How to nick seeds?

How To Scarify Seeds For Spring Planting

by Amanda

Nasturtium, Sweet Pea, Milkweed, Lupine, and Morning Glory seeds ready to be scarified and soaked.

Although most wildflower seeds can simply be scattered on bare dirt, there are several varieties that will have a better germination (sprouting) rate with just a little extra work before planting. Seeds such as Morning Glories, Lupine, Sweet Pea, and more have very hard seed coatings, which you can see just by looking at them. For the most successful (and quickest) germination of these seeds, you can scarify and soak the seeds before planting.

Seed Scarification: nicking, breaking, softening, or otherwise weakening of the seed coating meant to speed up germination.

You can see the hard, almost walnut-like seed coating on these Nasturtium seeds. For best germination, you can nick the outer coating and soak the seeds overnight before planting.

How To Scarify Seeds: Why Do Some Seeds Need This?

Tough seed coats are nature’s way of protecting seeds from accidentally sprouting early. If water were to penetrate the seed coat as soon as the seeds were planted by the gardener (or dropped by the current generation’s flowers) the endosperm inside each seed could be triggered to germinate at the wrong time. Imagine having your seeds sprout just before the arrival of winter, or during a devastating drought – either would make a terrible schedule for tender seedlings!

To combat this unwanted outcome, some plants have developed thicker, tougher seed cases for their offspring. This allows the natural freezing and thawing cycles of winter (or exposure to a rainy season in warmer climates, or even passage through an animal’s digestive tract) to slowly soften the seeds up, only permitting water to pass through and reach the endosperm when the correct time arrives. This built-in timing is why planting in fall is so successful for so many varieties – and is exactly what you’re trying to outwit by scarifying seeds before sowing.

These tender milkweed sprouts arrive on a carefully-timed schedule. If they were to accidentally germinate in fall instead of spring, they would not survive the onset of winter.

What happens if I don’t scarify seeds with hard outer coatings? You may still get sprouts followed by strong, healthy plants. However, you should expect a lower percentage of your overall planting to germinate, at a slower rate.

Common Seed Varieties That Need Scarification

Many native plants and wildflowers require scarification, as they are very likely to have mechanisms in place that control the timing of their germination – a trait that has allowed them to evolve wonderfully in our local climates. When in doubt, assume that your natives need to be soaked before planting at the least!

Note: Most vegetable seeds are soft and do not require any scarification.

Although this isn’t a comprehensive list, here are some of the common garden seed varieties that germinate and grow more quickly with scarification and soaking:

Morning Glories, Nasturtium, and Sweet Peas

Lupine, Milkweed, and Joe Pye Weed

Poppy Mallow, Columbine, and Moonflower

Spinach, Winter Squash, and Beans

Morning Glories are one of the seeds that benefit from scarification and soaking to speed up germination.

How To Scarify Seeds: Get Your Ingredients Together

We scarified and soaked five different seed varieties in less than one hour.

A simple look around your kitchen and workshed should suffice for gathering all the tools needed for this process. You have several options for tools to nick the seed coats. We used sandpaper, a file, and a nail, in our experiment. The file works best on bigger seeds, while the sandpaper is a great choice for smaller seeds.

All the ingredients you’ll need to scarify and soak your seeds.

Scarification Tools: file/rasp, sandpaper, nail, several bowls, room temperature water, and peat moss/plastic baggies if you’d like to store the seeds overnight.

How To Scarify Seeds: An Easy Step-By-Step Process

As soon as you have the ingredients together and your seeds, the process is quite simple:

1. Using the tool of your choice, nick the seed coat so that the inside (which is usually lighter in color) shows through. You want to be careful to do as little harm as possible, so as not to damage the seed. Repeat this process for all of your seeds.

A file makes nicking these Morning Glory seeds fairly easy.

You can see that these seeds were nicked just enough to reveal the lighter-colored innards of the seed, and no more.

Sandpaper is also an easy way to nick seeds. One easy method is to rub seeds together in between two sheets.

The Lupine seed on the left has been scarified with sandpaper. The one on the right has not.

2. Place the seeds in a bowl of tepid water and let soak overnight. As soon as the seeds start to noticeably swell, remove them from the water immediately and get them in the ground as soon as possible. You can also layer your seeds among damp peat moss, and store in a plastic baggie in the refrigerator overnight (or longer) to mimic a cold, wet spring. This process is called stratification and is a common approach with milkweed seeds.

Soak the seeds overnight until they are plump. Plant as soon as possible.

Add water to the peat moss.

Place your scarified seeds in a plastic baggie and mix. Leave overnight (or longer, depending upon the information that accompanies your seeds).

Other Seed Scarification Techniques:

There are several other techniques out there, depending on your preference and materials available:

  • Place the seeds in the freezer overnight and then soak at room temperature for a few days, until seeds start to swell.
  • Place seeds in the freezer overnight and then put them in boiling water, letting them soak in the hot water for several hours.

Seed Stratification: a process of mimicking a cool, moist winter to break dormancy and encourage sprouting that involves layering seeds among moistened growing media such as sand, peat and soil and subjecting to cold temperatures.

  • To stratify seeds, place them in a bag with coarse sand (or a 50/50 mix of sand and peat moss) and shake for 60 seconds. Add enough water to make damp and let soak overnight.
  • After nicking seeds, place them in between soaked paper towels in a plastic baggie and let sit overnight in the refrigerator.
  • In fall, layer seeds in a pot with growing medium and plant the pot in the garden.

