How to Germinate Garden Seeds

A tomato seedling. image by SP Veres/


Many seeds are started first indoors then later transplanted out in the garden once the conditions are just right. The first step to successful seed starting is getting the seeds to germinate. While there are differences in the process depending on the variety of garden seed, most need the same basic components for germination. Always defer to the instructions on the seed packet for the particular variety.

Step 1

Prepare your seed starting trays or pots in late winter or early spring. Use plastic pots or plantable pots as desired.

Step 2

Fill pots with your soil mixture. Use a commercial seed starting mix or make your own from one part compost, one part peat moss and one part vermiculite.

Step 3

Sow seeds four to 12 weeks before transplanting to the garden. Exact sowing time varied by plant variety.

Step 4

Plant seeds to a depth equal to twice the diameter of the seed. Plant very fine seeds on the surface of the soil and mist with water to wash them in.

Step 5

Water soil enough so it is moist but not soaking wet. Water from the top with a spray bottle set on mist or water from the bottom to avoid disturbing the seeds.

Step 6

Cover the tray or pots with a plastic bag and place in a warm place to germinate. Germination rates vary by plant variety but on average take seven to 30 days.

Step 7

Check seed trays daily for the first sprout and to ensure that the soil is still moist. Once seeds sprout, remove the plastic bag and move to a warm, well-lit area---either a sunny window or under grow lights.

Tips and Warnings

  • Plantable pots dry out quicker than plastic pots---always check that the soil is moist enough. Avoid germinating seedlings too soon as they will become weak if not brought out to the garden on time.

Things You'll Need

  • Containers
  • Soil mix
  • Plastic bag
  • Spray bottle
  • Grow lights


  • Ohio State University Extension
  • University of Georgia Extension
Keywords: germinating seeds, sprouting vegetables, growing seedlings

About this Author

Jenny Harrington has been a freelance writer since 2006. Her published articles have appeared in various print and online publications. Previously, she owned her own business, selling handmade items online, wholesale and at crafts fairs. Harrington's specialties include small business information, crafting, decorating and gardening.

Photo by: SP Veres/