Seed Coat Stuck - Tips For Removing The Seed Coat After Germination

Close Up Of A Seedling
seed coat stuck
(Image credit: otme)

It happens to the best of gardeners. You plant your seeds and a few come up looking a little different. Instead of the cotyledon leaves on the top of the stem, there is what appears to be the seed itself. A closer inspection reveals that the seed coat is attached to the leaves—still. Many gardeners refer to this condition as “helmet head.” Is the seedling doomed? Can you remove the seed coat that won't come off before the seedling dies? Keep reading to learn more about what to do with a seed coat stuck to a plant.

Why Did the Seed Coat Not Fall Off?

No one is 100 percent sure why this happens, though most agree that a seed coat getting stuck on the seedling mainly occurs due to less than ideal planting and germinating conditions. Some people believe that when a seed coat is sticking to the seedling it is an indication that the seeds were not planted deep enough. The idea is that the friction of the soil as the seed grows up helps to pull off the seed coat. Therefore, if the seed is not planted deep enough, the seed coat won't come off well as it grows. Others feel that when a seed won't come off, this indicates that there was too little moisture in the soil or too little humidity in the surrounding air. The idea here is that the seed coat cannot soften as well as it should and is more difficult for the seedling to break free.

How to Remove a Seed Coat Attached to the Leaves

When the seed coat is sticking to the seedling, before you do anything, you should determine whether anything should be done. Remember, seedlings are very delicate and even small amounts of damage can kill them. If the seed coat is stuck only on one of the leaves or just on the very tips of the cotyledon leaves, the seed coat may come off on its own without your help. But, if the cotyledon leaves are firmly stuck in the seed coat, then you may need to intervene. Misting the stuck seed coat with water may help to soften it enough for it to be gently removed. But, the most often recommended way to remove an attached seed coat is to spit on it. Yes, spit. This comes from the thought that enzymes found in saliva will gently work to remove anything that is keeping the seed coat on the seedling. Initially, just try wetting the seed coat and allow 24 hours for it to fall off on its own. If it does not come off on its own, repeat moistening it and then using either tweezers or the tips of your fingers, gently pull at the seed coat. Again, remember that if you remove the cotyledon leaves during this process, the seedling will die. Hopefully, if you follow the proper way to plant your seeds, the problem of having a seed coat attached to the seedling will never happen. But, if it does, it's nice to know that you can still save a seedling when the seed coat won't come off.

Heather Rhoades
Founder of Gardening Know How

Heather Rhoades founded Gardening Know How in 2007. She holds degrees from Cleveland State University and Northern Kentucky University. She is an avid gardener with a passion for community, and is a recipient of the Master Gardeners of Ohio Lifetime Achievement Award.