What Results To Expect From Seed Scarification

Many gardeners are used to planting their seeds without scarifying or soaking them beforehand. If you decide to try this process, what can you expect in terms of results?

Our collective experience has shown us a higher success rate with the native seeds we planted, meaning that we’ve seen a higher percentage of seeds sprout into seedlings than when we just sow them without any form of pre-treatment.

Additionally, you can expect your seeds to sprout more quickly, which is a hands-down great reason to spend the extra few moments that seed scarification takes. This is especially true for gardeners living in extreme cold or high-altitude areas, who have a very short growing season to contend with.

Do you have experience scarifying your seeds before planting? Please share your tips in the comments below!

Most gardeners dread winter… 2-4 (depending on where you are) months of zero greenery or ability to work the soil? What a nightmare! Luckily, by the time the new year rolls around we’re just about ready to get going on our seed starting!

We’ve put together a detailed post on some of the more delicate processes in seed starting; stratification, scarification, and soaking, as well as some basic seed starting info. Read on!

What does a seed need to germinate?

All seeds are living organisms held in a dormancy until the right conditions are met for their germination and growth. Seeds are very slowly using stored food reserves until they are given signs to wake up and break out of their seed coat. Many factors affect their viability and ‘germination’, the waking up process.

Moisture, light, air ,and temperature

Moisture – A dormant seed is dehydrated and needs to absorb water to become active, this then wakes up its metabolism so it can utilize its stored food from the embryo. It begins to swell, breaking open its seed coat and then sprouting.

Light – Plants have different needs for light requirements for germination. Some seeds need light for germination and others do not. For example, strawberry seeds require light so they must be planted on the surface. Tomatoes, pepper, and squash don’t necessarily require darkness and will germinate on top of the soil. But they will all need light natural or artificial once they start the growth process. A good rule to follow is to plant the seed at a depth 2-3 times its thickness.

Air – Oxygen is needed for germination. The seeds obtain this by using oxygen from the water and air contained in the soil. When soil conditions are kept too wet, there is not enough oxygen for the seed to breathe and it will rot, stopping its germination process.

Temperature – Germination temperature varies for different crops. The optimum for most crops is 65°-75 °. Too warm or too cool soil can lower seed germination or inhibit it. Warm season crops started indoors like peppers,tomatoes, eggplants, and watermelons perform best when soil temps are 75° to 80°. Another example is lettuce seeds, which do not well germination in temps 80° and above.

Soaking, Scarification, and Stratification

SOAKING – The purpose of soaking seed is to break through the protective seed coat (testa) and provide it some moisture before it is planted. Sometimes to start seeds, you must fool nature! By soaking seeds you are artificially breaking the dormancy of the seeds and this gives the seed the sign it now has optimal growing conditions . Soaking your seed can decrease germination time. For example, peas and beets come up faster when they have been soaked in water 24 hours prior to planting. Thick, hard seed coats, like morning glories, moon flowers, nasturtiums, sweet peas, also benefit from being soaked. Some seeds have inhibitors so they don’t germ inside the fruit, and this needs to be leached off by soaking. In nature, this could take awhile, so soaking speeds up the process. Soaking just for a day can provide the same amount of water than some seeds would get in a week sown out in the garden absorbing water from the environment.


  • Cover with an amount of water 4-5 times the volume of the seed
  • Warm, clean tap water is good for soaking (If you wouldn’t drink your tap water, then don’t soak the seed in it. Use bottled water instead. )

  • The seed coat often becomes lighter as the seed swells and hull softens
  • Soaking 6-24 hours is best before sowing immediately. Your soaked seed needs to be planted right away to prevent them from drying out.

  • 8 days later, seedling pea sprouts!
  • Our master gardener here at Pinetree usually soaks her seed the night before, then plants the seed in the morning. You can also soak the seed in the morning, and then plant it in the afternoon.

  • CAUTION: Over soaking can cause the seed to rot and start the decomposing process. Also, soaking the seed after the root is exposed can result in early root damage.

SCARIFICATION – Scarification allows moisture and water to penetrate better and quicker by scratching, nicking, or breaking the seed coat. This is generally used on large seeds or seeds with hard coats.


  • Nick the seed coat using a knife, rub on a file or sandpaper or gently knock with a hammer.

  • Be careful not to damage the eye (AKA ‘hilum’, the area where the seed was attached to the ovary of the parent plant)

  • If the seed requires soaking as well, do so before planting.
  • If it does not require soaking, plant directly into soil-less mix, or your preferred seed starting medium.

STRATIFICATION – Stratification is the process of exposing seed to cold prior to sowing in order to simulate natural winter conditions that some seeds must go through before germination. Some seeds go through a dormant phase, and generally will not sprout until this dormancy is broken. The seeds of many perennials need this chilling and warming to break down the germination inhibitors. Sowing outdoors in the fall can provide these conditions naturally. Stratifying your own seeds inside provides you the ability to control this process more, mimicking winter following with the spring or warm temps.


  • Sow the seed on a pre-moistened seed starting medium (soil-less mix)

  • Place them in a plastic bag and put in refrigerator (most are 40-45 degrees)

  • Time varies depending on the type of seed. Anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of months.

  • Then sow seeds indoors under provided light, or just keep them in the container you stratified them in and place them underneath lights.

