How to Germinate Seeds Quickly

How to Germinate Seeds Quickly in 6 Steps

Are you wondering how to germinate seeds fast? Here’s how!

Waiting for seeds to germinate feels like it takes forever. Some seeds take up to three or four weeks to germinate. Is it possible to learn how to germinate seeds quickly?

Experienced gardeners will tell you that there are several tricks to germinating seeds quickly. These tricks work for all seeds, regardless of the type. I used these tips for vegetable, herb, and flower seeds.

Related: 13 Reasons Seeds Don’t Germinate & What You Can Do

What is Seed Germination?

Seed germination is often called seed starting, and it’s the process in which gardeners grow plants by using seeds instead of ready-to-grow plants from the store. Germinating is when the seeds begin to sprout indoors, starting the life of a new plant.

Starting seeds indoors is an effective way to increase germination rate and control the life of your young plants. Seeds started outside are exposed to such a wide variety of experiences, and it decreases the chances of them living.

What Types of Seeds Germinate Indoors?

Not all seeds need to be started indoors; it depends on where you live and the type of plants you want to grow. Germinating seeds indoors lengthens the plant’s growing season and gives a head start on slow-growing plants.

However, it is more work for you, so you want to make sure you only start the seeds indoors that need it. For example, green beans rarely need to be started indoors. Most green bean bush plants only have 50-60 days to maturity, so as long as you are in your frost-free days, it’s safe to start them outdoors.

You should consider starting seeds inside that take awhile to grow outdoors, such as:

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Watermelons
  • Pumpkins
  • Herbs

You also can start spring and cold-weather plants indoors to give them the best head start on growing. These plants dislike hot weather, so starting them indoors gives them more time to mature when the temperatures are cooler, such as:

  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Swiss Chard
  • Spinach

How Long Does It Take for Seeds to Germinate?

Vegetable seed germination rates vary widely depending on the soil temperature and air temperature. Keeping seeds at optimum temperature quickens germination; cold temperatures slow germination rates.

For most seeds, germination is fastest when the temperatures are around 70 degrees F.

Here is a seed germination rate chart. Remember, the days listed are based on optimal temperatures.

VegetableDays for Germination
Asparagus14-18 days
Beans4-10 Days
Beets4-10 Days
Broccoli7-10 Days
Brussels Sprouts3-10 Days
Cabbage5-10 Days
Carrots6 Days
Cauliflower4-10 Days
Celery10 Days
Chinese Cabbage4-10 Days
Collard Greens5-10 Days
Corn4-10 Days
Cucumber5-7 Days
Eggplant10-15 Days
Garlic7-14 Days
Kale5-7 Days
Kohlrabi5-10 Days
Lettuce2-10 Days
Mustard Greens4-6 Days
Okra7-12 Days
Parsley5-6 Weeks
Parsnips5-28 Days
Peas5-7 Days
Pepper7-10 Days
Pumpkins4-10 Days
Radishes4-10 Days
Spinach6-14 Days
Squash7-10 Days
Swiss Chard7 Days
Tomatoes5-7 Days
Watermelons4-10 Days

How to Germinate Seeds in 6 Steps

Learning how to germinate seeds indoors is easier than you may think!

First, it’s always best to start with seeds that are no older than two years old. You can germinate older seeds; some people have success germinating seeds that are 10 years old! However, the success rate is going to be lower. If you have extra seeds to start to account for the failure rate, then this won’t be a big deal.

Then, follow these steps to germinate seeds.

Step 1: Prepare Your Seed Starting Mix

You need a seed starting soil mix for germinating seeds indoors. It’s possible to make your own, but most people use commercially available seed starting mix. The mix should be sterile to decrease the risk of bacteria interrupting your germinating rates.

You also need containers for starting seeds. I prefer to use trays for seed starting, but some use seedling cups, peat pots, or even styrofoam cups.

Related: 7 Best Seed Trays and Pots for Starting Seeds at Home

Step 2: Dampen Soil and Plant the Seeds

You have a few options in your next step. Most people sprout their seeds in the soil, but some have better success starting seeds in a wet paper towel before transferring into the seed starting mix.

If you want to start seeds in the soil, be sure to dampen the soil first. I put all of my seed starting mix into a bucket and put water into it, using a large spoon to mix it well. Otherwise, the soil won’t hold water to encourage germination for your seeds.

When you plant seeds, be sure to read the seed packets to determine how deep to plant the seeds. Small seeds, such as tomato seeds, should be planted one-eighth inch to one-fourth inch into the soil. Typically, it’s better to put the seeds into the container and cover with more soil; it’s easier to control depth with this method.

Step 3: Cover for Humidity

Many seed starting trays come with plastic lids to create a miniature greenhouse effect. This increases the humidity in the tray, which is essential for high germination rates.

Step 4: Keep the Seeds Warm

Now, you have to keep your seeds in a warm area to increase their germination rate. Consider keeping the seeds near a windowsill, but if it’s cold outside, the window area may be too cold.

Seedlings typically want to stay around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. You can use grow lights to keep the seeds warm, or some gardeners prefer to use heat mats for the seed trays.

Step 5: Keep The Soil Mix Moist

I bet you learned in school that plants need water to grow, and the same thing is true for your little plants. Seeds need consistent moisture to germinate.

After you dampen the seed starting mix when planting the seeds, use a spray bottle to keep the soil evenly moistened. You don’t want to overwater the seeds too much.

Step 6: Thin The Seedlings

Once the seeds sprout, keep the plants moist and let them grow. Sometimes, you plant more than one seed and multiple sprout. At first, this is okay, but you can’t leave all of the sprouted seeds in the container. So, you have to thin them out.

