Seed Priming Tips for Vegetable Gardeners

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Priming parsnip seeds

I had been a vegetable gardener for years when I discovered the difference seed priming can make with vegetable seeds that are slow or erratic sprouters. In my first try, I watched with amazement as parsnip seedlings from primed seeds popped up like little soldiers. A different technique resulted in beet seeds that emerged with the speed of radishes, while a third method gave me spinach seedlings less than a week after planting.

Everyone should know these tricks!

A simple soak primes spinach seeds for fast, uniform germination

What is Seed Priming?

Seed priming involves procedures that initiate the germination process before the seeds are planted, resulting in higher germination rates and faster emergence of seedlings. For most seed priming methods, seeds are soaked in water for a few hours and then kept moist inside enclosed containers for varying time periods at room temperature.

Seeds of most vegetables don’t require priming because they are fast and enthusiastic sprouters by nature. But while tomato seeds sprout fast, peppers and eggplant benefit from seed priming to hasten germination. Here are seed priming tips for 12 vegetables that benefit from these special procedures.

12 Vegetables That Respond to Seed Priming

Beet seeds have thick, wrinkled seed coats that soften when “washed” in several changes of water. Place seeds in a jar, cover them with room temperature water, and drain off and replace the water every 30 minutes. After six changes of water, many of the natural germination inhibitors present in the seed coats are removed. Drain the primed beet seeds on paper towels overnight, and plant the next day. Primed beet seeds emerge in 4 to 5 days, compared to 7 to 12 days for dry seeds.

Primed celery seeds grow into bigger, more robust seedlings

Carrot and celery seeds have immature embryos surrounded by hard seed coats, so dry-planted seeds often take two weeks to germinate. To speed things up, soak the seeds in room temperature water for 24 hours, drain on paper towels, and plant as soon as the seeds are dry enough to handle. Primed carrot seeds should be up and growing within 7 days.

Corn seeds for superior sweet corn varieties have trouble germinating in cold, wet soil, and even under good conditions emergence can be slow and spotty. Priming corn seeds by soaking them in water for 12 hours can cut germination time in half while resulting in bigger, healthier seedlings. This method, called simple hydropriming, also works well with spinach.

Eggplant and pepper germination time can be cut in half by making a tea from dried marigold blossoms, and soaking seeds in it for a few hours. Then arrange the seeds on a paper towel that has been thoroughly dampened with marigold tea, and keep in an airtight container for four days. Plant immediately, and expect seedlings within 5 days. If you don’t have marigold blossoms, use plain water.

Pre-germinated onion seeds are ready for planting within a week

Onion seeds that are soaked in water for 2 to 4 hours and then set to germinate on damp paper towels start smelling like onions after two days, and usually show white radicles starting on day 4. When planted immediately, the seeds will continue germinating and emerge as seedlings 5 to 7 days later.

Okra seeds can take two weeks to germinate unless you help them absorb water by cracking into their hard seed coats. Use a nail clipper to nick each seed on the opposite side from the little eye; you will hear the seed coat crack. Then soak the seeds in water for 24 hours. When promptly planted in warm, moist soil, primed okra seeds will be up and growing in only 5 to 7 days.

Parsley seeds sprout faster when primed with hot water. Place the seeds in a small dish, cover them with very warm (110°F/43°C) water, and let sit overnight. Pour off any seeds that float, and strain the others onto a paper towel. Keep the seeds in an airtight container on a damp paper towel, and plant when the white radicles show.

Soaking peas for 24 hours speeds up germination and produces heartier seedlings

Pea seeds that are soaked in water for 24 hours will germinate faster and grow into larger, more robust seedlings compared to dry-seeded peas. When held in a moist container at room temperature, soaked seeds will fully germinate in about five days, and should be promptly planted.

Parsnip germination is hugely improved by soaking the seeds in water for 4 hours and then germinating them on damp paper towels until the radicles start to show, which often takes 5 days. When primed parsnip seeds are planted as soon as they germinate, seedlings are visible in about a week.

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Show Comments


"I knew some of these, but several were very helpful! I would also like to add that Nasturtiums should be primed just like Okra."
Julie on Sunday 2 February 2020
"Great article! Is there an easy way to print it? Would be really handy to be able to have a hard copy! Thanks and God bless!"
Eden on Friday 14 February 2020
"Hi Eden. You can print the page using your browser's print function. Please email our customer support team at (letting us know which browser you're using) if you're not sure or are experiencing any problems printing the page."
GrowVeg Customer Support on Friday 14 February 2020
"Who knew! well I have successfully sprouted 4 types of tomato, cucumber lettuce, spring onions, coriander, Chinese kale, 2 types of courgettes, some old chilli seeds (think they may be cayenne).Still waiting for some recently primed Aubergines, I hate waste and as seed compost is not always easy to get at the moment, this is very satisfying, thank you. "
Elizabeth on Friday 3 April 2020
"Thank you so much, this is really helpful."
Bhagyashree Shaikh on Sunday 5 April 2020
"Another proven best practice from Ms. Pleasant, found just when I needed to start my fall vegetable garden! I'd been wondering how to get those tricky carrot, spinach, and parsnip seeds to sprout a little faster and more consistently. And here we are! Thank you again for so many tried and tested tips over the years!"
Betsy on Wednesday 12 August 2020
"Another proven best practice from Ms. Pleasant, found just when I needed to start my fall vegetable garden! I'd been wondering how to get those tricky carrot, spinach, and parsnip seeds to sprout a little faster and more consistently. And here we are! Thank you again for so many tried and tested tips over the years!"
Betsy on Wednesday 12 August 2020
"My onion seeds are now about a 1/2 inch tall at what point do I plaint them and how? Thank you,"
Gary on Wednesday 10 February 2021
"I learned something new after a long time. I wonder if someone knows and could write a similar article on how to grow the various Lily and bulb/ corm type of seeds. Thanks 👍"
Anand Chand on Friday 24 September 2021

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