  • Check once a week to make sure the medium has not dried out.

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Scarification is the process of cutting or burning permanent artistic designs into the flesh for cosmetic purposes using scalpels, electrocautery pens or other implements. Properly performed scarification pieces can look great on anyone regardless of their skin tone. However, those with darker skin pigments may be more satisfied with the finished look of scarification designs than they would be with tattoos, since scarification pieces tend to stand out more against darker skin than tattoos.

If you’re considering getting scarified or have recently undergone a scarification procedure, it’s important to brush up on proper scarification aftercare to ensure your new body art heals fully and well. This scarification aftercare guide will teach you what you should know before you get scarified, how to care for your scarification piece during the healing process, possible complications that may arise and how to address them, and more.

What You Should Know Before Getting Scarified

Since scarification is a more extreme form of permanent body modification, it’s a good idea to learn all you can about the process, healing, potential complications, and how to find a reputable artist before you set an appointment to get scarified. You should also pick a design that you’re passionate about–one that’s meaningful to you now and that you’re confident you’ll still love years from now.

Scarification Methods

People tend to think of scarification as being performed primarily with scalpels and other cutting instruments, but human branding and abrasion are also classified as scarification procedures. Cutting and electrosurgical branding (a.k.a. laser branding) are two of the most commonly-used scarification methods in the western world, because they tend to yield the best cosmetic results.

Not every scarification artist is well versed in all scarification methods, so if you’re interested in having scarification performed a certain way, you’ll have to do your homework to find a reputable artist who uses your preferred method. You can learn about each scarification method in the sections below to help you decide which method might be best for you, but you should also talk to your chosen scarification artist and be open to his or her suggestions about the best way to implement your scarification design.

  • Cutting is the process of cutting designs into the skin using a scalpel or other sharp instrument. This is a cosmetic procedure that should not be confused with self-mutilation, or cutting for the purpose of self harm. Cutting may be combined with other tools to create scarification pieces. Sometimes tattoo ink is rubbed into scarification wounds to darken a design. A wound can also be filled with liquid skin adhesive to hold the wound open and encourage more significant scarring. In Africa and some other tribal cultures, cut scarification wounds are often packed with clay or ash to create significant hypertrophic scars, but the packing method is less common in western civilization due to sanitation concerns. Sometimes the skin within a cut design is peeled away to enhance the image, but skinning can result in scarification pieces with an inconsistent texture. To create larger scarification pieces or designs with varied degrees of shading, some artists use a cutting method known as hatching that’s sort of like sketching, but with a scalpel.
  • Strike Branding is the process of using a heated piece of metal to press a design into someone’s skin with a single application, the way livestock are frequently branded. Strike branding isn’t an ideal method for creating permanent body art, because it isn’t as precise as other scarification methods. The design can spread greatly during the healing process, too. This option is not recommended for curvier parts of the body. If you choose this method, the results will be better if your artist uses multi-strike branding, which is the process of applying heated metal to the skin in stages to create a design rather than applying an entire design with a single strike.
  • Cold Branding is the process of freezing a metal object so that it will burn a design into the skin in the same manner that strike branding would, but this method requires the use of a tool like liquid nitrogen to charge the branding iron rather than heat or flame. Hair usually grows back white over cold branded skin, and this form of branding is less likely to cause keloids to develop than strike branding is.
  • Cautery Branding is the process of burning an artistic design into a person’s skin using a thermal cautery tool. This method tends to yield better long-term results than single- or multi-strike branding.
  • Electrosurgical Branding is the process of burning designs into the skin with a hand-held electrical device that generates electric sparks that essentially vaporize the skin on contact. This type of branding is also referred to as laser branding even though there’s typically no medical laser involved in the process. Electrosurgical branding is a very precise scarification method that tends to be less damaging to surrounding tissue than traditional branding, and this method results in a quicker and less painful healing process.
  • Abrasion is the process of creating a scarification design by abrading the skin with an inkless tattoo machine, sandpaper or other devices that remove skin in layers with friction.

Finding a Scarification Artist

Before getting scarified, it’s important to carefully research scarification artists to find one who’s experienced and has a good reputation. Since this form of body modification isn’t as prevalent as tattoos and piercings are, you may have to travel a distance to see a reputable scarification artist, but it will be worth the effort if you do. Start your search by checking out local tattoo and piercing shops to see if any studios in your area employ a scarification artist or a piercer who also performs scarification. If you can’t find anyone locally, expand your search to include scarification artists in your state or surrounding states. Alternatively, you can look for traveling scarification artists who might be participating in upcoming body modification shows in your area.

Once you find a few candidates, you should look through their portfolios, paying particularly close attention to pictures of fully healed scarification pieces they’ve done to confirm that they do quality work that heals well. You can also look for artist reviews and talk to our online community members through our forum to see if anyone recommends the artists you’re considering. Narrow your choices down to the top two artists who you feel perform the best scarification work, and then talk to them before making your final decision. Choose the scarification artist whose work you like best, who comes most highly recommended, and who can speak to you about the scarification process and aftercare in an educated manner.

Amplifying Scarification Designs

There are a few different methods you and your artist can utilize to achieve the most pronounced scarification design. The scarification method used will play a roll, so talk to your artist about his or her preferred methods before s/he starts working on your scarification piece. Cutting, cautery branding and electrosurgical branding tend to yield the best results. If your chosen artist prefers a different method, be sure you like the way their healed work looks before proceeding.

