Pre-Sprout Seeds: It Gives Your Plants a Head Start
Northern gardeners are getting excited. It’s still cold out there but you can just feel that spring is coming. The days are getting longer and birds are singing. The seed packets have arrived and garden plans are in the works!
I’ll be starting some of my seeds indoors in the next few weeks – plants like tomatoes and peppers, okra and broccoli. These plants have a long growing season and would never produce fruit if started outdoors here in the north. They need the extra time to grow that starting indoors provides.
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Other seeds like peas and lettuce, carrots and beans can be sown directly into the garden. While it’s not a necessity, pre-sprouting seeds is another way to give your plants a head start.
The Benefits of Pre-sprouting
Pre-sprout seeds – it can be a way to save money. It often results in a higher rate of germination since few seeds are lost to environmental factors. In addition, it is generally recommended that at least 2 seeds be placed in each pot or hole when planting, in case one of the seeds does not germinate. With pre-sprouting, you already know that the seeds you are planting are viable. Therefore, you can space them precisely where you want them.
When to plant seeds outdoors should be based on soil temperature, not air temperature. (Test your soil temperature with a thermometer like this one from my affiliate partner). Plants like peas love cool weather and even tolerate light frosts, which makes them a great vegetable to sow in early spring. But if the soil is too cold, the seeds may rot before they germinate. While a seed may fail to germinate in cool soil, it will grow there after germination. Pre-sprout the seeds indoors and you’ve solved this problem.
Pre-sprouting is also helpful when the soil temperature may be a bit too warm. For example, spinach prefers cooler temperatures in order to germinate. For a fall harvest, spinach is often planted in late summer when the soil temperature may be too warm for the seed to germinate. Again, pre-sprouting solves this problem.
Seeds often germinate more quickly indoors than outdoors since moisture and temperature can be more easily controlled. It has the advantage of getting sluggish seeds to germinate faster than they would out in the garden. Parsley, for instance, germinates very slowly.
Sprouting seeds before planting cuts down on the germination process drastically. It can take seeds 7 to 20 days to sprout in soil, whereas pre-sprouting takes 2-4 days. Once they sprout, they can be planted in the ground or containers.
How to Pre-Sprout
Before sprouting, these pea seeds are dry and shriveled.
Pre-sprouting seed is basically the same process as testing old seed for viability.
Find an area indoors with a suitable temperature. Check the chart of “Optimal Soil Temperatures for Seed Germination” below, and try to provide a temperature for the seeds you are pre-sprouting that will be most conducive to quick germination. Most seeds prefer the temperature to drop about 10 degrees at night.
Now, moisten a paper towel or cotton cloth. It should be damp, not soaking wet, so that you are not promoting fungal growth. Space the seeds about an inch apart on the damp paper towel and carefully roll it up. Place the paper towel into a plastic bag. Since seeds respirate, do not seal the bag. If you are pre-sprouting more than one type of seed, use separate bags and be sure to clearly mark the type of seed on each bag. Place the bag in the area you have chosen with optimal temperature for the specific seed you are testing. Check the moisture level daily and remove any seed which has formed mold.
Keep a close eye on the seeds, and plant them in containers or directly into the garden as soon as they sprout. Handle them very carefully – they are fragile at this stage. Sprout seeds just until they’ve germinated to avoid snapping off tender roots. Keep the young plants consistently moist after planting.
This pre-sprouted pea seed is now ready to plant.
Which Seeds to Pre-sprout
It is not necessary, nor even desirable, to pre-sprout all of the seeds you plan to plant. Choose based on circumstances. Perhaps you’re late getting your tomatoes and pepper seeds started indoors. Pre-sprouting will help speed up the process. Or, you want to get some early peas into the ground, but the soil temperature is too cold for proper germination. Or you want a fall harvest of spinach, but the soil is too warm when you need to plant. Go ahead and pre-sprout.
I purposely plant my cucumber seeds late to outwit bacterial wilt. Pre-sprouting will help my crop to catch up. And parsley and morning glory seeds are notoriously slow to germinate. Again, pre-sprouting will help.
By the way, if you are starting your own seeds, you may be interested in this post that shows you how to make your own seed starter mix, written by my friend Holly from Your Gardening Friend.
