Soil Temperature and Seed Germination

Here’s a short topical post from Balkan Ecology Project about soil temperature and seed germination, looking at why this is important, how to take soil temperature and you’ll find a table showing the minimum and preferred soil temperatures for germination of some common plants.

A few days ago we sowed the tomato seeds for this season’s market and home garden. It never ceases to amaze me what little indoor space you need to rear thousands of seedlings. We use two 50 cm x 30 cm x 15 cm trays to germinate approx 150 seedlings from 10 cultivars. When they get bigger we move them into two 1.3 x 8 m beds covered with polythene to rear them before they take their permanent positions in the gardens in early – mid April.

Many of the plants we grow I prefer to sow directly outside and one of the most important things to consider when sowing is that the temperature of the soil is high enough for the seed to germinate.

Tomato Seedlings
Tomato Seedlings

Other important considerations include:

– whether the seed requires any pre-treatment before it will germinate, i.e stratification and scarification (mainly relevant for perennial plants particularly trees and shrubs).
– how deep you sow the seed – too shallow is better than too deep. 
– that the correct moisture levels are kept constant during the germination phase – not too wet, not too dry and with the ideal moisture levels similar to that of a wrung out cloth.

In this post we’ll focus on soil temperature for germinating seeds. We’ll look at why this is important, how to take soil temperature, and I’ve included a table showing the minimum and preferred soil temperatures for germination of some common plants.

Elaeagnus commutata -  Epigeal germination
Eruca sativa – Rocket germinating

Often you will find a monthly guide on a seed pack indicating when to sow seeds and this generally works okay, but can be misleading. If you have a long cold winter and the soil is cold, germination will be delayed and in some cases the seeds may rot in the ground.  On the other hand, if the soil is unusually warm in the spring, it’s possible to seed earlier. Being able to tell the soil temperature and being aware of the preferences of each plant will result in more or your seeds germinating.

Gingko biloba seedling
Gingko biloba seedling

Measuring Soil Temperature

You want to measure the temperature at seeding depth and this will differ for each seed you sow. The general rule is sow to a depth of no more than twice the diameter of the seed, but like I said above it’s better to go too shallow than too deep.

Any thermometer that will measure temperature at a specific depth can be used to measure soil temperature. Insert the thermometer into the area where the seeds will be sown and wait a few minutes before you take a reading.

Bear in mind that each area of your garden will probably have a different temperature. The soil temperature is influenced by the following factors:

– Bare soil warms much faster than mulched soil and vegetated soil.
– Dry soil will be warmer than wet soils.
– South facing soils will be warmer than north facing, and the amount of shade cast on the soil will affect the temperature considerably. 

Basil Seedlings
Basil Seedlings

Warming up the Soil

As the air temperature starts to warm up in early spring you may like to get a head start with your sowing and accelerate the warming of the soil. If you have a mulch on your soil for the winter you can temporarily remove the mulch. The dark coloured soil will absorb all wavelengths of light and convert them into heat, warming the soil much faster. Another alternative is to leave the mulch on and cover the bed with a plastic sheet or glass pane. On a sunny day this will provide considerable heat. Of course you can also remove the mulch and use the sheet or glass on the bare soil and this has the added benefit of germinating any seeds in the patch that can be pulled before you start sowing. 

Here’s a table providing the minimum and preferred soil temperature for a number of crop seeds and the estimated time it takes the seeds to germinate:

Minimum and Preferred Temperatures for Common Crops
Soil Temperature and Seed Germination 06


See the original article here:

Paul Alfrey

Hi I'm Paul, Originally from the UK I moved over to Bulgaria with my family 12 years ago and set up the Balkan Ecology Project. Prior to that, I worked as a freelance Arborist in the UK for 15 years. Balkan Ecology Project is a family project run by myself, Sophie and our two boys Dylan and Archie, and supported by the amazing volunteers we have hosted here over the years. We aim to develop and promote practices that provide nutritious affordable food while enhancing biodiversity and work to achieve this by: - Researching, designing and implementing systems on the ground - Providing working examples of our designs at our sites open for the public to visit - Providing quality education and training to aspiring growers and landscapers - Providing consultancy and design for landowners and farmers across Europe - Practicing an open source policy, whereby we disseminate our results freely and share all aspects of our work - Growing, selling and promoting the use of plants and plant communities that have high ecological and nutritional value Our activities currently include: Biological Plant Nursery, Educational Courses, Local Land Stewardship, Polyculture Research, Market Gardening​, and Consultancy and Design.


  1. Your info is very useful and some “new to me.” For us in the States to include Fahrenheit as well would be a great time saver.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. This year I had to start in Mid May to Mid June,, Now to start planting. Our plants we bought are great but; Not even one seed has lived for us. Im going to try putting some in the frig for two to three days, and then keep them inside with a thermometer, and heat pad. So; Please share any ideas as we now think its too hot for outdoor germination in trays and plastic bags. Moreover, do you know anything about the frig idea? TY

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