how to start seeds in a paper towel

How to Germinate With Paper Towels

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Home-grown produce has a taste and texture that most mass-produced vegetables just cannot match. Planting your seeds directly into pots or the ground saves you a step, but germinating them indoors helps you make sure that all of the seeds you plant are viable. You can use specialized products such as germinating trays, heat pads and lights, but the simplest way to germinate seeds indoors requires nothing more than some paper towels and plastic zipper bags.

Things You Will Need

Plastic zipper bags

Use a permanent marker to write the type of seed you are germinating on each plastic zipper bag. This is especially helpful if you are germinating a lot of different types of seeds.

Open each plastic zipper bag and flex the opening a few times to loosen it. This will make it easier to slide the paper towels containing the seeds into them.

Dampen a paper towel with clean water. Wring it out carefully so that it is thoroughly moist but not dripping.

Spread the damp paper towel out on a clean, flat surface. Place your seeds on one half of the paper towel, leaving some space between them. Don’t overcrowd the towel.

Fold the empty half of the paper towel over the seeds, being careful not to squash them. Place the folded paper towel into the appropriately labeled plastic zipper bag, and seal the bag. Repeat with your remaining seeds.

Place the zipper bags of seeds in a warm place away from direct sunlight. The top of the refrigerator is usually a safe place for the seeds to rest undisturbed, but any area that is out of direct sunlight and maintains a temperature between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit will do.

Check on the seeds every other day. Open the zipper bag to allow fresh air to enter, and check to see if your seeds have sprouted. Times will vary according to the type of seed you are germinating. For example, cucumber, lettuce and turnip seeds will sprout in about three days; onions and peas take six days; asparagus can take as long as 10 days.

Once your seeds have sprouted, plant them in pots or outdoors, discarding any seeds that did not germinate.

Keep tweezers on hand to help you plant the more delicate seedlings. Poke a hole in the soil with your finger and set the seedling gently into it rather than trying to shove the baby plant into the soil.


Do not soak the paper towels, because the combination of too much water, no light and warmth can encourage mold, which can harm your seeds.

How to Germinate With Paper Towels. You’re planning your spring garden, you have several left-over seed packets from previous years and you’re not sure if the seeds are still good. Knowing if the seeds are dead, the percentage of seeds that are still viable and the rate of germination can keep you from wasting your …

Germinating Seeds in Soil versus Paper Towel

Germinating your own garden seeds instead of purchasing seedlings is fun and saves you money to boot. However, seeds are delicate and may require coddling during germination and when transplanting them to their final location. There are two popular home gardener methods for germinating seeds:

  • A germination bed made from moistened paper towel or filter paper
  • Planting seeds directly in a small amount of soil or soil-less starter mix

Starting Seeds in Soil

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Unless you have a hydroponic garden, the soil is where your seeds are destined to live after sprouting. Starting your seeds directly in small pots or seedling trays filled with a good quality soil will eliminate one transplanting step.

  1. The soil must be sterilized, light and loamy so that it fosters an environment where air and moisture move freely and is free from diseases.
  2. Plan to water soil germinated seeds from underneath. Top watering can disturb the seed and lead to overwatering.
  3. Use porous pots or pots with holes in their base. Set these in a pan that will hold about one inch of water. The soil will be uniformly moistened as it wicks up the water from below.
  4. When germinating seeds in soil, it is easy to plant them too deeply. Small seeds should have only a light covering of soil, whereas larger seeds should be no more than one-half of an inch below the soil.

Paper Towel Germination

Paper towels, filter paper or even newspaper provides an excellent medium for germinating seeds. They are pathogen-free and make it easy to control the moisture content for proper germination. This method also takes the guesswork out of knowing if your seeds have germinated since you can easily observe them.

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To use this method:

  1. Tear a paper towel in half and moisten one of the halves.
  2. Place four or five seeds on half of the paper and fold the other half over the seeds.
  3. Blow open a clear, sandwich size zip-close bag.
  4. Place the paper with seeds inside and reseal the bag.
  5. Set the bag anywhere out of direct sunlight that stays at room temperature. The bag acts like a miniature greenhouse that retains heat and moisture. You should observe seeds sprouting in about five to seven days.
  6. The biggest drawback to the paper towel method is that the delicate, sprouted seeds must be transplanted manually to soil or another moisture-holding medium such as vermiculite. The main root is very delicate and should not be touched. Use tweezers on the seed body or the cotyledons when moving them to moist soil.
  7. Do not push the seed into the soil. Instead, make a hole in the soil for the entire root, hold it in place and push soil gently over it. If the seed is already showing true leaves, make sure those remain above the soil. In a few weeks, the seedlings should be ready for outdoor planting if the weather has warmed up.

Germinating Seeds in Soil versus Paper Towel