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…
How To Germinate Seeds 3X Faster ( & What NOT to Do)
January 15, 2021
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This is our FAVORITE method to germinate seeds quickly. As passionate gardeners, we have been using it to start seeds for over 10 years! It works great for all herbs, flowers, and vegetables seeds.
For most types of seeds, this is our go-to gardening secret! 🙂 Germinating seeds in 1/3 time with 3X more success, yes, you have to try this!
In this article, we will look at when and how to use this seed germination method. Comparison of two methods: germinating seeds on paper towel vs. germinating seeds in soil, plus some helpful tips we have learned along the way, and readers questions at the end!
Definitely check out the tips, because there is one thing that you should NOT copy what the nurseries do!
And feel free to download this pretty (and free ) printable planting calendar when you start the seeds! =)
Or make this seed storage box from cardboard boxes! ( Some of the helpful resources are affiliate links. Full disclosure here. )
Our favorite method to germinate seeds super fast with much more success.
We discovered this method to start seeds from an older book- Planning The Organic Vegetable Garden. It made such a huge difference , we just LOVE it and have been using it every year for the last 10+ years! This method is called pre sprouting, or pre germinate in the book.
Step one: germinate seeds on paper towel
All you need is a plastic or glass container with a tight lid. Clear ones will make it easier to see through, but not required as the seeds don’t need light to send out roots.
Put a piece of paper towel or white paper on the bottom of the container, add water till the paper towel is thoroughly moist, but no puddles of water.
Sprinkle seeds in groups on the damp paper towel, close the lid, and make a note to yourself what type of seeds are where, especially when you have seeds that look identical, for example- broccoli, kale and cauliflower.
Place the container with seeds out of direct sun.
This is very important, because a closed container can get super hot, and all the germinating seeds would die from the heat.
Start checking on them the next day. If the seeds are really fresh, some will germinate in as little as 1 day! The fastest germinating seeds include everything in the cabbage family – bok choi, broccoli, kale, cauliflower etc, and lettuce.
The slowest seeds to germinate are pepper, eggplant, fennel, celery, which may take 5+ days. The rest such as tomato, beets, chard, squash, onions, will take about 3 days.
Step 2: Plant germinated seeds in pots
It is important to have pots and soil ready to go.
As soon as you see roots coming out, plant them right away. If the roots get too long, it will be hard to separate the roots from the paper towel. If that happens, just plant the paper towel!
It may seem hard to pick up a tiny seed, but it really is quite easy. you can use a tooth pick, or just your fingers, which is what I do.
Plant them at a depth of 1-2 seeds size ( shallow depth for small seeds, deeper for bigger seeds) , and gently mist them daily for the first week.
We also like to put the pots in saucers and fill the bottom with water till the soil in each pot is saturated, then empty the saucer. It will take a couple of days for the little green leaves to pop out. Now they will need full sun to grow strong and healthy! Below is an extreme example of how much we love this method! =)
If you try these DIY / decor / garden / craft projects, tag us on Instagram at @apieceofrainbow, we would love to see what you create!
Comparison of germinating seed on paper towel method with germinating seeds in soil.
Here’s how to plant seeds in soil, which is what most people do:
In a pot filled with soil, sprinkle some seed, add a thin layer of soil, water thoroughly. And wait.
Sounds familiar? Once you try the paper towel method to start seeds, you will rarely go back to the soil method. Here’s why.
Pros of germinating seed on paper towel:
- Great success rate: Have you ever scatter a whole packet of 300 seeds, just to have 3 plants survive? The reason is soil tend to dry out, while the paper towel maintains consistent moisture level. When we germinate seeds on paper towel, we sow 12 seeds if we want 10 broccoli plants, because almost all of them will germinate and grow. When we get fresh seeds from a good seed company, the germination rate is almost 100%!
