How to Pre-Germinate Vegetable Seeds

I’m hearing news reports that in some areas, people are not allowed to purchase seeds or plants for the garden. For the life of me, I don’t understand why. I haven’t been out much around here, but I do know that at least a couple of our local plant nurseries are open and following social -distancing guidelines.

Like a lot of others, we decided to plant extra vegetables this year. Although I will still buy a few tomato and pepper plants, I always start a variety of seeds for the other crops. Since my seeds were 2 -4 years old, germination could be iffy. If I can get 50% germination, I consider that a success. Fresher seeds have a much higher germination rate. I don’t have room indoors for a bunch of seed trays, so I pre-germinated them this year.

This is a wonderful project to do with kids too! They love checking on the bags to see which ones germinate first.

Easy Seed Starting

To pre-germinate seeds, I like to soak each kind of seeds for an hour or two, then drain well and spread the seeds out on a damp napkin or paper towel, and them cover with plastic. Zip lock bags are perfect!

The paper napkin or paper towel has to be damp, but not dripping wet. If it’s too wet, mold will grow. If that happens, I generally just throw the whole bag away and start over.

The top left picture below is some Heirloom tomato seeds that I had saved from 2017. Those tomatoes were large and flavorful. Wish I could remember the name, but luckily they will produce true to the seeds. Two seeds in the bottom left sprouted roots on the 3rd day.

In the top right photo below are sugar snap peas. These germinate at a lower temperature than my other seeds, but I was late getting them planted in the outdoor containers, so I rushed their germination inside. I soaked the pea seeds for several hours and because they are so much bigger, I spread them on the napkin on a disposable plate, then slid the plate into a gallon freezer bags.

The bottom picture above are cucumbers. By pre-germinating seeds, especially older seeds, you won’t be planting duds.

The bottom picture below shows my setup to pre-germinate 12 different varieties on one tray. I used the plastic lids from 2 sheet cake pans with 12 squares of damp paper towel on the bottom one. I placed different seeds on each square, and then clipped the two lids together. I had to carefully slide the tray into a kitchen trash bag, because it dried out too quickly without the plastic.

To keep track of the the location of each seed, I made a diagram on an index card, then wrote the name on the corresponding block.

I placed the seeds on top of the fridge where it was nice and warm.

Shortly after they sprout roots, the seeds need to be carefully planted. The peas went out to the big containers outside and the other seeds were planted in a seed tray.

The top row above has Swiss Chard and 3 kinds of hot peppers. The middle row has leaf lettuce, cucumbers, 2 bell peppers. The bottom row has Romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, early girl tomatoes and mortgage lifter tomatoes.

The tiny little lettuce seeds were only soaked for 15-20 minutes.

Do the same thing in July and August to start your fall garden plants.

Happy Gardening!


14 thoughts on “How to Pre-Germinate Vegetable Seeds

  1. I used to save seeds from store-bought and previously grown veggies. I rarely had to buy seeds for what I wanted to grow. My Dad taught me how to germinate them in paper towels when I was a kid! Sadly, I miss the good ol’ days of gardening. Looks like we all might have to go back to those days of planting our own food at the rate things are going. :/

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The garden centers were closed here in Michigan for a while but that restriction along with a few others has been lifted – thankfully in time for people to start their gardens. I’m not sure if it would have been if it were not for the large protest at our state capitol.


  3. This is so helpful, you are doing so many great post helping teach others, that is very kind. I love post like this. I don’t understand why some places don’t allow people to buy seeds and plants. Our nurseries are open here, we just have to keep our distance. We can also drive to summer homes, although I understand why people in town would be afraid of city people exposing them. Thanks for the tips, have a fun weekend.


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