If you’re a gardener, you probably already know how difficult germinating seeds can be. Sure, some seeds might be easier than others, but they all pose their own challenges.
Well, what if we told you that your days of struggling might be over?
Paper towel germination is a popular method used all over the world. It’s super easy, and typically speeds up germination – depending on the seeds you’re using.
There are a lot of great benefits to it, and it’s something that every gardener should try at least once. If you don’t, you’re really missing out!
If you want to learn all about paper towel germination, stick around. We’re going to be going through everything you need to know to be successful. Who knows, you might unlock that green thumb skill you have lying dormant in you!
Paper Towel Germination – What is it?
The first thing to note is that this germination method isn’t anything new – people have been doing it for years! Simply put, this process involves using a paper towel to wrap up seeds, dampening it, and placing it in a bag (like a Ziploc bag).
The germination time is sped up because having the seeds in a bag is like keeping them in a mini greenhouse.
It’s pretty amazing, and it works well for the vast majority of seeds. There are plenty of reasons for wanting to use this method for germination, and we’ll go through them all a little later on.
If the speed of germination doesn’t sell it right away, we can guarantee the other reasons will. Just stick around to find out what they are.
Why Does Paper Towel Germination Work so Well?
Paper towel germination works so well for two big reasons. We’ll go through them below:
- The paper towel and bag create a mini greenhouse environment – plants do well in greenhouses, right? When you create your own greenhouse in the plastic bag, you’re increasing the humidity level and are able to control the temperatures more. Seeds need plenty of moisture and warmth to sprout, and that’s exactly what you’re giving them with this approach!
- You can keep an eye on the germination process – since the seeds are in a bag, and you will need to keep them moist constantly, you will be checking on them. As a result, you will know if a seed is actually germinating or not! When you do regular germination with soil, you often won’t know if you will even end up getting a plant after several weeks. In this case, you will know if the seed is viable within mere days.
Are There Any Benefits to Germinating Seeds Using a Paper Towel?
Yes, yes there absolutely are! You will probably love paper towel germination for lots of reasons. Just check out the reasons below to get convinced that this method is the way forward.
- It isn’t messy – the first thing that comes to mind when you think of traditional germinating is the mess, right? Dirt everywhere, then that dirt finds its way to every part of the house. With this method, dirt is the last thing you’ll have to worry about! There’s no dirt involved, and therefore no (or at least very little) mess!
- You can do it in small spaces – you’re probably used to trays and trays of seeds taking up every inch of counter space, right? You don’t have to deal with that with paper towel germination! The bags with seeds can be kept anywhere warm, so you can enjoy all that counter space and use it for what it’s actually meant to be used for.
- You can test the viability of your seeds – this one is great if you don’t have a whole load of space for gardening to begin with – no one wants to waste space waiting for seeds to sprout! With the paper towel germination method, you can keep track of which seeds are viable, and how fast they sprout. Once you know that, you won’t be wasting any more space.
- Seeds germinate a lot faster – because of the greenhouse effect in the bag, those seeds will get growing a whole lot quicker than in traditional germinating! In some cases, you can see seeds starting to germinate within 24 hours, but more on that later.
- It’s a lot of fun – finally, this method is just a lot of fun. If you have kids, or work with kids, then you won’t regret using this method for some learning. It’s a no-mess, super fun way to get kids learning about nature and plant growth. It really gives them insight into the germination process that they wouldn’t get to see if you were covering the seeds in dirt.
How to Germinate Seeds Using a Paper Towel and Plastic Bag
No point waiting around! Let’s take a look at how you can germinate seeds using the wondrous paper towel and plastic bag method. It’s so easy, you just need to try it out.
What you will need:
- Your seeds of choice (some seeds work particularly well for this method, we’ll cover this in a section coming up)
- Paper towel (any kind of paper towel should work. Some people even use things like newspapers, or filter paper!)
