Monday, August 11, 2014

Getting Cucurbits off to a Good Start

Some Pre-sprouted Cucurbit Seed.
Because a seedling requires photosynthesis to grow into a thriving plant, the longer a seedling grows without sunlight the more it uses up its energy reserves in an attempt to expose its leaves to sunlight. The seedling that can pull its leaves from the seed coat quickly will begin to process sunlight earlier so it can grow strong and large before weeds, predators, and temperatures become unfavorable. Effective gardeners provide an optimal environment for each plant to grow so that the plant, in turn, will produce leaves, flowers and fruit much earlier than it would do in nature.

A cucurbit seed with roots (left) and primary leaves (right)

Cucurbitaceae  or Cucurbit seed, including squash, cucumbers, melons and their relatives tend to emerge from the seed coat in a uniform fashion with the root emerging before the primary leaves. As the primary leaves develop, they fill out until they can finally break free of the seed coat. Depending on the seed quality and the environment provided, cucurbit seedlings can require less than 1 day or over 2 weeks to emerge. Although seed quality is not a factor that most gardeners have total control of, each gardener possesses a large portion of control over a seedling’s initial environment.

In a previous post I outlined some tips for exposing cucurbit seeds to an environment in which they will sprout. Once a seedling is almost finished sprouting and its primary leaves begin to push off their seed coat, a gardener can ensure that the seedling sprouts earlier by how they position the seedling in the soil. Although various gardeners may find different methods for getting their cucurbits off to a good start I wish to show one method that I’ll call “seedling positioning” that I believe enables seedlings to quickly expose their primary leaves to sunlight.

1. First, you presprout the cucurbits. If you are unfamiliar with presprouting cucurbit seeds there is a little guide to the process at the bottom of the page at

2. Then you make sure the soil you wish to plant in has been watered deeply, then left to dry until the soil is workable (not soaking).


Illustration of initial soil, with broken line representing ground level.

3. Then, you dig one small trench.


 4. Then another next to it.

5. Compact the dirt in between each trench to make a bump or island between the two holes that can support the middle of the cucurbit seed.

6. Then place the cucurbit seed with the root in the soil at one side and the primary leaves and seed coat on the other side.

Drawing of seed placement or positioning

Photograph of Seed Placement (or positioning)


7. Fill in the root portion of the soil to the soil line above the bump, leaving the middle of the seedling exposed.


8. Fill in the area above the primary leaves and seed coat with soil to the soil line, compacting the soil or leaving a small rock above the seed coat. By weighing down the seed coat the primary leaves will be able to pull out of the seed coat without taking the seed coat with it.
Burying all but the midsection of the seedling.

Note: 7 and 8 Can be interchanged. I actually prefer to fill in the seed coat first to hold the seedling in place.

Putting Dirt on the Seed Coat First

9. Leave the middle of the seed exposed or gently brush around where you last saw it until it is exposed.
Adding dirt over the roots (Palo Verde branch marking exposed portion of seedling).

10. Keep from directly watering on the seedling (you can water near the seedling) until the seedling has sprouted.

With the seedling correctly placed in the soil it can sprout quickly.

This time red arrows denote where the seeds are beginning to spout.

In 1 day the sprouted seedlings have emerged because of their placement in the soil.

Although I have not attempted a side-by-side trail of using vs. not using my seedling positioning technique I have noticed that positioning the seedlings so that they receive sun quickly enables them to grow quickly. I hope that other gardeners are able to find that positioning their seedlings helps them as much as it has helped me.

Happy Gardening!