Depending on the scarification method your artist uses, s/he may be able to fill your scarification design with something like DermaBond liquid skin adhesive to hold the wounds open and generate more pronounced hypertrophic scarring. You can also use an irritant like toasted sesame oil or antibiotic ointment mixed with a small amount of granulated sugar on your scarification piece at home during the first 4-10 days of the healing process to generate a more significant healed scarification design. Your artist will be able to recommend the best method for irritating your scarification piece, if s/he feels you should use one at all. If you do use an irritant at the appropriate stage, you should always work it into your scarification design in the same direction in which the cuts or burns were created to prevent uneven scarring. For the first 7-10 days after getting scarified, you should also wrap your scarification piece with plastic wrap like Precision Medical Cling Film Wrap and seal it off with medical tape after cleaning your wounds. This will trap in moisture, keep the wound deprived of oxygen, and slow down the healing process for optimal results. Read our Scarification Aftercare Tips below for additional suggestions on caring for a new scarification piece.

Warnings & Potential Complications

Since scarification is practiced by scarification artists rather than medical personnel, only a topical anesthetic can be used to dull the pain of the scarification process. If you have a low pain threshold, scarification may not be the best form of body modification for you to pursue. However, applying a topical anesthetic like Dr. Numb or Derma Numb 20-30 minutes before the scarification process and repeating applications periodically throughout the process can make it much more tolerable for those with low pain thresholds.

Scarification is a risky practice, because it damages the skin and encourages recurring trauma during the early stages of the healing process to yield the best results. It’s very important to work with a scarification artist who utilizes sterile tools, wears appropriate safety gear like masks and gloves, works in a clean environment, and understands human anatomy so s/he doesn’t damage your skin beyond what’s necessary to create your scarification piece. If your artist were to cut you too deeply or burn your tissue for too long, it could cause unfavorable visual results and possibly be a hazard to your health. You’ll also have to perform religious scarification aftercare at home to minimize your chances of developing an infection and to achieve the most even hypertrophic scarring possible.

Important Note: If you know you’re prone to keloid scarring or are unsure, but know that someone in your immediate family is prone to developing keloids around wounds, give extra cautious consideration to getting scarified. The scarification process is intended to generate controlled hypertrophic (raised) scars in a set pattern. Hypertrophic scars heal as fairly skin-tone scars immediately around wounds, whereas keloid scars tend to grow out of control, forming lumpy mounds of taut, purplish-red scars that extend well beyond the area where scarring is intended. Keloid scarring can destroy a scarification design and leave you with undesirable scars that will have to be addressed by a dermatologist using treatment methods like cryotherapy to freeze off the excess scar tissue, laser therapy to burn it off, surgical removal, or corticosteroid shots to shrink the excess scar tissue. Those prone to keloids should avoid most forms of body modification, not just scarification. (Learn more about body modification scars here.)

Scarification Aftercare Tips

Scarification aftercare is very involved compared to tattoo and piercing aftercare. The way you care for a scarification piece changes as you get further into the healing process, as detailed in the sections below. There are also a few things you should do before getting scarified and consistently throughout the healing process to ensure that your scarification piece heals as well as possible.

Gather up your scarification aftercare tools before you get scarified so you don’t have to worry about shopping immediately after the procedure. You’ll need medical gloves (use nitrile gloves if you have a latex allergy or intolerance), antibacterial soap like H2Ocean’s Nothing pain-relieving foam soap or Tattoo Goo’s Deep Cleansing Soap, fresh paper towels or a supply of clean cotton towels, antibiotic ointment, plastic wrap like Precision Medical Cling Film Wrap, medical tape, petroleum jelly, and whatever irritant your scarification artist recommends to use at the appropriate stage in the scarification healing process. A range of irritants can be used, including toasted sesame seed oil, but it’s best to use the tool your artist thinks will work best for you, if any. Make sure to store all of your scarification aftercare tools in a clean, dry place–preferably in a sealed container where they won’t be exposed to potential contaminants.

As a prophylactic measure, you may want to speak to your family doctor about getting a prescription for an antibiotic that you can take during the first 7-10 days of the scarification healing process to ensure that you don’t develop an infection. You should also take measures to bolster your immune system both before and after getting scarified. Consider staring a daily regimen of vitamins that includes vitamin C, zinc and a multivitamin before getting scarified, and continue taking those vitamins throughout the healing process. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, try to get sufficient, quality sleep, eat nutritiously, and do your best to avoid other people’s germs while your scarification piece heals. Don’t let anyone touch your scarification wounds without gloved, clean hands, and don’t let anyone else’s bodily fluids come in contact with your wounds. Change your bed linens frequently, and wear clean clothes every day. Avoid communal water like hot tubs and pools, since these areas are typically fraught with bacteria.

Don’t apply cosmetics, hair products, creams or lotions to your scarification piece as it’s healing. Avoid alcohol, nicotine, excessive amounts of caffeine, aspirin, and elicit drugs, as all of these things can be detrimental to the scarification healing process. Alcohol, aspirin and too much caffeine can thin your blood, making it harder for your body to form clots. Nicotine has a systemic effect that slows down your immune system and, subsequently, your body’s ability to properly heal scarification wounds. If you’re a smoker, try to quit or at least cut back before getting scarified. If you can’t quit entirely, consider switching to an e-cigarette filled with e-juice that has a lower nicotine content. Nicotine lozenges, gum and patches are also helpful tools to use to reduce your nicotine intake while your scarification piece heals.