- Plastic bag (a Ziploc bag is great since it is airtight)
- Water (tap water is perfectly fine, unless you know it is unsafe or contains a lot of chemicals)
- Somewhere to keep the baggies (they do really well in warm spots around the house, like on top of the refrigerator)
The Steps for Germinating Seeds Using the Paper Towel Method
- Get the seeds you would like to germinate, and make sure they are ready for sprouting
- Get your paper towel, and get a square of it. Place it down on your worktop, and tear the sheet in half.
- Get a spray bottle with a gentle mist, and fill it with safe tap water. Use this water to spray the paper towel to make sure it is nice and damp. Make sure there are no dry patches, but also make sure that the towel is not dripping wet and falling apart.
- Place your seeds on the dampened paper towel. If you are able to, you should try to place the seeds at least one inch apart. Remember – you can always get more paper towels, so don’t try to cram everything into one piece!
- Once the seeds are placed on the damp paper towel, get your spray bottle out again and give them a light spritz of water. Make sure the seeds are nice and damp, too.
- You can now fold your paper towel so that it is wrapped around the seeds inside.
- After wrapping, get your Ziploc bag (or any other sealable bag) and place the seeds and paper towel inside. You can leave some air in the bag before sealing it.
- Seal it! Now you should put the bag(s) somewhere warm to help them germinate. For the best results, make sure the bags are not in direct sunlight (they will be fine in the dark), but ensure that they’re somewhere warm. You don’t have to keep them all together, so feel free to spread them out all over the house (as long as you remember where they are).
- You will need to check on your seed baggies every day to make sure they’re doing okay. Always keep your spray bottle in hand so that you can dampen seeds and paper towels if they look like they’re drying out.
- Depending on the type of seed you’re trying to germinate, you should start to see results in anywhere from 24 hours to a couple of weeks. It varies a lot!
Where Should These Germinating Seeds be Kept?
As we already briefly mentioned, keeping your germinating seeds somewhere warm does wonders for the process. We mentioned keeping your seed baggies on top of your refrigerator, which works great, but there are plenty of other places where you can store your precious to-be plants!
For example, you can keep them on your microwave (just not in it), or near your washer or dryer. If there’s a particular room in your house which gets pretty warm, keep them in there!
There aren’t really any rules for where to keep your bag of seeds. As you continue with the method, you’ll probably find lots of spots as you go! One important thing to say is that wherever you do end up keeping your seeks, make sure you aren’t making a fire hazard. You’d be surprised by how easy it is to create one!
If you have heating vents on your floors, that’s a great place to start! Be aware that you might drive anyone else in the house a little crazy, but that’s okay, right? They won’t mind… right?
So, the rules to follow when finding a place to store your seeds:
- Out of direct sunlight (avoid window sills that get lots of bright sunlight)
- In a warm spot (on top of fridges, microwaves, etc.)
- Somewhere you’ll remember (try to make sure they’re visible from a spot in the room that you’re often in)
Which Seeds Are Good For This Method?
The possibilities of finding seeds that work well for paper towel germination is probably endless! Well, not endless, but you get the point. Most seeds will thrive with this germination method, so feel free to do a lot of experimenting for yourself. However, if you’d like a few options that we already know work well, try out the following seeds:
- Chile Peppers
- Green Beans
- Snow Peas
- Poppy Seeds
- Wax Beans
- Yellow Squash
It’s already a pretty long list, and it’ll keep growing for every seed you successfully germinate! There’s no reason for this method to not work on most seeds – especially if they require a lot of warmth and moisture.
Some seeds, like the ones that germinate well in the winter, probably won’t benefit too much from this process. They already do well without the warmth, so they’ll be just fine!
As some of the seeds mentioned in the list suggest, you don’t have to stick to only fruits or vegetables, either! You can germinate flowers and herbs using this method the exact same way.
It’s also worth mentioning that this process typically is best for germinating seeds that have a notoriously long germination time.
Some, like peas, germinate incredibly quickly, even without the help of a mini greenhouse. If you want to really test the effects of this method, try it on a plant that takes weeks to sprout, and see how different it can be.
For anyone who doesn’t have the space (or time) to do that themselves, don’t worry! We’ll be taking a look at the germination times a little later on and compare traditional vs paper towel sprouting times. It’s pretty interesting, if we do say so ourselves! Stick around and check them out.
