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How to Pre-Sprout Carrot Seeds

Carrot seedlings1
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


Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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