Pre-Sprouting Vegetable Seeds


GerminationPre-sprouting vegetable seed will help you avoid over-sowing in the greenhouse or garden. Pre-sprouting also answers the question: Is this seed still viable?

To pre-sprout seeds place the seeds on a damp paper towel.

Make sure that the seeds are well spaced and not touching one another. Fold the towel in half. Alternatively, place the seed on a damp paper towel and then place a second damp paper towel on top. Next place the paper towel with seeds in a small plastic bag. Place the plastic bag on top of the refrigerator or on top of a hot water heater or other warm spot and wait for germination.

There are many reasons seeds may not germinate: the seed is too old; the soil or starting mix is poor; the soil was not watered before sowing; there’s insufficient light or warmth for seed to begin growing.

Pre-sprouting removes some obstacles to seed starting.

Once the seeds are in the plastic bag and set in a warm place, check for sprouting every two or three days. When the seeds sprout, lift

the new seedlings with tweezers or your fingers and gently transplant them intomoist planting medium in small pots. Don’t allow roots to begin growing on the moistened paper towel; they will become very difficult to remove.

Pre-sprouting seed on moist paper towels is ideal for small seed. Larger seeds can be pre-sprouted on a moistened paper coffee

filter. The moistened filters and seed can be placed upright in a clear plastic kitchen container until sprouting.

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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  1. Excellent idea! I have tomato seeds I saved from a wonderful tasting tomato two seasons ago. I wondered if they would germinate. I’ll use this method to get the answer. Thanks for this great hint!

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