Master Gardener Darla Chouinard has some tips on growing microgreen.

I’ve recently taken an interest in microgreens. Microgreens are tiny regular vegetable plants that are past the “sprout” stage and before the “baby greens” stage of a plant’s life cycle. They contain a higher amount of nutritional value than full grown veggies.

Bean and alfalfa sprouts have been popular in our diets for quite a while. The difference between sprouts and microgreens are sprouts are grown by soaking the seeds and rinsing them daily and are placed in a jar to grow into sprouts. They are ready to eat in a couple days.

The whole “sprout” plant including seed and root are all eaten at once. They are grown under the same conditions that bacteria and fungus also thrive, and this makes sprouts less safe to eat than microgreens. We do not usually eat the roots of microgreens, and we especially avoid them if they have mold on them.

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You can purchase microgreen growing kits or you can easily do it yourself. If you purchase seeds, select specific packets that are labeled for microgreens or find seeds that are labeled “non-GMO” or “organic” because some seeds that are not indicated non-GMO/organic can have a coating of a fungicide.

Popular varieties of seeds for this type of planting include broccoli, peas, kale, beets, alfalfa, sunflower, arugula, radish, cress, wheat grass, bunching onions and lettuce mixes. Also, each plant variety has different nutritional value so research what you are interested in.

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To plant your own, make sure you use clean containers that hold about an inch deep of soil, with drainage holes in the bottom. Take-out containers or any small flat container works well. Select a mold free seed starting potting mix, a good pro-mix, or coconut coir. Coconut coir is sold at garden centers in a dry compressed block. Spread the seed on the moist soil base, then sprinkle a light dusting of soil over the top to gently cover the seed and press the seeds into the soil. Seed to soil contact helps them to germinate. Germination is when the plant emerges from the seed.

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If you are planting more than one variety of plant, put them in separate containers, be sure to label the container so you know what you planted, and if you enjoyed it, you can plant it again.

To water your microgreens, gently spray with clean water from a clean squirt bottle, or water from the bottom tray as the plants are very tender and can easily fall over and mold. The soil needs to remain damp while your plants grow. As they grow, their need for water increases, so make sure they do not dry out.

Microgreens are to be planted and grown indoors near a window. Your seeds don’t need sunlight to germinate. Since they can be grown near a window and don’t need direct light, they are perfect for a classroom, in your office, or home.

The first set of leaves we see on emerging plants are called cotyledons and they are considered part of the seed, or embryo of the plant, not true leaves. Harvest your microgreens when the tiny plants are 2-inch to 3-inches tall, and when they have two to three sets of true leaves. Depending on variety, this can be within a few days to two to three weeks.

With clean scissors, snip the tender plant just above the soil line. They can be eaten as a garnish on your plate, in a salad, sandwich or in smoothies. Be creative! Some microgreen plants may continue to grow, and you could get more from the planting.

After you have harvested your crop, do not reuse the soil for another planting of microgreens. Do not throw out the soil, as it may be added to your outdoor garden, flowerpots or composted.

Microgreens are ideal for kids to grow because they sprout, grow, and can be harvested and eaten in a very short span of time. Growing your own microgreens is fun and it’s really cool to watch the rapid life cycle of edible plants.

If you have questions about your garden or landscape, contact a master gardener at the University of Illinois Extension office in Mattoon at 217-345-7034 or through our online hotline at Be sure to visit U of I Extension’s horticulture website and like the Master Gardeners’ Facebook page

Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.