Germinating Different Seeds Using the Paper Towel and Plastic Bag Method – How Did it Go?
Now you might be wondering just how the paper towel method worked for a couple of popular plants.
Have no fear, we’ll go through what we know about germinating a few different well-loved plants below. Hopefully, if you decide to germinate any of these plants, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect!
Germinating tomatoes in regular old soil can take up to two weeks – maybe even longer. It feels like time drags, but when you switch over to the paper towel germination – miraculous!
You can probably expect your tomato seeds to show their cute little heads after a week. If the conditions are just right, and the seeds are getting enough moisture and warmth, maybe even sooner!
Even using grow lights to help traditional germination doesn’t help. Chances are, you’ll just be waiting around for weeks, growing steadily impatient. If you love tomatoes and have always dreamed of growing some yourself – we would definitely suggest that you try the paper towel and plastic bag method!
Eggplants aren’t the easiest plants in the world to germinate. Sometimes planting them in soil doesn’t seem to work at all, which is a real shame. Maybe it’s down to the weather conditions or climate, but unless you’re in the right area, eggplants just aren’t a great option. Unless you use the paper towel method, that is!
If you’re living somewhere and have had no luck germinating eggplants – today is your lucky day. Get that paper towel and plastic bag out, and you will have a teenie tiny eggplant sprouting in no time.
When they get big enough, they tend to transfer to their own little spots really well, even when they’re put outside. You can expect to be able to enjoy some homegrown eggplant when the plant finally matures – just don’t let nature get to it first!
If you want a plant that grows well in winter, have you considered trying out the strawberry plant? Sure, there are plenty of different types of strawberry plants, so go with one that does well in your area.
While it would probably take around three weeks for a strawberry seed to germinate traditionally, their time is cut in half with the paper towel.
Everyone loves having strawberries round, even if you just want to look at them. Consider trying this method with your tiny strawberry seeds and see how they do! It’s a great way to feel like a little bit of summer is with you, even when there’s snow outside.
You’ve probably heard a lot about growing apple trees from seeds. We all have, but how true is it really? There’s always the possibility of apple seeds not growing into the tree (and producing the fruit) you might expect, but you’ll never know until you try!
It would really suck to take all the time to grow an apple tree only for it to be a crabapple. Not that there’s anything wrong with crabapples, unless you want to eat them, anyway.
Animals will still probably enjoy a crabapple or two, but it isn’t necessarily something you want for yourself. For the most part, it feels like a lot of wasted time and space to have a crabapple tree.
Thankfully, not all apple seeds end up being crabapples. There are plenty of success stories of people who planted apple seeds and got a perfectly good apple tree.
So, if you’re brave enough to give your apple seeds the time and energy, why not see what you end up with? You might be surprised and have a supply of delicious apples for life!
What to do After Your Seeds Have Germinated
Your seeds finally germinated! At this point, they should have a couple of adorable leaves and some roots. Now the question is – what do you do with them? If you’re wise in the ways of gardening and growing, you’ll know what comes next. If not, we got you!
Now that your germination was a success, you get to plant them! It isn’t that simple, though – it never is! You will need to figure out what conditions your new plants like.
This includes their preferred temperature, as well as their preferred soil or potting mix. Every plant likes different pH levels or different ingredients thrown in there. Some might like mulch, while others prefer tree bark, or something similar.
Don’t worry, if you’re thinking about growing some popular choices, we will briefly cover what conditions they like. It won’t be extensive, but it’ll be enough to get you started on the right path once your seeds have germinated.
When your seeds have sprouted, there are some important steps that you need to take in order to get the best results. We’ll go through everything you need to know to make sure your plants are a success!
Bear in mind that these should apply to most plants, but may not apply to all. It’s always best to do some research on the specific plant you’re dealing with, because some are super sensitive!
Get Them Out of the Bag
Whether you’ve used the paper towel method or traditional germinating, once leaves start to show, the humidity should be reduced. In the case of traditional germinating, their little domes would be removed. For this method, you should take them out of the bag.
