Gardening Sowing Seeds Vegetables

Pre-Sprout for Easier, Earlier Carrots

You’re tired of waiting and waiting and waiting for carrot, parsnip or parsley seeds to sprout (they can take up to 3 weeks when sown directly in the garden)? Or they simply don’t come up at all or only here and there (usually because the soil was too moist, too dry, too hot or too cold)? If so, try pre-sprouting them. Safely indoors, under controlled conditions, you can give the seeds the stable warmth and humidity they want and avoid Mother Nature’s volatility.

True, it’s an extra step, but in return it shaves a week to two weeks off the time to harvest, improves germination (by about a third), eliminates all need for thinning and helps fragile seedlings avoid pests and diseases. But you do need a good eye: reading glasses may come in very handy!

I remember a few years back when none of the other gardeners in my community garden had any luck with carrots that year: for whatever the reason, the garden-sown carrots just didn’t come up in spite of repeated attempts. Wasn’t I smug with my boundless supply of healthy carrot plants I had pre-sprouted!

One Technique Among Many

There must be dozens of techniques for pre-sprouting (also called priming) carrot seeds (and, I repeat, their relatives parsnip and parsley). Some people even paste them to strips of toilet paper before they prime them, strips that can then be used as seed tape, but that’s a hassle. Here’s what I do:

1. Place a baking rack in the bottom of the kitchen sink. 

2. Take a paper towel and cut or fold it so it’ll fit into a zip-lock bag. 

3. Place the paper towel on the rack.

4. Lightly spread carrot, parsnip or parsley seeds on the towel.

Pour boiling water over the seeds. Ill.: &, montage:

4. Rapidly pour boiling water over the seeds. Yes, boiling! No, it won’t hurt the seeds, as the heat won’t have time to penetrate, but it will soften the hard cuticle that covers the seeds and slows their germination.

5. You’ll need to allow the excess water to drain away, so let the paper towel sit for 15 minutes or so, until it’s slightly moist, not dripping wet. 

Insert the paper into a zip-lock bag, then expose it to stable warmth. Ill.: Claire Tourigny, from the book Les 1500 trucs du jardinier paresseux

6. Carefully insert the paper with the seeds on it into a zip-lock bag, then seal it. 

7. Lay the sealed bag on a heating mat designed for seed sowing or somewhere warm (about 70 to 80 °F/21 to 27 °C). The spot can be in moderate light or in darkness, but never in full sun, where it could get too hot.

These seedlings are actually a bit too far along: you just want them to be barely germinating when you plant them out. Photo:

8. When you see the first signs of sprouting (usually in about 3 days), just a bit of white showing, use tweezers or a pencil tip to carefully to move the seeds to the garden, spacing them about 2 to 3 inches/5 to 8 cm apart, barely covering them with soil. 

9. Water thoroughly but carefully (use the rose attachment on your watering can or set the hose nozzle to “spray” to break up the force of the water) and keep moist. 

The seedlings will be up and growing vigorously in just a few days.

This method works with both early spring sowing and successive sowings in summer.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

5 comments on “Pre-Sprout for Easier, Earlier Carrots

  1. Okay, this is way too practical, and I love it. Thank you and be assured I’ll be giving it a try.

  2. For several years I have pre-sprouted carrots in a jar of sand. it is easy to keep spacing about right at planting time by sprinkling the sand and the seedlings together into a wide row .

  3. Oh, I so don’t like this. We have such long growing seasons (in spring and autumn) that it does not matter much anyway. When sowing seed, I don’t want to worry about potentially damaging so many of them.
    Soaking is sometimes recommended for some seed, but it accomplishes nothing that does not happen naturally after seed are sown into moist soil. Well, that is another issue.

  4. Pingback: Carrot and Parsley seeds, Pre Germination – Silmara and Alex Blog

  5. Pingback: CARROTS! Steaming, Roasted, Juicing, Snacking, Salad! | Green Bean Connection

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