Seed germination rates are sensitive to both temperature (T) and water potential (ψ). The times to germination of seeds imbibed at suboptimal T and/or reduced ψ are inversely proportional to the amounts by which T exceeds a base temperature (Tb) and ψ exceeds a base water potential (ψb). Germination rates across a range of suboptimal T and ψ can be normalized on the basis of the hydrothermal time accumulated in excess of these thresholds. However, seeds can also progress metabolically toward germination even at T or ψ too low to allow radicle emergence to occur. Seeds preimbibed at low ψ and dried back, or primed, germinate more rapidly upon subsequent reimbibition. We show here that the increase in germination rates of tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) seeds resulting from seed priming is linearly related to the hydrothermal time accumulated during the priming treatment. The threshold temperature (Tmin = 7.05°C) and water potential (ψmin = −2.50 MPa) for metabolic advancement were considerably lower than the corresponding thresholds for radicle emergence of the same seed lot (Tb = 11°C; ψb = −0.71 MPa), allowing the accumulation of hydrothermal priming time that is subsequently expressed as more rapid germination when T or ψ increase. The hydrothermal time model can now be applied to quantify and analyse germination rates of seeds across the entire range of suboptimal T and ψ at which metabolic progress toward radicle emergence is possible.