Want to know how to start seeds in paper towel? Seed germination can sometimes be a tricky process. While I normally germinate seeds in seedling trays or punnets filled with seed-raising mix, I always find that some seeds just don’t germinate.
This can often happen with a range of different seeds and can be quite frustrating when all your efforts don’t produce the results that you’re looking for. However, there is an easy way to encourage more of your seeds to germinate by simply using paper towels or even paper coffee filters as a germination aid.
Why Use Paper Towels For Seed Germination
When you germinate your seeds in a paper towel, you’re essentially providing the seeds with the optimum environment to initiate germination.
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Firstly, you’re providing the seeds with a constant level of moisture. This is not always the case when you grow seeds in soil because small pots, seedling trays and punnets can dry out fairly quickly.
When the soil dries out, the germination process is interrupted and you will find that some seeds just won’t germinate at all.
What Are The Benefits Of Germinating Seeds This Way?
One of the main benefits of using this germinating method is that you’ll end up with a much higher germination rate. This can even be the case with older seeds that you may have been storing for a while.
Using this method will give those seeds a much better chance of germination. Plus, you’ll be able to determine the viability of your seeds.
For example, if you’re starting a packet of older seeds and find that less than fifty per cent of the seeds have germinated using the paper towel method, you will know that those seeds have almost reached the end of their viability.
Another benefit is that you’re going to maximise your growing space. Because you’ve pre-germinated your seeds before planting them in seedling trays or punnets, you won’t have any empty cells in your trays.
This method will also allow you to germinate seeds even in cold weather because you’ll be keeping them inside in a warm location.
What Seeds Benefit Most From Pre-Germination?
While all or most new seeds will benefit from this method, certain seeds will benefit the most. Let’s look at the various type of seed that would benefit most from this method.
Some seeds have a long storage life while others not so much. So, if you have some packets of seeds lying around for a while, there’s no way to tell whether you have viable seeds or not.
This is where pre-germination can be really useful. Not only can you test the viability of the seeds but you won’t be taking up valuable growing space by seeds that are just not going to grow.
Seeds That Are Hard To Germinate
Many seeds will only germinate under ideal conditions. This is a mechanism built into the seeds to help plants survive in nature. Some seeds have harder seed coats while others need a good moist environment to break their dormancy.
That’s right! Just like plants can be dormant during certain times of the year, seeds can also experience a dormancy period.
Tiny Or Very Small Seeds
Sometimes seeds are so small that they can easily be lost or washed out of your pots when you water them. Plus, if these smaller seeds are washed too far down into the propagation mix, they simply won’t have enough energy to break through the surface.
If you’re a seasoned grower and want to try growing plants that are a little more rare, you might come across a seed supply that offers these seeds.
But, you’ll find that you’ll only receive a fairly small number of seeds so you have to make them count. Germinating these rare seeds in paper towel is the perfect solution so that they have the best possible chance of survival.
Step-By-Step Process On How To Start Seeds In Paper Towel
For this seed germination method, all you’ll need is some pieces of paper towel, seeds, a ziplock or plastic bag and a marker to label the bags. Then, just follow these steps:
Step 1: Preparing Your Paper Towel
Make sure that the piece of paper towel will fit into your ziplock bag. You might need to fold it so that it will fit in nicely. If you have some paper coffee filters lying around, you can use these instead.
Step 2: Preparing Your Bag
Using the marker, write the name of the seeds that you want to germinate on the ziploc bag. Also, include the date so that you know how long they took to germinate. Make sure you use a permanent marker for this.
Alternatively, you can use a plastic container to place your paper towel and seeds into but you’ll need to constantly spray this with water in order to keep the seeds moist. You don’t want to seal the container because this will keep the air out.
Step 3: Placing Your Seeds On The Paper Towel
Firstly, you want to wet the paper towel so that it is damp but not dripping with water. You can easily squeeze out any excess water.
Lay this on a flat surface, ensuring that it is folded so that it will easily slip into the ziplock bag.
Carefully place seeds onto one half of the damp paper towel ensuring that they’re spaced fairly evenly. You want around 1 inch (2.5 cm) space between each seed.
Now, fold the paper towel in half, essentially sandwiching the seeds between the two layers.
Put the paper towel with the seeds into the ziplock bag and seal the bag. Before sealing, you want to ensure that there’s some air left in the bag.
Expert tip: To ensure there’s plenty of air in the bag, put the tip of a straw into the bag and close the remainder of the seal. Then, blow air into the straw so that it fills the bag. Quickly remove the straw and seal the rest of the bag.
What you have now done is essentially provided a greenhouse effect for your seeds and given them the right conditions for successful germination.
Step 4: Put Your Seeds In A Warm Spot
Place your seeds in a warm spot. A bright windowsill is ideal but make sure that you don’t expose the seeds to direct sunlight. This will just cook them rather than help them germinate.
Step 5: Keep An Eye On Your Seeds
Some seeds will germinate much faster using this method, so you want to check on them daily. As soon as you see evidence of the seeds splitting and tiny roots growing, it’s time to pot them up.
If your seeds are taking a long time to germinate, you want to ensure that the paper towel doesn’t dry out. If you notice that there’s no condensation in the bag, just open it and spray the towel using a spray bottle filled with water before sealing it again.
Step 6: Potting Up Your Seeds
Ideally, you want to wait until the main root of any sprouted seed is around 1 inch (2.5 cm) long before planting your pre-germinated seeds into the soil.
Carefully lift the seed from the paper towel. Only handle the seed by the seed coat rather than pulling on the root. If the root has grown through the paper towel, just cut around the root and plant the seed, paper and all in your prepared seedling trays.
The paper will eventually break down in the soil.
You can use a pair of tweezers to lift the seeds but make sure that you’re gentle and don’t squeeze the seeds too much.
To plant each seed, use a pencil or dibber to make a small hole in the soil. Make sure that the root is facing downward and that it is totally covered with soil. You can use your pencil or dibber to gently guide the seed down into the hole.
But, don’t bury your seeds too deep. You want the top of the seed just below the surface so that the seed leaves or cotyledons can easily break through the surface.
Here are some tips to deal with things that might go wrong.
- Mold and fungus growth. This can happen if there’s too much moisture and not enough air inside the bag. To avoid this, make sure that the paper is only damp and not soaking wet. Also, ensure that there is enough air inside the bag.
- Seeds rotting. Once again, this means that there’s too much moisture inside the bag so ensure that the paper towel is only damp.
- Seeds not germinating. This is probably because the seeds are too old and past their viability.
Frequently Asked Questions
Many seeds will germinate faster and more evenly when you pre-germinate them using the paper towel method.
Seeds need consistent moisture to germinate well. If they dry out, this might interrupt the germination process and the seeds will fail to germinate altogether. However, it’s important that the seeds only remain moist and not overly wet.
There are only three things that most seeds need to germinate successfully – water, warmth and oxygen. However, there are certain seeds that need more advanced methods to break their seed coat or dormancy.
No, it’s best not to use a heat mat as this may dry out the paper towel and inhibit germination.
If you’ve had trouble germinating your seeds successfully in soil or seed-raising mix, you should consider using the wet paper towel method. You should have better success and a higher germination rate using the paper towel germination method.
You can use this method for all types of seeds including flower seeds, tomato seeds, pepper seeds and other types of vegetable seeds.