During each stage of the scarification healing process, you should modify your aftercare routine slightly as detailed in the sections below to get the best results. These suggestions are intended to be used as a supplement to the scarification aftercare instructions your artist provides. If any of the suggestions below conflict with the instructions your scarification artist gives you, follow your artist’s instructions instead or contact your artist to discuss which method s/he thinks is best.

Immediate Post-Scarification Aftercare

Within the first 6-12 hours of getting scarified, you’ll need to change your bandages. Follow these steps when you do:

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly with an antibacterial soap, pat them dry with a clean paper towel, and consider putting on medical gloves before touching your bandages. If anyone else helps you, they should definitely wear gloves.
  2. Carefully remove your bandages and throw them away.
  3. Fill your palm with a dollop of antibacterial soap; something like H2Ocean’s Nothing pain-relieving foam soap is ideal, because it contains a numbing agent that will lessen the discomfort of washing your scarification wounds. Add a small amount of water, rub your hands together to create a lather, and gently rub the soap into your scarification wounds in the direction the cuts or burns were created to prevent uneven scarring. Never scrub your scarification wounds with brushes or loofahs, as these things can cause uneven scarring.
  4. Thoroughly rinse off all the soap after lathering up your scarification wounds.
  5. Gently pat your skin dry with clean paper towels or a fresh cotton towel. (Never re-use cotton towels before washing them.) Make sure your skin is dry before proceeding to the next step, so your bandages will stay on properly.
  6. Coat your scarification wounds with a thin layer of antibiotic ointment, like A&D ointment or a triple antibiotic ointment. You should apply antibiotic ointment in the same direction in which your scars were created, as you did with the soap.
  7. Cover your scarification wounds with a sheet of plastic wrap, like Precision Medical Cling Film Wrap, but don’t wrap it around your wounds too tightly. Seal off the edges with medical tape. Bandaging your wounds in this way will keep the area under the plastic wrap moist and delay healing.

Repeat these steps twice a day for the first three days of the healing process.

Scarification Aftercare for Days 3-10

At this stage of the scarification healing process, new tissue should be developing. It’s very important to continue cleaning your scarification wounds twice a day to prevent an infection as new tissue forms. Apply antibacterial soap to your wounds by hand in the direction the wounds were created. Even at this stage, you shouldn’t scrub your wounds with any kind of brush or loofah, because doing so can cause uneven scarring.

After washing and drying your scarification wounds, you can begin incorporating an irritant at this point, if your artist recommends doing so. Use of an irritant will help build additional scar tissue that will make your healed scarification design more pronounced. Toasted sesame oil is a good tool, because it breaks up healing tissue while maintaining moisture. If you use toasted sesame oil, use it in place of antibiotic ointment before wrapping your scarification wounds with plastic wrap. Alternatively, you can add a small amount of sugar to antibiotic ointment or petroleum jelly for an effect that’s comparable to that of toasted sesame oil. The most important thing is to apply whatever irritant you use in the same direction that your wounds were created rather than rubbing it in against the grain; doing so will help your body generate smoother, more attractive scars.

Finish each of your twice-daily cleanings by wrapping your scarification wounds with plastic wrap and sealing it off with medical tape. Remember not to wrap your wounds too tightly, though. Sealing off your scarification wounds will force your body to produce more scar tissue rather than healthy, normal skin cells.

Scarification Care After the 1st 10 Days

Ten days after getting scarified, you should discontinue use of irritants and bandages, so your wounds can dry out and begin to form scabs. Continue cleaning your wounds, but do so carefully so that you don’t disrupt the scabs that form. It’s best if the scabs don’t crack, so move the scabbed area of your body as little as possible, avoid bending, and do whatever else you can to prevent the scabs from breaking up. Wear loosely-fitting clothing that won’t press against or otherwise irritate the scabs on your scarification piece.

Within six weeks of getting a scarification piece, your body should have produced enough scar tissue to fully cover your wounds. At this point, you can enhance the scarring by scratching your scarification wounds or irritating them by hand. If you do that, try to do it consistently across your entire scarification design so the scars continue developing as evenly as possible.

Different people will develop different degrees of scarring due in large part to genetics, but you can have a positive impact on the outcome of your healed scarification piece by following the guidelines above. Where you have a scarification design applied will also impact the final outcome. It’s best to avoid having scarification pieces applied to parts of the body that move constantly, like around the knees, elbows and waistline, since it will be difficult to minimize movement in these areas sufficiently enough to prevent scabs from breaking up during the healing process.

Problems During the Scarification Healing Process

Since a scarification piece is a wound, there’s always a chance of developing an infection in it. As mentioned earlier, you may want to ask your family physician for a prophylactic antibiotic to take during the early days of the scarification healing process, when you’ll be at the highest risk for developing an infection. If you don’t take a prophylactic antibiotic, watch out for signs of infection so you can act immediately if you suspect you’re developing one. Signs of infection include discharge of thick, yellowish pus instead of just lymph (a clear fluid that wounds typically excrete that dries to a whitish crust), red streaks radiating from your scarification wounds, skin that’s hot to the touch, and/or fever. If you experience any combination of these symptoms, see your family doctor right away and ask if an antibiotic is needed. If one is prescribed, take the full course. You should never take just part of an antibiotic prescription, because doing so can cause an infection to come back stronger and more resistant to antibiotic intervention.

