How To Start Seeds In a Paper Towel

Last updated: 10/30/21

Paper towel germination seems like an easy method to start your seeds.

Is it the best option for germinating seeds though?

Why germinate your seeds in the first place?

If these are the questions you are wondering about, then read on to find out the answers!

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Why germinate your seeds?

Before we move on to our step-by-step guide on how to start seeds in a paper towel, let’s try to understand why would you want to do it and whether you should do it, to begin with.

One big reason for germinating your own seeds is saving money & being prepared.

You can, of course, buy seedlings that will very likely grow into fruitful plants, but this often isn’t the best decision in the long run, especially if you want to plant a lot.

Germinating your own seeds is a cheaper alternative to this.

Now, why would you even want to germinate your seeds? Wouldn’t it be more time-efficient to plant the seeds directly into the ground or pots?

Well, the thing is that it may or may not be more time-efficient.

Those who have some experience with planting seeds know that not all seeds are viable.

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Some of them will never be able to grow into a plant due to a variety of reasons, starting from poor seed quality and ending with the gardener’s lack of skills.

Germinating your seeds, first of all, allows you to make sure that your seeds are viable.

After around a week has passed, you will know which seeds to plant and which do not.

Not only that, but germinating seeds can allow you to spot issues a bit easier. 

This is key to being prepared.  Time is of the essence when you are growing food.

If issues have arisen with seeds planted into the ground or a pot, you won’t know for sure whether it’s the soil or seed quality, environmental conditions, or maybe your skills.

With paper towel germinating, you can take the soil quality out of the equation and leave the environment, the seed quality, and your skills.

Not a whole lot easier, but one thing less should be noticeable enough.

Why Start Seeds In A Paper Towel?

With germinating, you have three options – start your seeds in the ground, pot, or a paper towel.

The good thing about the former two options is that they allow for a fairly easy transition from germinating to growing a plant.

You can essentially skip the step of replanting the germinated seed.  However, you lack monitoring capabilities.

Germinating seeds in a paper towel allow a little more flexibility in this regard.

The seeds can be observed easily, so you can spot right away if the experiment is going in the wrong direction or has failed.

Not only that, but it’s easier to monitor and control the environment the seeds are germinating in.

Paper towels are also pathogen-free – well, given that they have been stored properly – so they pose a significantly decreased risk of having your seeds killed.

With that being said, the biggest disadvantage of paper towel germinating is that you will need to transplant the seeds manually to soil or another medium like vermiculite.

how to start from a paper towel

Even if everything has been perfect up to this point, rough handling can damage your seeds, and you will need to start all over.

But if you are willing to take the risk and do want to be able to monitor the germination, then the paper towel method may be the right option for you.

How To Start Seeds In a Paper Towel?

If you are sure that germinating in a paper towel is the right method for you, then follow the guide below. You will need:

  • Seeds
  • Plastic towels. Towels sized 4 inches should be good enough.
  • Plastic zipper bags
  • A permanent marker to mark seed types on the zipper bags. This isn’t necessary if you won’t be germinating multiple seed types.

And the process is as follows:

  1. Write the seed type you are germinating on each of the bags. Skip this step if you will only be germinating one seed type.
  2. Open the plastic bag and flex its opening to loosen it a bit. This will make it easier for you to slide the paper towels in.
  3. Dampen the paper towel with clean water. The paper towel only needs to be moist, so wring it out so that it doesn’t drip.
  4. Spread the paper towel on a flat & clean surface.
  5. Place the seeds on one of the paper towel’s halves. Make sure not to overcrowd the towel – leave some free space between the seeds.
  6. Carefully fold the empty half of the towel over the seeds. You may alternatively cover the entire surface of the towel with seeds and then cover it with another paper towel.
  7. Place the folded paper towel into the corresponding plastic bag. Seal the bag. Some people think that the zipper bag shouldn’t be kept fully sealed, but sealing appears to work no worse.
  8. Place the zipper bag in a warm place. Ensure that it is away from direct sunlight. The ambient temperature should be maintained between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Usually, people place their bags on top of the refrigerator where the seeds can sit undisturbed in the right conditions.

However, any other area with an ambient temperature of 70-80 degrees will work as long as it is away from sunlight.

  1. Check on the seeds every other day. If the zipper has been sealed shut, open it to let in some fresh air. Check to see if the seeds have sprouted. Generally, it takes around a week for the seeds to sprout, but this will depend on the seed type.
  2. Once the seeds have sprouted, move them to a pot or to the ground. Use tweezers to grab the seed by its body or cotyledons. Avoid touching the delicate main root. Discard seeds that haven’t sprouted.
  3. Make a hole in the soil for the entire root, place the seed there, and gently cover it with soil. If the seed has true leaves already, make sure that they remain above the surface.
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More Info

Starting seeds in a paper towel will help you for many reasons.  This is definitely a method that I recommend if you are also testing older seeds germinations rates.

It is really easy and simple to perform this test to check to see if they are viable and ready for your garden.  You can even do this earlier than you would start your seeds to help figure out what you want to plant.

Check out our guide on the fundamentals of seed saving here if you are looking for tips for keeping your seeds.

Related Questions

  • When to transplant seeds from a paper towel? – You want to transplant the seed from the paper towel to some soil once the seed has sprouted.  Some seeds take longer to germinate than others so the time may vary.
  • Is germinating tomato seeds in a paper towel something you recommend?  Yes, you can also germinate tomato seeds in paper towels.  This technique can also be used to give you an idea of germination rates.
  • What other vegetable plants work for seed starting with paper towels? Most vegetable seeds can be germinated this way as long as you keep the paper towel moist.
Green Thumb Gardener
how to start from a paper towel
Jeremy Starke

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