Which seeds do you think you’ll pre-sprout this season?
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Seeds like peas, lettuce, carrots and beans can be sown directly into the garden. Pre-sprout these seeds and you'll give your plants a head start.
Introduction: Pre-Sprouting Seeds
Pre-sprouting, or pre-germinating, is an easy and inexpensive way of maximizing your plant growing success. By pre-sprouting your seeds before you put them into soil you rid yourself that pesky wait time between sowing the seeds and seeing them sprout—which often feels like it’s taking forever and can lead to you forgetting about the future plant altogether.
Pre-sprouting is also a great way to see if the old seeds you have laying around are still good. All seed packets come with an expiration date, but that doesn’t mean that packet of seeds from 2009 won’t germinate. Some seeds are harder to germinate, like Pink Bananas, or hot peppers (Ghost Peppers are said to be tough, I’m currently working on it). So Pre-sprouting your tougher seeds will save you a lot of time, energy, and money. I bought Ghost Pepper seeds at $5/10 seeds.
Using this technique, your seeds could begin sprouting in 24-48 hours, a lot faster than the 7-14 days listed on many seed packets.
Step 1: Materials
Paper towel or coffee filter
Heating pad (optional)
Sharpie (or whatever you prefer for labeling)
Seed Starting Soil
Step 2: The Bag
Identify which seeds you want to sprout first and then set up the baggies with your labels. I tend to include the date I started the pre-germination, the type of vegetable, and how many seeds I’m germinating. Labeling first helps me stay organized.
The purpose of the plastic baggy is to keep the seeds and paper towel moist, eliminating the need to water the seed.
Step 3: The Paper
Moisten your paper towel or coffee filter with water. You don’t want it dripping, too much water can promote mold growth. Put your seeds on the paper and then fold the paper over.
The first picture shows Aeropress paper filters, the second regular paper towel. I also started some seeds with regular coffee filters, but I think I forgot to take a picture.
I’m doing succession planting this year, which is why I’m only using 2-3 seeds per vegetable.
Step 4: The Bag Returns
Place your seeds in their respective baggies and gently press the air out. Now some people say to press the air from the bag and then seal it. Some people say not to seal it. Others say to seal it, but don’t press the air out. I’ve tried all of these and I haven’t noticed a difference. I think what makes the biggest difference in the pre-germinating process is setting up your seeds and germinating them at the right temperature. Tomatoes that need 80 degrees to germinate are not going to if the temperature is 70.
Whatever bag closing method you chose, make sure to put it in a warm area (or on top of a heating pad) and keep out of direct sunlight.
Step 5: The Wait.
Some seeds will sprout quicker than others so make sure you are checking your bags daily. Along with evidence of sprouting, you want to make sure the paper towel doesn’t try out and you want to make sure no fuzzies or evidence of mold is growing.
I don’t recommend using Aeropress filters as they seemed to attract mold right away and out of the 5 different seeds I set up, only the Sun Gold Tomatoes sprouted and were mold free.
Paper towel and regular coffee filters are much more successful and didn’t give me any mold problems. They also stayed moist longer than the Aeropress filters.
Step 6: Germination!
The seeds pictured are all tomatoes and it only took 2 days for them to germinate. Now, they need to be transplanted into soil to continue growing into seedlings (also to avoid decay).
Moving the seed to their transplant container needs to be done as carefully as possible to minimize shock or damaging the teeny sprout. If you accidentally break the root, the sprout will die.
Step 7: Transplant
Carefully transfer each sprout into its transplant pot. I’m using paper rolls (instructable coming) that are filled with seed starting mix. Each sprout goes into the mix, root down.
If your sprout started growing into the paper towel (as one of my Roma seeds, first picture) simply cut around it and then transplant it into soil paper and all.
Keep your sprouts warm and moist, but avoid watering the plant directly or over-water. You can continue seedling growth under a light or in a windowsill in a warm area.
Pre-Sprouting Seeds: Pre-sprouting, or pre-germinating, is an easy and inexpensive way of maximizing your plant growing success. By pre-sprouting your seeds before you put them into soil you rid yourself that pesky wait time between sowing the seeds and seeing them spro…