You may also experience skin discoloration around your scarification wounds, tenderness, swelling, occasional bleeding, bruising, and/or itching throughout the healing process. These are all natural reactions to trauma and wound healing. You can minimize bruising and swelling by taking acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) instead of ibuprofen for swelling and discomfort, and by applying cold compresses to your bandaged scarification wounds. If you use an ice pack, wrap it in a clean towel before applying it to your wounds, and don’t leave it on for more than 10 minutes at a time. Try not to scratch your scarification wounds directly during the first six weeks if you experience severe itchiness, as doing so may cause uneven scarring. Scratch around your wounds or lightly slap at bandaged wounds when they itch.

If you experience any deeply concerning problems, like excessive swelling or signs of infection, speak to your scarification artist. S/he may have additional suggestions for you to try to remedy the issue, or s/he may recommend that you see your family physician for medical intervention.

Learn More About Scarification

If you’d like to learn more about scarification, read our Scarification blog post. You can also read about other people’s scarification experiences in our Scarification forum section. If you want to reply to any threads or post your own scarification questions for our knowledgeable moderators and experienced community members to answer, please sign up for a Painful Pleasures account. Once logged into your account, you’ll also have full access to our online photo gallery, where you can view scarification pictures. If you need help navigating the forum or gallery, check out the How to Use the Forum and How to Use the Gallery articles in our Help Center.

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A couple of weeks ago, I started growing my seeds inside. Over the years, I have discovered that not all seeds are alike. Certain seeds need to be scarified, stratified, soaked, or inoculated. I will be focusing on seed scarification for this article and will touch upon the other methods in future articles.

I grow many plants (including perennials and flowers) from seeds since it is cheaper and more rewarding than buying them at the garden store. In order for me to be successful, I need to know how to germinate the seeds.

As I mentioned above, some seeds need scarification.

What is seed scarification?

Doesn’t the words, seed scarification sound scary? The word seems right out of a Freddie the 13th movie! Scarification means that you need to roughen up the seed by using a nail file or sandpaper. (And no, it doesn’t mean to send Tony Soprano’s “boys” to shake up the seeds.)

Why do some seeds need scarification?

Some seed coats are impervious to water. It is nature’s way of protecting the seed during dormancy. Fall planted seeds that go through a freeze/thaw cycle or pass through the digestive system of an animal naturally scarify. Did you ever notice how seeds just pop up in your garden? Thank the birds.

Helping Mother Nature to germinate certain seeds.

So how can we help nature to break the seeds’ dormancy?

According to the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, there are several ways you can scarify your seeds:

“For mechanical scarification, seed coats can also be filed with a metal file, rubbed with sandpaper, nicked with a knife, or 2 cracked gently with a hammer to weaken the seed coat. Another method is hot water scarification. Bring water to a boil (212°F), remove the pot from the stove, and place the seeds into the water. Allow the seeds to soak until the water cools to room temperature. Remove the seeds from the water and sow. Following scarification, the seeds should be dull.”

If you want to learn how to grow trees through this method, read here. I had no idea you could grow crab apples, Holly, and oak trees from seed.

The Lady Bird JohnsonWildflower Center adds the following seed scarification suggestions:

  • Rub the seed with sandpaper. (I have done this.)
  • Freeze the seeds overnight and then soak at room temperature for several days.
  • Freeze the seeds overnight and then put them in boiling water and let them sit in the water for several hours. (Be sure to watch the video below regarding the results using boiling water.)

You can use a microplane grater as well to scratch the seeds.

Some commercial growers use sulfuric acid. I won’t try this method.

Seeds that will need scarification:

  • Nasturtiums (pictured above.)
  • Morning Glories
  • Moon Flowers.
  • Flowers or perennial seeds that are large. (Beans are large seeds but don’t need to be scarified. It will help them to germinate quicker but not necessary.)

See this list that identifies which plants needs certain germination requirements including scarification.

Tricia from Peaceful Valley suggests soaking perennial seeds overnight. If they swell, then they don’t need scarification.

Vegetable seeds don’t need scarification unless you want to germinate the seeds quickly. I wouldn’t suggest this unless you give them a light sanding. You don’t want to harm the seeds.

Be sure to watch the below video which shows several ways to scarify seeds, as well as the results. He is using beans which wouldn’t be my first choice to show on a video. Beans grow so well by themselves.

Note, if you do nick the seeds, plant them right away.

Join the Conversation:

Do you use seed scarification in germinating your seeds and if so, which ones?

Next up. Learn how seed stratification helps in germination.

Disclaimer: There may be affiliate links in the post. I make a small commission from your purchases.

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Seed Germination

Colin Campbell

COLIN CAMPBELL: Isn’t this a magnificent victory and it’s laden with fruit and the fruit has tiny seeds. With all this fruit it has the potential to produce hundreds of trees, just like this one. But in order to reach that potential, the seed must first germinate.

We all tend to take germination for granted, but if you have some understanding of how and why germination occurs, chances are you’ll have more success with raising plants from seed, so I’m here to give you a few tips.

The Cocos Palm is now considered to be an environmental weed because it produces masses of viable seed, all of which seem to germinate. The length of time seeds remain viable after maturity can vary, but a member of the palm family holds the record. A date palm seed, found in the Middle East and carbon dated at 2000 years old, actually germinated.

