The Gardener’s Guide: Be careful with pink seeds

By Lee Reich AP Weekly Features
Friday June 08, 2001

Hot pink is an eye-catching color. That’s why seeds are dyed that bright hue to show they’ve been coated with a poisonous pesticide. 

Caution is needed when handling pesticide-coated seeds. Never let small children handle them and don’t touch your eyes, mouth, or food until you’ve finished planting and thoroughly washed your hands. 

Seed treatment goes back to the Middle Ages, when wheat was shoveled back and forth over the heat of a fire to rid it of smut, a disease that affects the mature plant. In the early 19th century, it was found that seed soaked in water in a copper bucket picked up enough copper to protect against smut. 

The pink seeds you see when you peel open a packet of peas, beans, or corn are treated to protect them from rotting in the soil rather than to protect the growing plants. Rot is a threat to any seed that does not sprout quickly enough once planted. Pesticide on treated seed kills micro-organisms nearby, increasing the chances of germination. Treating seeds to prevent them from rotting is a practice that dates back only a hundred years or so. 

Despite the benefits of treated seed, there are compelling reasons to choose untreated ones when they are available. Some of the fun in gardening is drained when you can’t just reach over to grab a bite of lettuce while planting corn, or if you have to refuse the help of your young child in the garden. Some seed companies only sell untreated seed, while other companies give you the option of purchasing either treated or untreated seeds. 

Some precautions are necessary when planting untreated seeds. Use fresh seed and plant in well-drained soil. If drainage is poor, enrich your soil with organic materials such as compost, leaves or peat moss. You might also want to plant in raised beds. Do not overwater your plants. 

In the beginning of the season, don’t plant until the soil has warmed adequately for the seed you’re planting. If you want to try to get a jump on the season, plant more seeds than necessary, in shallow soil. If needed, remove excess seedlings later on. 

Most precautions for handling untreated seeds are part of good gardening, anyway.