Buying seedlings is an easy way to start a garden, though those established plants are more expensive than starting from scratch. Of course, seeds are rather delicate, requiring gentle care to get them ready to plant. Though starting them in soil is the traditional method, there is another more effective way. That’s why many gardeners are learning how to germinate seeds in a paper towel.
In this article, we’ll look at how you can use this technique to more easily start your seeds. We’ll go over the exact process you can use, as well as look at some dos and don’ts to give you the best chance of success.
Why Germinate In Paper Towel Over Soil
The main reason to germinate your seeds in a paper towel instead of soil is that it is a much easier method. When using soil, you need to be extra careful with every detail. The soil must be sterilized, light, loamy, and disease-free. Air and moisture should penetrate it freely. You also need to be careful with planting to ensure the seeds don’t go too deep and during watering to prevent drowning them.
Paper towels remove all of these issues since they are already clean and disease-free, plus you can lightly moisten them as needed without worrying about overwatering. Paper towels also allow you to keep a close eye on the seeds, which isn’t possible when they are buried in soil.
It’s also a bit less involved than working with soil. You won’t need to prepare a container or buy soil. This makes it a great, low-budget, way to germinate seeds that is just as effective as traditional methods.
Steps To Germinate Seeds in Paper Towels
Germinating seeds in paper towels isn’t a difficult task, though you still need to be careful to get the most from your seeds. The following steps will help you get started.
Step 1 – Gather the Materials
To germinate seeds using this method, you need a few items. First, choose the seeds you want to plant. You’ll also need paper towels, a spray bottle of water, and a zip-lock bag. You can replace the zip-lock bag with a container, as long as it is sealable such as plastic tupperware. A coffee filter is an alternative to a paper towel since it is thicker and retains more moisture.
You can also get a heat mat which can help keep the soil warm for certain seeds. This isn’t strictly necessary, so feel free to skip it. It’s also not needed for all types of seeds.
Step 2 – Trim the Paper Towel
Take your paper towel and trim it to fit the size of the zip-lock bag or container you’re using. It should be able to seal completely with the paper towel inside.
Step 3 – Moisten the Paper Towel
Take your spray bottle and spray the paper towel. It should be lightly moistened, not soggy when you’re finished. It should feel wet to the touch, but shouldn’t be so moist that it’s falling apart.
Step 4 – Place Your Seeds
Choose the seeds you want to germinate and then place them about 2 inches apart on one half of the paper towel. When the seeds are scattered, fold the other half of the paper towel over them.
Step 5 – Bag the Paper Towel
When your seeds are ready, carefully take the paper towel and slide it into the zip-lock bag or container taking care not to jostle the seeds too much. Then seal it, leaving some air in the bag.
Step 6 – Place your Bag of Seeds
Once your seeds are safely in the bag, choose their location. Near a south-facing window is best to give them the proper amount of heat and humidity. Keep your seed’s needs in mind as some need more light or heat than others.
Step 7 – Observe the seeds
Over the next few days, monitor the seeds by peeking into the paper towel. If you see the radicles sprouting from the seeds, it is time to plant them in a pot or the ground. If the paper towel dries out, you can lightly mist it again.
What Seeds Can You Germinate In Paper Towels
You can germinate almost any seeds using a paper towel. Fruits and vegetables are great options, like broccoli, turnips, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, lemons, melons, and strawberries. You can also germinate flowers and herbs, giving you a wide selection of plants to fill your garden or place in decorative pots around your yard.
As easy as it is to germinate seeds in paper towels, there are some issues that you may encounter. These aren’t necessarily going to damage your seeds, though you do need to be careful to keep those seeds viable.
Probably the single most common issue is an overly soggy paper towel. Though seeds need moisture to germinate, if the paper towel is too wet they could rot instead. A light spray with water to dampen the paper towel is best. If your paper towel is too wet, then it’s best to simply start over with a fresh piece.
A paper towel that is too dry is another possible issue since the seeds need moisture for the duration of the germination process. Not dampening the paper towel enough or letting air in the bag or container could dry out the seeds and prevent proper germination. You can always re-moisten a paper towel that has dried out too quickly.
Using old seeds should also be avoided. Though some seeds can last for several years, others don’t have the same longevity and may only last a few months. You can look up seed life expectancy to be sure your seeds are still viable. Purchasing new seeds each year will also ensure germination.
Where you place your seeds can also be an issue, especially if they aren’t getting the heat they need to sprout. Placing them in the shade is a sure way to prevent germination, so make sure your seeds are near a window where they’ll be warm.
Tips For Success
If you want to be successful with your paper towel seed germination, there are a few tips to consider. First, place each seed type in a different bag and label them accordingly. Doing so ensures you know exactly what you’re growing and when to plant them.
You may want to record when you begin germination and what seeds you’re working with. Doing so helps you keep track of all of the necessary planting details.
Staggering your seed germination is also a good idea to ensure you have a steady supply of crops to harvest. If you germinate them all at once, they grow at the same pace, and you may end up with more veggies and fruits than you can eat. Germination and planting 15 days apart help prevent such issues.
Larger vegetable seeds may need to be soaked in water for 12 hours before placing them on the paper towel to help germination. Fine seeds, on the other hand, should be placed between paper towels before you dampen them. While hardier seeds can be lifted off the towel for planting, cutting the paper around the fine seeds will prevent damage during planting.
How To Germinate Seeds In a Paper Towel
Learning how to germinate seeds in a paper towel has several benefits. It is a faster method than soil and only requires a few items and a bit of your time to accomplish. This method is easy, even for beginners who have never worked with seeds before. You can germinate almost any seeds you like, including veggies, fruits, flowers, and herbs, so you get the exact garden you want.
Germinating Seeds In Paper Towels FAQ
When Do I Transplant My Seedlings?
As soon as you see them begin to sprout from the seeds you can transplant them. Gently move them to an appropriate container with soil, and carefully submerge the seed into the soil. These seedlings are quite delicate at this stage, so take care not to damage them.
How Long Do Seeds Take To Germinate In Paper Towel?
It will depend on the seed, but expect those germinated in paper towels to do so a little quicker than those in soil. This is because the combination of moisture and heat that gets trapped in your plastic container provides the ideal environment for germination that is harder to replicate in a traditional garden pot.
Why Haven’t My Seeds Germinated?
If they’re past their expected germination time then there are a couple of reasons why they might not have germinated. Moisture control is typically the biggest issue; your paper towel may be too wet or too dry. Also, make sure your seeds are getting enough heat and light. Lastly, use fresh seeds as seeds do “go bad” over time.