How to Pre Sprout Seeds

I really like starting my garden from seed each year. It may be that I'm just nerdy like that, but it's also much more economical than buying seedlings or plants each year and, it gives me the opportunity to grow a greater variety of plants too. 

Over the years I've found that, other than using grow lights indoors, pre-sprouting seeds is one of the best keys to success when starting seeds.  I keep a pretty big stash of seeds here and, if planted directly, it can be a bit of a crap shoot to see if the older seeds are still viable. Different seeds have different lifespans based on age and storing conditions (Click here to download a free, printable PDF version of my Seed Viability Chart), and you may not get great results when sowing directly. So, rather than guessing if your seeds will actually grow or guessing how many seeds you need to plant if you want X number of plants, you can pre-sprout your seeds. It's super easy to do and will save you a TON of frustration, time, and space.

Pre-Germinating Seeds

Seeds don't need to be planted in soil or a seed starting medium in order to sprout -- all they need is moisture and the correct temperatures. So, pre-sprouting, or pre-germinating seeds is simply the process of giving your seeds the moisture and temperature they need in order to make them start growing.  Once they've sprouted, you can then plant them and they'll continue to grow (and usually grow quickly).

I pre-sprout seeds for different reasons:

  1. If I have older seeds and am unsure if they are still viable, I'll pre-sprout them to make sure they're still ok and able to grow. I may or may not plant them directly, but pre-sprouting older seeds allows me to figure out an approximate germination rate for the seeds so that I can be sure to start enough from seed to get me through the season.
  2. I pre-sprout the smaller vegetable seeds that tend to take a long time to germinate to help speed up the process: carrots and parsley work well this way. These seeds often pre-germinate more quickly than they might in the ground and don't require as much thinning later either (a big plus in my lazy gardener book!)
  3. To save time and space. If I have a lot of seeds I want to start, pre-sprouting them can save both time and space because I only plant the seeds that actually sprout. If there are any duds in the bunch that don't sprout, I don't waste the additional time (or space) of planting them. If they sprout, they get planted and if they don't, they get composted.

The steps to pre-sprout seeds

*Note: I'm using pumpkin seeds in the photos below since they are big seeds and easy to see in the photos, but the process is the same no matter what size seed you are working with. Just be sure to be extra careful handling any sprouted seeds -- if you break off the "Radicle" (the embryonic root that emerges when a seed germinates), you'll more than likely kill the seedling!

1. Dampen a paper towel.  The paper towel needs to be evenly wet, but not sopping or dripping. I usually just run some tap water onto the paper towel and squeeze out any excess water.

2. Lay the paper towel on a flat surface and fold it in half lengthwise.

3. Place your seeds on one half or in the middle of the folded paper towel. Be sure to space your seeds out enough so that they aren't touching. (yes, my photo shows a dry paper towel, but it's really much easier to wet your paper towel BEFORE adding the seeds, rather than after. Next time I'll try to remember to take a photo at the correct time, I promise!)

How to Pre-Sprout Seeds

4. Fold the wet paper towel in half (or thirds) to completely cover the seeds. Press down on the folded paper towel to ensure that the top and bottom of the wet paper towel come into contact with each seed.

How to Pre-Sprout Seeds

5. Place the folded and wet paper towel on a plate or into a ziplock bag (but don't close/zip the bag -- the seeds need some air circulation). Place the paper towel/seeds in a dark, warmish (70 - 75 degrees) location and wait.

6. Be sure to check the seeds every day and re-wet the paper towel if needed. Do not let the paper towel dry out. Ever.

 How to Pre Sprout Seeds

7. Once the seeds sprout, you can plant them. You don't want to wait too long to plant them or the seedling may start to grow into the paper towel, so the sooner you get the germinated seeds planted, the better. Again, be careful not to break the seed's "Radicle" when handling or planting the seeds. They are quite delicate!

Feb 17 2014

Join the Conversation!

March 13, 2014

Try using toilet tissue, seeds, then another tissue layer. Space seeds as you want planted. Once spouted, place the whole thing where you want plants. Cover with the proper depth of soil. Experiment to determine a tissue that holds together when wet.


March 13, 2014

Great Idea RobBB! I'm going to give this a try with my carrots this year :-)

Post a Comment

Your Name
Website (optional)
Check here to receive an email notification when someone replies directly to your comment
Help me fight spammers! Please enter the answer to 1 + 1 below