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How to Pre-Sprout Seeds for Faster Germination

One of the most frustrating things about starting vegetables from seed is waiting for them to emerge from the soil. You can eliminate the wait time by pre-sprouting seeds. Presprouting seeds, is a method used to germinate seeds before they are planted into a growing medium.

I had pepper seeds that were several years old. I hated to throw the package away without checking to see if they were still good. I checked the viability of the seeds by doing a seed germination test.

About half the old seeds sprouted and the rest were duds. I planted the sprouted seeds and watched the seedlings carefully to see if they would grow. I didn’t expect much from them, but they did grow into healthy transplants that were eventually planted into the garden.

After experiencing how easy it was to see which seeds germinated, I decided to pre-sprout more of my indoor seedlings. I routinely pre-germinate tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, Swiss chard, melons, cucumber, squash, cilantro, spinach, and kale.

Benefits of Pre-Sprouting Seeds

A seed is triggered to sprout by warmth and moisture. Normally, you sow a seed into a growing medium, such as damp seed starting mix or peat pots. Then you cover the seed with soil, water, place in a warm spot, and wait for the seed to sprout and break through the soil surface.

Pre-sprouting lets you germinate the seeds first, and then you can place the sprouted seed with the root into a seedling container to grow. You can see the seed and don’t have to wonder if it is doing anything under the soil. Other advantages of pre-sprouting your seeds include:

  • Saves money: Instead of throwing away older seed packages, you can pre-sprout to see if some of the old seeds are still viable.
  • Conserves space: You don’t have to sow a whole tray of seeds hoping that at least half will germinate. Instead, you pre-sprout the seeds in a small container, and only plant the ones that germinate.
  • Saves time waiting for seeds to sprout: Pre-sprouting accelerates germination because the seeds can be given ideal moisture, air, and temperature conditions indoors.
  • Excludes the bad seeds: You only plant the seeds that geminate. Simply throw away the duds.
  • Eliminates the need to thin out seedlings: With pre-sprouting, there is no need to toss three or four seeds into a pot and hope at least one will germinate only to have all four seeds sprout forcing your to eliminate the extras.

How to Pre-Sprout Seeds

It may be helpful to review this article to get your seed starting area setup: 10 Steps to Starting Seedlings Indoors

Materials needed to pre-sprout seeds:

  • Containers or plastic bags: Any container or zipper bag will work. My favorites to use for pre-sprouting are the plastic see through mini muffin bakery containers or egg cartons. These are divided into small cells that are ideal for organizing and labeling individual seeds. The cover can be snapped closed to keep in moisture. Since the containers are clear, you can check on the seeds without opening the cover.
  • Paper towels: A damp paper towel will help deliver consistent moisture to your seeds without drowning them. Too much moisture will cause your seeds to mold or rot.
  • Water resistant labeling material: I cut strips of white duct tape.
  • Water resistant marker: Sharpies work well and will not wash away if splashed with water.
  • Spray bottle: A spray bottle filled with water is the easiest way to moisten the paper towels without soaking them.
  • Seeds of choice: Larger seeds seem to work best. Try pre-germinating tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, Swiss chard, melons, cucumber, squash, cilantro, spinach, and cole crops.
  • Warm and safe area: Moderate heat will help your seeds germinate quicker. Consider locating your containers in a warm area, such as near a heat source, or on top of the refrigerator. Around 70°F to 75°F is average for most seeds. Choose an area away from drafts and a place where the containers will not be knocked over or forgotten.
  • Seedling containers: Have your seedling pots ready to plant once the seeds germinate. I like using soil blocks to grow seedlings. I make up a tray of soil blocks ahead of time so I am ready to transfer seeds when they sprout.

Directions for Pre-Sprouting Seeds

Step 1: Line your container with paper towels. I like several layers of paper towels, so I fold them in half and cut to fit. If you are using plastic bags, fold and cut your paper towels to fit.

Step 2: Label your containers. Use a water-resistant marker to label your containers or bags.

Step 3: Dampen your paper towels. Spray the paper towels with your spray bottle. You are aiming for the paper towels to be damp, not dripping. If you notice the water pooled in your container, dump out the extra.

Step 4: Add your seeds. Spread your seeds out on top of the damp paper towel. If you are using containers, simply close the cover. If you are using plastic bags, fold the paper towel over the seeds and place in the bag.

