QUESTION: Should I soak tomato seeds before planting?
ANSWER: Soaking your tomato seeds before planting, or letting them sprout on a damp paper towel, can help increase the rate of successful germination, resulting in more healthy plants that make it to your garden. Here’s what to do if you’d like to soak seeds before planting or use the paper towel method.
Simply soak seeds in warm water the night before you’ll be planting them to soften the hull of the seeds and help the sprout break the seal. Tomato seeds do not usually need to be presoaked, but if you’ve had particular trouble with germination, it’s worth a try. The damp paper towel method is more commonly used for tomato seeds.
To germinate tomato seeds on a paper towel, moisten a single paper towel so that it’s damp but not soaked. Sprinkle the tomato seeds onto the towel so that none are touching. Then roll the paper towel loosely into a cylinder shape, with the seeds turned toward the inside. Seal the paper towel into a plastic Ziploc bag, and store it somewhere that is both warm and draft-free, like the top of your refrigerator or on a seedling heat mat, if you have one.
A few times a day, open the bag and unfurl the towel to check the development of the seeds. Some seeds will begin to sprout in as few as 24 hours, while other varieties can take up to 14 days. Once the tap root has emerged from the seed, move the seedlings to their seed cell trays. If you wait too long to move the seedlings to soil, the root will start working its way into the paper towel. If this happens, it’s difficult to untangle the roots without breaking them, and seedlings with broken roots will not continue to grow.