Humidity is great for getting seeds to sprout, but once they have, it should be reduced. This is done to prevent the seedlings from damping off. For those of you who don’t know, damping off is actually a type of disease that affects plants. It’s caused by pathogens that tend to appear in wet, cool soil, and it can kill off seedlings (as well as seeds).
Of course, there’s always the risk of pests getting involved as soon as seedlings are taken out of their bag. For the first time, they are vulnerable to both the elements and the critters that might want to eat them. As scary as it can be for a plant-parent, there’s no way around it.
You can still protect your plant by taking precautions. If you left your seedlings in the bag or under a cloche, their fate would be far worse.
Make Sure They Get All the Light They Need
The next big step is light! While you would have wanted to avoid bright light in the germination stage, your mini plants now need that light. The level of light they require will depend on what type of plant they are, so be careful when approaching this step.
Some plants will love full sun, and others will like partial shade or indirect sun. Do your research and find out what you need to know before putting your plant in danger. If you leave your seedling in the wrong light conditions, they will suffer for it.
If you don’t have adequate lighting for your seedlings, you may want to consider investing in grow lights. They are usually pretty affordable, and can make all the difference with new plants. These will give your plants a great change to grow and become super healthy, even if you do live in a rainy climate.
You should notice that your seedlings will grow pretty quickly when they reach this stage. In fact, some plants might even grow several inches in a day – mind blowing!
Just keep an eye on them and make sure they’re looking healthy. If the leaves of your seedlings are changing color when they’re in full sun, consider placing them in a more shady spot to avoid their leaves burning.
Get the Correct Growing Medium For Your Particular Plant
If you’re thinking about just getting some soil from the garden – don’t. Garden soil can hold lots of diseases that can easily kill your seedlings. Instead, get yourself to your nearest garden center and pick up some potting medium. Most plants do well in a medium that has a pH of around 6.2, but this won’t apply to all plants.
Pot your paper towel seedlings into little pots of their own when they get leaves. There’s a good chance that you will have to repot them after a couple of weeks of growth, so you’ll be busy! Just keep an eye on your little plants to make sure that they’re looking healthy.
When they look like they’re getting too big for their boots (or pots, in this case), repot them into a larger container.
Remember – don’t go straight into potting your tiny seedlings into a 12-inch pot! This will do more harm than good.
Don’t Drown Them
A common problem that new gardeners experience is overwatering. When you over water your seedling, you can very easily kill it. Soil that remains too wet or damp can actually suffocate your seedlings, resulting in them dying off. This happens because the water keeps the air away from the roots, which leads to root rot.
Not only that, but damping off (as we mentioned earlier) becomes another risk. So, instead of getting hold of the watering can, stick with the spray bottle for the time being.
That way, it will be pretty hard to drown your seedlings. As long as you’re keeping the soil around them a little damp and not drenching them, they should do just fine.
Spread Them Out
You’ll need to make sure that you plant the seedlings with enough space between them if you’re using one tray.
This step usually applies to traditional germination, but you can apply it to paper towel germinated seeds, too! If you’ve germinated more than you know what to do with, you can get rid of the ones that don’t look as strong. That way, you can focus all your energy on the strong plants.
Harden Them Off
This step is especially important if you’re planning on keeping your plants outside! If you’re working with a plant that is known to not take well to transplanting (like carrots), this likely won’t apply to you. They should be started outdoors in the first place. Plants like tomatoes, however, would benefit from being hardened off.
When you harden off a seedling or plant, you’re essentially getting it used to the outside conditions. It is a transition phase between the plants only living in the house to becoming outdoor plants.
If you don’t harden off your sensitive plants, they are unlikely to make it when they are moved outside.
To harden off a seedling, you should leave them outside for a few hours a day, then bring them back inside. This will allow them to gradually acclimatize to the outside world, and they will be able to handle it when the move becomes permanent.
Your plant will thank you for doing this, and they have a better chance of being healthy and successful.
Once you have hardened off your seedlings, you can place them outside! After that, the germination and seedling journey is over, and you have a plant to take care of. It’s a proud moment!