Step 5: Place in a warm area. Locate your seed containers in a warm area away from drafts. Also consider choosing an area where the container will not be knocked over or forgotten.

Step 6: Check seeds daily. Examine your seeds each day for germination and to make sure the towel stays damp. Spray the towel if needed.

Step 7: Transfer sprouted seeds to growing medium. Some seeds will sprout quicker than others. As soon as a seed shows tiny roots it is ready to plant. Carefully transfer your sprouted seed to your prepared seedling containers or soil blocks. Be very careful not to damage the root. If you do, the sprout will die. If the root has grown into the paper towel, snip around it and plant paper towel and all.

Place the sprouted seed on top of your growing medium and cover with dry seedling mix. Mist with your spray bottle and place under your growing lights.

Step 8: Keep your seedlings warm and moist. Use your spray bottle to keep the soil surface moist and continue caring for your seedlings as described from step 5 on in this article: 10 Steps to Starting Seedlings Indoors.

One of the most frustrating things about starting seeds is waiting for them to emerge from the soil. Pre-sprouting seeds germinates seeds before planting.

Pre germinating seeds

February 27, 2014

Pre-Sprouting Seeds: 101

Pre-sprouting means you are sprouting the seeds in the absence of soil, and then transplanting the ‘live’ seed with a bit of root to soil, compost, or vermiculite. The two most common methods of pre-germination are moist paper towel and gel. While many gardeners will ONLY use seeds prepared for the current growing season, what if you have some older seeds? Would you risk planting them and hope that they will grow? If you pre-germinate them, you can tell right away which seeds are viable and which are ready for the compost heap. Talk about saving time and valuable space in your vegetable patch.

Pre-Sprouting Methods

The basic way to pre-sprout seeds is very simple.
  1. Moisten two-three sheets of paper towel, not dripping wet just wet.
  2. Lay one layer of paper towel in a shallow Tupperware container*
  3. Spread the seeds out evenly
  4. Cover with another layer of moist paper towel
  5. Place the container in a warm spot, 70-75 degrees F is ideal
  6. Check the seeds daily, most seeds will start to germinate in 1-2 days
  7. Re-moisten if needed, you do not want the seeds to dry out

Once the seeds sprout roots it is time to transplant them to starter pots or sow them into the ground. Theses sprouted seeds are extremely fragile you do not want to break the roots that have formed. If the germinated seed has a little bit of paper towel stuck to it, that is ok.

*As an alternative to the Tupperware, you can lay the seeds on a single layer of paper towel and make little seed packets that can be placed in zip top bags that are only closed about ½ way.

The advanced method of sprouting seeds involves making a gel. First, mix 1 cup of water with 1 teaspoon of cornstarch. Let the mix come to a boil and start to thicken. Pour the mix into a shallow bowl, a pie plate, works well too. Spread the seeds evenly over the gel and cover with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in a warm place near a window for some indirect sunlight.

As soon as the seeds start to sprout roots, it is time to plant them. Take the pie pan outside and spoon the seed, with some of the surrounding gel into a ½” deep hole and cover lightly.

If you are up for a little adventure, there is one more method of planting you can use with the gel. Pour the gel mixture into a zip top plastic bag. Pour the seeds into the gel and mix around to distribute the seeds evenly. Zip the bag about ¾ of the way shut so some air circulates. Once seeds start to germinate take the bag outside and get ready to plant. First, dig a trench about ½-3/4” deep. Then cut a slit in a corner of the bag, and slowly squeeze the gel/seed mixture into the trench. Cover lightly and voila you have planted a row of pre-sprouted seeds.

Crops that work well with pre-sprouting are cucumber, tomatoes, peas, carrots, corn, parsley, pepper, eggplant, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and beet root. Beans can be pre-sprouted, but it is best to sow them directly as they have large cotyledons full of starch, and germinating beans are extremely susceptible to cracking.

If you are growing in a greenhouse, or a backyard vegetable patch, pre-sprouting seeds can shorten your growing window by days or even weeks. In some climates, where the growing window is short for things such as corn this can mean the difference between harvesting crops or watching them die from the first frost.

Happy planting! Feel free to post pictures of your pre-sprouted seeds on our blog or our Facebook page.

With less than a month before spring, we are continuing to talk about seeds. According to the calendar spring officially starts on March 20th 2014. However, Mother Nature does not pay as close attention to the calendar as we do. In the Northern Hemisphere, the spring planting and growing season start much later than March 20th. With some people experiencing a short growing