Helmets heads can be a death sentence for young seedlings. Plants need light and air and if the leaves are trapped inside the seed case then they can’t get either.
If your seed has only just broken the surface and isn’t standing up straight yet then give them a chance to sort themselves out. Quite a few seedlings will have the seed case still attached as they sprout and once they’ve completely sprouted they’ll shed it on their own.
Sometimes that doesn’t happen and if they’ve been fully sprouted for a few days and aren’t showing any signs of shedding the seed then you’ll need to intervene so that the leaves don’t start to rot inside their seed jail.
Full Helmet Head
Plants with full helmet heads (where the leaves are completely trapped inside the seed) chances of survival is pretty low as the leaves can’t get light or air and there’s nowhere for the true leaves to grow except into the seed case.
1. Softening the Seed Case
Breaking a soft seed open is much easier than a hard one. The easiest way to soften it up is to get it wet. Drip some water on the seed to start the softening process or use some saliva – I’ve heard that saliva has something in it that works better than straight up water but I’m not sure if that’s a myth or not.
Let it soak for about 30 minutes and if the seed still feels hard then rewet and soak them.
Sometimes you’ll get a stubborn seed that simple won’t soften up no matter what you do – jump to step 4 if your seed won’t soften.
2. Loosening the Seed Helmet
Now that our seed is nice and soft it’s time to try and open up the collar. Grab the sides of the seed with some tweezers and give it a squeeze. Don’t squeeze too hard or you could end up crushing the leaves inside.
The collar should start to split open after a while which’ll give the leaves room to slip out.
3. Removing the Seed
Keep on squeezing with the tweezers and start to gently pull on the seed to see if it’ll come off. Usually, you’ll need to hold the plant to stop the stem from snapping or the whole thing from lifting out of the soil – young seedlings are delicate so don’t grip it too hard. The best place to hold it is directly beneath the seed so that if the plant rips it’ll break just below the seed case rather than halfway up the stem.
Go slowly, don’t try and pull the seed off in one go. It’ll usually come off little by little as you carefully pull and squeeze.
4. Snipping the Seed
If the seed simply won’t come off then another alternative to the squeeze and pull technique is to cut a sliver off the outer edge of the seed. Cut a little at a time until you make it through to the inside of the seed. Sometimes this can help loosen things up.
If gently pulling doesn’t work at this stage then you could try and snip around the entire edge of the seed so you can break the two halves apart to release the leaves.
Most of the time with these kind of stubborn seeds the leaves have become stuck to the inner walls of the seed which means whatever you do you’re going to end up losing a lot of the leaf. As long as there’s a bit of leaf left there’s a chance the plant will survive.
If you get the seed off and the leaves are discoloured, shrivelled and wet looking then they’ve probably already rotted inside of the seed. 99% of the time they’ll die.
You might be able to save them if there’s some healthy leaf left by snipping off the rotten part.
Sometimes you’ll get a seed case that’s only stuck to the tips of the leaves. These types of helmet heads have a much better chance of survival as there’s usually enough leaf outside of the seed to get the light and air it needs and the spot where the true leaves will grow from is unobstructed. But, there is a small chance that the part of the leaf that’s stuck inside the seed will start to rot which could spread to the rest of the plant.
1. Softening the Seed Case
Get the seed case wet and let it soak for about half an hour – the same as for the full on helmet head.
2. Removing the Seed Case
Hold the leaf just below the seed case and gently try and pull the seed case off with tweezers.
3. Cutting the Seed Off
If pulling isn’t working then simply snip the leaves just below the seed – seeing as we’re only snipping the tips of the leaves off they should continue to grow into nice healthy plants.
Good luck with your helmet heads! If you’ve got any other tips for getting helmet heads off without accidentally decapitating your plants then let me know in the comments!