Most seeds have developed an inbuilt program to germinate at a time that favours survival. That’s when light, temperature and moisture are close to optimum levels.

One of the ways in which nature delays germination until the conditions are right is by encasing the seeds in a hard seed coat. Eventually, that’ll break down, release the seeds and they’ll germinate.

Now a lot of other seeds have inbuilt mechanisms to slow down germination, and we as gardeners want to bypass that system. Well, there’s a way we can do it and it’s called scarification. One of the plants we grow a lot of are Sweet Peas and I don’t know whether you know it, but they will germinate a whole lot quicker if they’re scarified. That simply means line a jar with coarse sandpaper, put the seeds in and give them a shake for a couple of minutes and that rubbing up against the sandpaper will take some of the coating off and break their dormancy. Poinciana’s are another seed that benefit from scarification. But you can also give them the hot water treatment. That simply means boiling up some water, let it cool off a little, drop the seeds in and leave them soak overnight and they’re ready to plant.

There’s yet another method you can use with Poincianas and other seeds and that’s some mild acid solution. You get some acidic acid or vinegar and soak them in that overnight then plant them.

So the message is, if you’re growing something that you don’t know much about, look up to see whether they need scarification, hot water treatment or acidic acid.

Now when it comes to sowing seeds, most of the information you’ll need is on the back of the seed packet such as depth of sowing, the spacing of the rows and the time of year that you plant them. I’m sowing lettuce seed. They’re very fine so all I’m doing is sprinkling them on top of the seed raising mix cause all they have to go is five millimetres deep so I’ll just sprinkle them over the top and then just press them in. The watering that takes place later on will put them in the required depth.

Sweet Pea seeds, on the other hand, are a bit bigger so they go in a bit deeper, about 25 millimetres or an inch. Push them into the seed raising mix and cover them over and again, the watering will take them down a bit deeper. The reason it’s important to plant at the required depth is simple. This seed is an embryo which is the part that grows it. It germinates, sends up a shoot and that becomes the leaves eventually. The rest of the bean seed is food for that developing plant. Now, if you plant that bean seed about there, it’ll grow up and the leaves will come through the top of the soil and they’ll start to feed themselves. If you plant it a way down here, it grows up and up and up and runs out of food and you’ll say, ‘What was wrong with that bean seed? It didn’t come up.’ It was your fault for planting them too deep.

These seeds are well spaced so they won’t compete with each other and they’ll be kept in a sheltered spot. Covering also helps.

And don’t forget, moisture levels are critical. Too dry and germinating seeds will shrivel and die. Too wet and they’ll rot.

And just a couple more tips on germination. Seeds of a few native species that germinate immediately after a bushfire, such as some of the Banksias, require special treatment with smoke or smoky water. And if you live in a warm climate and you’re having difficulty germinating cold climate seeds, try putting them in the fridge for a while. It just might work.

Growing your own plants from seed can be very satisfying. And if you understand the secrets of germination, you’ll be able to grow everything from Alyssum to Zinnia.

How to scarify seed?

It is simply a matter of fact that growers who are starting out want to speed germination as much as possible. Unfortunately, Mother Nature didn’t make this task easy by designing each seed shell to be as hard and impenetrable as possible, which may increase the survival rate of seeds in the wild, but makes it more difficult for you to germinate your plants. To get around this, hydroponic growers often treat their seeds before planting them. Here are a few of the common ways to treat seeds for plant propagation.


Scarification is any method of scratching, breaking, or somehow physically weakening the seed coating to make it softer, and therefore easier to reach the moisture and gasses it will need to germinate. If you have a small amount of seeds that you want to plant, this can be done by simply rubbing them with sandpaper, softening their coats with a file, or just cracking them with a hammer. Ideally, you should do most of your damage to the outside of the seed without actually injuring the seed itself. Your seed coats should appear worn down on cracked superficially, but the damage shouldn’t appear to reach down into the inner parts of the seed. You might try experimenting with a couple mechanical techniques on selected seeds before you try it on your entire group of seeds.


This is another popular method of softening hard shells. To do this, heat a pot of water to near-boiling, at least in excess of one hundred seventy degrees Fahrenheit. The amount of water in the pot should be at least four times the volume of the seeds themselves. Place the seeds in the pot and immediately turn off the heat source. Allow the seeds to soak in the water for about eighteen hours as the water cools. Plant the seeds immediately after treating them in this manner.

Boiling seeds for a few minutes can create a similar effect, but it is much more hazardous to the seeds. Temperatures this high are likely to injure the seeds, therefore it is not recommended.


It is also possible to soften seed coverings with acid to make plant propagation easier. However, it must be done with care because it involves handling very volatile and corrosive sulfuric acid. Therefore you should take proper precautions and wear protective clothing and goggles when applying this technique.

To do this, place dry seeds in a glass container and cover them with the sulfuric acid at a ratio of about one part seed to two parts acid. During the treatment, the seeds should be stirred occasionally to ensure an even softening of the seed skin. Try to make sure the temperature of the room where you are applying this treatment stays between sixty and eighty degrees Fahrenheit.

The length of the treatment will depend upon how thick the seat coating is. It may vary as much between ten minutes and five hours. To test, periodically remove a seed and see how thin its skin has become. When you believe it has become sufficiently thin, remove the seeds immediately. After treatment, makes sure to completely rinse the seeds for ten minutes.

