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How to Pre-Sprout Carrot Seeds

Carrot seedlings
Carrot seedlings

Carrots and other carrot family crops such as parsley and parsnips can be slow to germinate. They require consistently moist soil and sometimes two weeks or more for germination. Dry or windy weather can mean slow or no germination for carrots.

Pre-sprouting is the best way to short-cut carrot germination time and ensure a crop; there is no guessing whether the seedbed has accidentally gone dry and delayed or derailed your crop.

About Carrot and Carrot Family Crop Seeds

  • Carrots, parsnips, and parsley take 14 to 21 days to germinate; that means you must keep the seedbed evenly moist for up to three weeks or longer. This may require near-constant attention.
  • Carrots and carrot family crops are slow to germinate because they have hard seed coats (seed coats or hulls protect seed embryos from decay and deterioration).
  • For seeds to germinate and begin growing moisture must penetrate the seed coat and activate an enzyme triggering respiration and plant cell duplication and growth.
  • Both heat and cold can speed a seed’s intake of moisture.

More carrot growing details at How to Grow Carrots.

Carrot planting bed
Carrot planting bed

Two Ways to Pre-Sprout Carrot Seeds

Boiling Water Method

  1. Sprinkle seed across a tray of sterile potting soil or seed starting mix (you can also use peat moss, peat moss, and sand or vermiculite).
  2. Pour very warm or just boiling water over the seed. Boiling water removes the cuticle and some lower epidermal layers of carrot seed hulls.
  3. Cover the seeds with potting soil or seed starting mix and place the tray inside a clear plastic bag.
  4. Mist the soil with a kitchen spray bottle twice a day until the seed has sprouted.

Freezing Method

  1. Mix the seed with damp potting soil or seed starting mix or peat moss; spread the mix across a seed-starting tray or paper plate.
  2. Place the tray or plate in a clear plastic bag, seal it, and set it in the freezer for twenty-four hours but not longer. (This is called cold stratification; placing the seed in the freezer for twenty-four hours is enough for the seed to think it has gone through a winter, but not long enough to freeze and damage cells inside the seed.)
  3. Then place the seed and soil mix—still inside the plastic bag (use a large zip lock bag for a paper plate)—on a seed-starting heat mat or refrigerator top or another appliance top at 70° to 80°F for three days or longer—until the seed sprouts.

What To Do When Seeds Sprout

  1. Once seeds sprout, take them out of the plastic bag—soil mix, seeding starting mix, or peat moss and all—and gently set the sprouts in prepared rows and furrows ¼-inch deep then cover them lightly with potting soil.
  2. Keep the new sprouts well watered until they are rooted and growing.

Pre-Sprouting Results

  • The sprouts will grow uniform in height and produce a crop two weeks earlier than if you had sown seed directly in the planting bed.
  • Most carrot varieties take 70 to 80 days from sowing to harvest. The best time to grow carrots is in the cool times of the year—spring or fall.
  • Fall grown carrots can be stored in the garden bed until you are ready to use them—as long as the soil does not freeze.

More tips: Carrot Seed Starting Tips

 

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12 Comments

  1. Hi There, I really appreciate this article on pre- sprouting carrot seeds. I am doing my 2nd batch of carrot seeds this way (since I only got six sprouts out of 24 seeds last time) but I may have made a huge mistake. I put the packet of carrot seeds in the freezer last night and forgot to mix them with soil. I am mixing them with soil on a paper plate this morning and plan to put them right back in the freezer as you instructed. My question is should they be in the freezer for just 12 hours or 24…. just wondering since they were in the freezer last night. The perils of not rereading instructions you discovered a week ago. Thanks so much.

    Kim Gower

    • Pre-sprouting carrot seed using the cold stratification: place the seed in the freezer for twenty-four hours but not longer. You do not want to freeze and damage cells inside the seed. Two 12 hour sessions will work, and a bit less than 24 hours should work just fine.

      • Hi, I used the paper towel method for terminating carrot seeds and checked them carefully every day. However, I went out of town over a long weekend and came back to find them sprouted and actually growing! It wouldn’t be a concern of the roots were still relatively short, but the roots are quite long and curled, with 2 of them setting the carrot tops! Do I just plant them whole like this and hope the roots straighten?

        • Yes, the best you can do is to firm the roots into the soil with your hands–helping the roots to make good contact with the soil. Once the roots are in contact with the soil–and assuming the soil is loose and stone and pebble free, the roots should straighten themselves out and grow on.

  2. hello, I bought carrot seeds from a very reputable company, I was able to pre-sprout all the seeds except for carrots. I used a wet paper towel and a heating pad set on low underneath. I would say I had a 90% success. None of the carrots sprouted so I tried the method of the gel formed with water and corn starch. I tried the freezer method, I’m not sure what to do next. Do they take a lot longer than others? Thank you very much for your time.

    • Carrot seeds can take as long as 20 days to germinate; however, at about 75F carrot seed should germinate in about a week if the seeds are just moist. Carrot seed should germinate between 50F to 85F. You may want to try a variety of methods to discover what works best in your situation: (1) place a few seeds in seed starting mix and just light cover the seed; then set in a window or in greenhouse; (2) try again to germinate seed using a moist paper towel–experiment with bottom heat temperatures–first at 75F and then cooler. Check the seed packet for an expiration date to be sure you were sent viable seed.

  3. I followed a similar method from another website and it suggested to soak the seeds in water for 1h before wrapping them up in a moist environment (such as damp paper towel) and then sealing them in a container. I did not need a heat mat as it is roughly 22 degrees Celsius in our home this spring.
    In 5 days the seeds had sprouted considerably. I’ve sowed them in today with a well-watered deep pot and a shallow sow (1/4 inch) and then covered them with some horticultural fleece to avoid the soil drying out and the carrot flies getting in.
    Fingers crossed, they will carry on with the progress…

    • Pre-sprouted seeds should show signs of green seedling growth in a day or two. If the soil is loose, not crusted, the sprouts should break through quickly. If they fail to appear, it is likely the pre-sprouted seedling rotted in the soil.

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