In laboratory experiments, we studied barnyardgrass, common lambsquarters, and redroot pigweed seed dormancy release by alternating temperatures under different soil water regimes, to determine whether that response serves as a mechanism for assuring seedling establishment. Alternating temperatures were important in breaking seed dormancy in the three weeds, but the species' response to alternating temperatures differed with soil water content. For redroot pigweed and newly dispersed seeds of barnyardgrass, dormancy breaking by alternating temperatures occurred only when soil water content was high enough for germination. Moreover, adverse incubation conditions (constant temperature and low water content) induced secondary dormancy in these seeds. Seventy percent of seeds incubated in open boxes emerged before the soil reached wilting point, when seeds were incubated at temperatures high enough for a high germination rate. A dormancy breaking mechanism that triggers a high rate of germination may be important in assuring success of seedling establishment where rainfall patterns result in wetting and drying cycles of the soil, especially in soil types that lose water rapidly from the surface layers.