed
If you’re looking for that "head-start" with a seedling or just want some piece of mind when sowing, here’s a quick "cheat sheet" for understanding orientation by seed. This is by no means all-encompassing, but will help you get started:
Pointed seeds- The radicle is normally on(or emerges from) the tip of the seeds, so you’ll want the tip to be pointed downward when sowing. These include watermelon, squash, cucumbers, and corn seeds.
Bean seeds- The radicle emerges from the side of the seed.
Spear shaped seeds- The radicle will be located at one of the ends of the seed.
Small seeds- Small seeds are impossible to orientate with any accuracy so it's best not to worry about these, they will work things out themselves!
If you're not sure where the radicle is, a good rule of thumb is that the radicle will normally emerge from the same side of the seed that has the seed scar (this is the scar where the seed was originally attached to the plant) and this scar should face down when sowing.
So remember, sow with the radicle in mind if you’re looking for every possible advantage, but ultimately, don’t fret over it. Your seeds will figure things out on their own.
Related blog posts:
Author: Jennifer Charlotte Date Posted: 31 March 2017
Sowing tiny seeds can be a daunting task and if not handled correctly can lead to disappointing results. This article discusses many of the challenges tiny seeds cause as well as many methods you can employ to ensure you get the best results possible.
Author: Adam Boddy Date Posted: 29 January 2016
It's one of the most common issues you run into when starting plants from seed. What do you do when your seedlings grow skinny, delicate and spindly? This article can help diagnose why you are winding up with leggy seedlings and how to correct it.
Author: Sarah Rasdall Date Posted: 16 December 2015
Knowing how to transplant seedlings from pots into your garden is an essential skill every gardener needs to know. This article details some keys points to make sure your seedlings get the best start possible in their new home.
Author: Sarah Rasdall Date Posted: 13 November 2015
Sowing seeds is the most miraculous part of the entire growing process. Watching a complete plant come alive from a tiny capsule is truly a magnificent journey. Here are some tips to ensure that you can relax and enjoy this miracle of nature.
Recent blog posts:
Author: Jennifer Charlotte Date Posted: 14 August 2018
Bees play vital part in the production of many of the world's food crops. Unfortunately though, bees are under threat from intensive farming, disease, and even climate change. This article explains how planning your garden with bees can make difference.
Author: Jennifer Charlotte Date Posted: 7 August 2018
Many plants dislike the disruption of being transplanted to their final location. Sowing your seeds in eggshells overcomes this problem, while also offering environmental benefits and providing your plants with extra nutrition.
Author: The Seed Collection Date Posted: 2 August 2018
Not all plants fit their growing season to your local conditions. Any gardener who loves tomatoes will know all about the race to ripen fruits before the first frosts arrive. However, you can sow these & other cold-hating seeds in late winter.
Author: The Seed Collection Pty Ltd Date Posted: 23 July 2018
Herbal teas offer a wide variety of intriguing flavours as well as many benefits to health and wellbeing. However, perhaps most importantly, they also open up new ways of enjoying your garden and of growing a wider variety of unusual plants.
Author: The Seed Collection Date Posted: 17 July 2018
Some plants produce seeds that have evolved a period of dormancy to get them through a winter before germinating. Cold stratification is a method of simulating seasonal conditions to encourage reluctant seeds to germinate more reliably.
View all blog posts