The easiest way to do this is to use scissors to snip the stem at the soil level. Another option is to pull out the sprouts with tweezers, but you need to be careful. You don’t want to accidentally pull out the roots from the seedlings you want to keep.

How to Speed Up Seed Germination: 4 Tricks to Try

1. Germinate Seeds on Paper Towels

The first trick that many gardeners swear by is learning how to germinate seeds on paper towels. It might seem like an unnecessary step, but germinating on paper towels can cause the seeds to sprout three times faster!

Here’s what you need to do.

  1. Put a folded paper towel at the bottom of a glass or plastic container.
  2. Gradually added more water until the paper towel is thoroughly moist; make sure there are no puddles of water.
  3. Place the seeds on the paper towel and close the lid of the container.
  4. Note on the lid or a separate sheet of paper what type of seeds you are germinating. This is especially helpful when sprouting seeds that look the same.

Now, keep the containers out of direct sunlight because any trapped heat might fry – literally – the seeds.

Start checking the seeds daily. Depending on the type of seeds you’re germinating, some only take one or two days to sprout. The fastest germinating seeds are:

  • Lettuce
  • Radishes
  • Kale
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Bok Choy

Related: 12 Fast Growing Seeds for Your Vegetable Garden

The most important thing is to have containers ready to plant your sprouted seeds.

When tiny roots appear on the seeds, plant them immediately into soil. Long roots will make it hard to separate from the paper towel.

Always plant seeds at a depth of 1-2 seed sizes. So, the bigger the seed, the deeper you need to plant them.

How Long Does It Take to Germinate Seeds in a Paper Towel?

Planting seeds in a paper towel and a plastic bag creates a mini greenhouse effect that leads to moisture and heat retention. Moisture and humidity combined creates the ideal environment for germinating seeds.

2. Pre-soak Your Seeds for Faster Germination

One of the best kept gardening secrets – soaking your seeds encourages faster germination.

Why does soaking seeds help seeds germinate faster?

Soaking seeds expose the embryo to moisture, helping it break through the shell and emerge faster. Exposure to water allows the seeds to swell as water penetrates the seed coating, and the embryo starts to plump up.

Never soak seeds for longer than 24 hours or it might cause them to rot.

After 24 hours of soaking, plant them immediately into soil, whether that’s in a pot or in the ground. This method works with all seeds, but I find it works best with larger seeds, such as bean or squash seeds.

3. Use Cold Treatment for Some Seeds

The next trick to germinate seeds quickly is to use stratification, which is when you expose seeds to a period of moist cold. It makes the seeds think they’re going through a period of winter. Stratification mimics nature; birds drop seeds that go through a cold period throughout winter and sprout in the spring.

When sowing seeds in the spring, soak the seeds for 24 hours and put them in a sandwich bag that is half filled with moist, seed starting soil. Keep the bag in the refrigerator.

When the seeds sprout and form roots, transfer them to pots, exposing them to light and warmth.

Some seeds that need cold treatment also can be planted outdoors in the fall or stored in the refrigerator throughout the fall and winter. Then, in the spring, you plant the seeds in pots.

For outdoor planting, put the seeds in a pot, but put a thin layer of gravel over the top of the pot to prevent the soil from being washed away.

4. Try Nicking Your Seeds

The last tip on how to germinate seeds quickly is to use scarification, a process of nicking a seed’s coat with a knife or sandpaper. Doing so allows moisture to reach the seed’s embryo, causing it to germinate faster.

Scarify the seeds right before you plant them. You don’t want to leave the scarred seeds out where bacteria might enter.

Frequently Asked Questions about Germinating Seeds Quickly

What Do Seeds Need to Germinate?

Seeds need three things to germinate:

  • Water
  • Oxygen
  • The Right Temperature

Seeds are in a state of dormancy, or suspended animation, until exposed to these three elements.

Do Seeds Need Sunlight to Germinate?

Most seeds, including your average vegetable and herb seeds, germinate best in dark conditions. It’s an easy mistake to miss because seedlings NEED light to grow, but seeds germinate best in light. As soon as the seeds sprout and a seedling appears, place it under a grow light.

Some species of plants, such as begonias and coleus, need light to germinate, but if you’re germinating vegetable seeds, don’t worry about providing lights.

What’s the Best Germination Temperature?

Most seeds germinate the best when the soil temperature is between 68 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Sticking close to the 75-80 degree mark will ensure your seeds have the best chance at germination.

After germination takes place, the best temperature for growing seedlings is about 10 degrees cooler than the temperature in which they germinated.

How Hot is Too Hot for Seed Germination?

Make sure you don’t expose to your seeds to temperatures higher than 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Those temperatures will kill the embryo inside of the seed, rendering it useless.

Germinating Seeds Quickly is Easy

Figuring out how to germinate seeds quickly helps you get your plants started faster. It’s hard to be patient and wait, but these four tricks help most seeds germinate as quickly as possible.

What’s your favorite trick for germinating seeds fast?

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  1. You say: Most seeds, including your average vegetable and herb seeds, germinate best in dark conditions. Then you mention: but seeds germinate best in light. Could you clarify? Thanks, enjoyed the article

  2. You stated seeds germinating in the dark but then you stated feeds germinate best in light. Little confusing. Would you please clarify. Thank you!!

    1. keep seed in germination stage in the dark.
      When root forms place in moist soil and put under light or growing light
      make sure to take seedling off paper towel B4 placing in the soil. GOOD LUCK AND HAPPY GROWING!!!! :()

  3. I took that as an error on the 2nd part. I probably shouldn’t be trying to speak for the author, but..

    I feel certain Bethany meant seeds germinate best in dark, but then they grow beyond that best in light.

    At least that has been my experience.

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