- Test old or new seeds: If you have seeds that are a few years old, germinating seeds on paper towel is a great way to quickly test if they are still alive. We have been able to grow healthy plants from cabbage or tomato seeds that are over 5 years old! If you store seeds in a cool and dry place, some can have quite a long life. We also use this technique to find out if the new seeds we got are good quality.
- Faster germination: For example, cabbage seeds take 1-2 days to germinate on paper towel and another 2 days to leaf out, while it can take 2-3 times longer if sown directly in the soil.
Cons of germinating seed on paper towel:
There is one extra step of planting the germinated seed in soil. So if you want to plant a whole field of flowers or vegetables, this method will not be practical.
Now you see the pros and cons, it is very easy to see which method is better for the home gardener!
FAQ and helpful tips we have learned:
90% of the time we use this method to germinate seeds, but we sometimes direct sow seeds that grow super easily and super fast, or less attractive to pests, such as arugula, radishes, or carrots.
Although you see seedlings grown in six-packs at nurseries, I think it’s a fantasy because those plants were grown in perfect greenhouse conditions with daily fertilizers.
It’s very hard to grow seedlings to that big in a six-pack for home gardeners. We prefer to grow them in 4 inch pots like these, or a long deep planter like in the above image. This allows the seedling to grow quicker and bigger before being transplanted, so they don’t disappear with one bug bite!
Have pots and soil ready! Because the seeds could germinate in as little as one day! If your seeds grow into the paper towel, yes, you can plant the paper towel.
For the first 1-2 weeks after planting them in pots, mist the seedlings or gently water them, and keep the soil moist. They are fragile and can fall over easily!
Our favorite seed companies are Baker Creek Seeds, and Everwilde Farms both are started and ran by some great passionate people! Just look at that gorgeous green corn from Baker Creek, irresistible!
If you try these DIY / decor / garden / craft projects, tag us on Instagram at @apieceofrainbow, we would love to see what you create!
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Wow! This is a really in depth blog post! I had no previous knowledge of seeds, so this is very helpful!
if you use a weak tea solution, (dilluted unsweetened tea) it provides a boost to starting seeds as well combined with this method.
Please can’t understand chart that says just to show how much we love ABC stands for what and 123 stands for what.. Thanks for you in advance for your reply
The chart you referred to is the one with seeds? I think that’s just a way of remembering which seeds are where. You can make your own grid then keep track of what you put in each part of the grid. EXAMPLE: A5 is where you put the tomato seed, c7 is where the cucumbers are.
Ananda – this is AWESOME information!! Wish I’d known this years ago since I grow all my veggies from seed. THANK YOU!!
with your GREEN thumb yours will start in 1 hour i bet! =)
This is really cool! I will have to add some planters to my balcony this season!
I wish I had a green thumb and was able to do this!
Kyla Currier, you don’t need a green thumb to have a garden. I don’t have one, my husband did, but we divorced 25 years ago. I learned some essential things from him, that are necessary to having a nice garden. Through trial and error of leaving out the essentials, I have wasted quite a few growing seasons!