Which technique works best will depend upon what kind of seed you are using for plant propagation. You may wish to experiment with multiple techniques to see which will result in the fastest germination.

Article from Advanced nutrients

Seed supplied in wildflower mixtures does not require Seed treatment. The natural biological process does the work for us.

Seeds can be treated in the following ways:
Stratification: Cold treatment of seed
Scarification: Removal of seed coat
Heat treatment: Burning over seed
Chemical treatments: For seed

Phytosanitary: Regarding seed

Stratification involves exposing seeds to a cold and damp period prior to planting.
Most native plants do this naturally by seeding out in late summer or fall. Their seeds lie cold and damp on the soil surface for at least one winter before germinating.
Stratification mimics this process.
Natural inhibitors are leached out of the seeds or broken down during stratification.
Place seeds in a clean bag or container with a little moisture, enough to make them damp, but not soggy. Place them in the fridge for one to three weeks, then plant immediately.
Stratification improves germination in most native grasses and wildflowers.
Many native shrubs and some trees need longer periods of stratification, up to two years.

Seed to be scarified:
Meadow pea
Rest harrow
This list is for species we grow and is not definitive.

Scarification is the intentional damaging or removal of the seed coat.
Scarification should not be applied until the seeds are about to be sown.

In nature the frost, rain action and soil microbes carry out natural scarification. Often was accomplished by the seeds passing through the digestive system of an animal.

Seeds of legumes and some other plants have tough, impervious (to water) seed coats that keep the seed dormant until at least a part of the coat has been removed.
Seeds can be scarified by rubbing them between two layers of sandpaper.
Legumes respond extremely well to scarification, and will germinate readily when planted immediately afterwards.

Large seeds can be nicked with a file.
Seed to be stratified:
Bellflower Sp
Cuckoo pint
Garlic mustard
Hay rattle
Hemp agrimony
Marsh marigold
Primula species
Sweet cicely
Wood sage
This list is for species we grow and is not definitive.

Heat treatment:
Some species grow after a fire has cleared the land of weeds, In such fires the seeds of these wildflowers are exposed to high heat temperatures for a brief moment as he fire passes overhead.
At DBN we ‘flash burn’ a paraffin oil mist over some seeds to burn away seed coats and attempt to break dormancy prior to sowing.

Seed recommended for heat treatment:
Heather Spp
Hemp agrimony

Chemical Treatments:
Seeds can also be immersed in sulphuric acid for a few minutes to break dormancy.

Occasional seed can be treated against the effects of mite, moulds, and biological attacks. Phytosanitary Certificate

see also Genetic diversity- Seed Triggers, Facts you should know about.

Regulation of agricultural and horticultural seed

Go on choose Design By Nature for seeds, plants, advice and design.

Return to top:
Return to Folder/Section: Index – Technical Section. includes the Conservation section, Mulching and advice on certain weeds, phytosanitary.

To Nick or Not

There’s alot of variables in this equation…probably too many for a yes or a no answer…
previously mentioned in some threads e.g., here

Some of the variables include
the species,the age of the seed(s),the relative dormancy ratio of any particular batch of seeds,heat,light,humidity,hydrostatic pressure and alot of other factors…
Commonly grown ‘cultivars’ often have a high initial germination rate if the seeds are very fresh…very fresh seeds are not always available…
Relative dormancy factors in seeds are what has kept plants going for multi-millions of years…some seeds are designed by nature NOT to sprout right away or respond to quick germination techniques…quick germination techniques are often very helpful to that population of seeds that will respond postively,but seeds that have a dormancy factor that needs to see something other than the usual quick start techniques can be killed by fast start methods…
The seedcoat offers some protection from pathogens before the embryo is ready to germinate and has been found to modulate the effect of minerals that can play a part in the overall germination process…the seedcoat also acts like a ‘hammer’ to assist the seedling to push upwards through any planting mediums and seedlings which lose their coats prematurely may have difficulty moving upwards through any material with which they may be covered…
Seeds that will respond positively to a rapid germination environment techniques will often germinate faster if the seedcoat is nicked to allow the water(and whatever the water contains) to access the embryonic tissue faster/easier…and one or more full or partial cuts can often allow the seedcoat to be shed more easily…
The most common MG’s most often do not require cuts into the seedcoat,but it usually won’t hurt if done carefully…if you grow out enough seeds though you’re bound to encounter a seedling that has difficulty shedding the seedcoat…and if it croaks…you’ll sure wish you made some pre-emptive scores to prevent the seedling from dying from a stubborn seedcoat that will not come off…
I make full or partial scores longitudinally from the hilium to towards the distal end of the seed…it is essential that you do not cut into the radicle >primordial root or you can destroy the ability of the seed to grow any roots…practice makes perfect…any scoring should be done gently when you perceive that any cut that you are making is down to or very close to the embryo…
the radicle runs along the back of the seed roughly about a quarter of the length of the seed…
if you make a careful and strategic full or partial score along the back being careful not to damage the radicle and or any other cuts longitudinal to the hilium these type of scores can prevent a seedcoat from clinging to the death of the embryo…
the ideal is that the seedcoat may offer assistance and/or protection and yet split easily along the scores to be easily shed when it offers no further assistance…
I’ve previously mentioned my tools of choice in the post here

a hacksaw or sawzall blade lightly held between the thumb and index finger also works well…
others may use a ballpene hammer or a nutcracker or whatever you find works for you…

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