If you follow these few simple absolute musts, you will be suprised at how simple growing a garden is:
1.The Seeds: Germinate just like this article explains. Super simple and reliable. Follow package directions for sunliight. (Full sun, or partial,for less- 2. The Soil: And this is crucial. It must be turned over, either by digging, or tilling. First year is there hardest, subsequent years are a matter if turning over with shovel, but 1 St time garden, the rocks need to be picked out , and the clumps of dirt broken up. 3. Also crucial: FERTILIZER… Depends on your soul, but basically, if you can just put some manure on/in (usually your local cow/horse farm will gladly let you take some out of his stalls, take your shovel! free of charge. Dump it on, shovel it under, evenly. Ideally, this should be done in the fall, after your last hardest, so it can break down over the winter, and not risk burning, or over fertilizing. Although I have had to put in in in Spring, just before planting, and I just made sure to use about 1/4 the amount, and get the OLDEST Pooh in the field/barnyard. And my plants loved it. Just make sure to evenly distribute. 4. Water: Make sure to check your soil daily, to make sure it is moist, (if not, water with hose — never during mid day heat), continue to check daily, in the evening or late afternoon until you get accustomed to how your particular soil drains/maintains moisture., due to your climate and rainfall. Be creative, you don’t always have to stand there and hold the house. If soil gets dry, plants WILL wilt and quickly die, also, continued dry soil will effect produce production. Mist plants in the eve, or morn, they will love you! 5. Lastly, everyone’s favorite part of gardening…WEEDING. Pull weeds between rows after watering (roots pull out easily). Stay on top of it, avoid plant killers, it’s poison you will end up consuming. Weeding is necessary to allow sunlight to get to the entire plant. AND, the VEGGIES will get all the watering, instead of the weeds. Same with nutition from your soil. AND THATS IT!! I’m confident if you follow these few simple rules, you will have tastier, healthier food, for a healthier you. Keep in mind kids LOVE learning, and being helpful. Andy if you want to start extra small, you can try some tomato plants in 5 gallon buckets, on your porch. Like I said,cI DO NOT have a green thumb. I don’t even have any house plants, because they tend to die every winter. But girl, I can grow tomatoes, cukes, and squash and zukes as good as anyone, and miles better than the grocery store has to offer. It’s prob not too late if you get in in THIS week!! HURRY. You’ll be so glad you did, And it is so rewarding, and good for the soul to get DOWN TO EARTH. ☀️🌱😊
thank you so much Ronni for sharing so many great gardening tips! 🙂
thank you for providing this in depth description and response of what to look for when begginning techniques outlined in the article. you rock!!
What an awesome idea! I had a tiny garden last year that I adored, but we’ve since moved to a place where I can have a garden about eight times the size of my former one. I’m SO excited to get started, and I’ll definitely use this method!
wow that’s awesome!! wish you a great garden natalie!!
Wonderful post! I have not tried planting from seeds yet but I will this come Spring. In the past I have grown roots from stems and that proved to be gratifying. Your advice will surely come in handy when I have a try at planting seeds 🙂
i am sure your garden will be so lovely cara!!
I have ALWAYS wanted to have a small garden, but have not yet taken the plunge! Maybe this year will be the year!
This takes me back to school when we used to grow seeds on kitchen roll! This is such a helpful and insightful post 🙂
i love the name “kitchen roll”!! xx
Great advice. In my case, it seems like it takes ages for them to grow.
I absolutely love this method – it looks like a great way to be more successful than I have with seeds in the past. Not only that, but I do have some old seeds that I’d love to try this on!
i can just imagine how yummy your garden to table dishes are!! xo
What a brilliant tip! I love how easy it is to get through your seeds this way- I definitely have a few packs where I’m not sure they’ll ever grow. 🙂
Oh I love this I’m such a green thumb and absolutely love these tips Thankyou
No way. I’ve never thought to do this but I definitely am going to now. I love gardening but really dont like the sowing gamble. lol. Planting 300 and only getting 3. Thanks for sharing!
thank you erin! wish you a bountiful garden!! xx
What a good idea! I don’t have a green thumb at all, but I really like these tips, it makes me want to retry this whole plant growing thing! (:
hope you will! it’s really rewarding! =)
This is GENIUS! I can’t wait to try it out!
I taught 4th grade for many years and this was the method I used to pre-sprout. Great post!
kids always know the best ways to do things! =)
Oh my gosh, this is genius! Pinning this so I don’t forget this amazing trick! Thanks for sharing!
wish you a great garden kelly!!
oh wow this is so cool, I am not much of a gardener so this looks interesting to me
Such an awesome trick! I used to plant a garden every summer growing up!
This looks like so much fun! Definitely want to start my own garden now!
Germinate seeds 3X faster with more success in 1 day! Best secret to plant herbs, flowers, & vegetables from seeds. Our favorite fail-proof gardening tips!