Tips and Tricks
If you’re still at the paper towel germination stage, and it doesn’t seem to be going too well, hang in there. There are a few tips and tricks that might help you be a little more successful. Let’s take a look at them below.
- Have Patience! – unless you’re germinating peas, this process won’t happen overnight. You need to know that there’s going to be some waiting around until things really start to get interesting. With that being said, though, you need to make the most of every moment!
- Spread Out the Germination – it’s pretty tempting to just go ham and try to germinate everything at once, but that’s no fun! Not to mention, it would be pretty stressful. Germinate one or two things at a time, and keep some seeds for later in the year! That way, you can enjoy the process for more than a few weeks of the 52!
- Start With the Longest Germination Time First – if you’re going to germinate three different seeds, start with the one that should take the longest first. That way, you can have time to enjoy the process for all three types, and there won’t be as much waiting around.
- Enjoy the Process – it’s the simple things in life that keep us going, and watching seeds germinate is one of those! Take a moment to really enjoy the process and appreciate what’s happening, because it’s pretty amazing.
- Keep the Seeds Moist – if your seeds and paper towel dry out, the germination isn’t going to go to plan. Chances are, the seeds will dry out and die off, which means no plant! Keep them moist and happy.
- Keep the Seeds Warm – on the same note, warmth is important for many seeds. Unless you have a seed type that needs cold stratification (more on that soon), you should make sure that they are warm at all times.
- Use a Diary to Keep Track of Progress – if you plan on using this method of germinating again, why not keep a diary of it? It’ll keep you busy on your daily seed checkups, and it’ll help you know what to expect next time! You might also learn a thing or two, so you should keep note of it!
- Write the Dates on the Bags – it’s easy to lose track of when you started germinating what when. To avoid this confusion, make it clear and write it on the bag! A simple date and what seeds are in the bag can be so incredibly helpful, you wouldn’t believe it.
- Make Sure the Seeds are Viable – if your seeds are too old, or unviable, they won’t germinate. You can’t do a lot about that in most cases, but get a new batch and try again.
- Is Cold Stratification Required? – some seeds require cooler temperatures to get growing, so check if this is the case with the seeds you’re trying to germinate! If it is, simply place them in the fridge for a week or two, then try germinating again.
Paper Towel Germination Times vs Traditional Germination Times
Below is a list of average times that different seeds may take to germinate. As you can see, the majority of seeds listed greatly benefit from being germinated using the paper towel and plastic bag method.
However, in some cases, such as for peas, the difference is so minor that it may not even be worth using this method if you don’t prefer it.
For some plants, the paper towel and plastic bag seems to have a drastic improvement on germination times.
Look at tomatoes, for example, or lemons! The time it would usually take for a seed to sprout is around two weeks with traditional germination. When this method is used, that time can be cut in half.
Of course, these are just average times. Depending on climates and other factors, these numbers can be significantly better or worse. As a guideline, however, it’s clear that using this method is beneficial for speeding up the germination process.
- Tomatoes – 5-7 days vs 2+ weeks
- Cucumber – 4 days vs 7-10 days
- Turnips – 3-5 days vs 7-10 days
- Bell Peppers – 5-7 days vs 3+ weeks
- Eggplant – 5-7 days vs 10-12 days
- Lemons – 5-7 days vs 2 weeks
- Zucchini – 5-7 days vs 2 weeks
- Kiwi – 10-14 days vs 3+ weeks
- Peas – 12-36 hours vs 24+ hours
- Broccoli – 3-5 days vs 5-7 days
- Squash – 5-7 days vs 7-14 days
Why Your Seeds Might not be Germinating
We’ve already covered a lot about this in previous sections, but we’ll summarize what you need to know below. Unfortunately, there isn’t always a lot you can do to change things if seeds aren’t germinating. If you’ve been patient, but nothing seems to be happening, it might be because of the following reasons:
- They aren’t getting enough moisture
- There isn’t enough warmth
- They aren’t viable
- The seeds are too old
- They need more light
- Cold stratification is needed
- The paper towel is too wet
The Viability of Seeds
If you’re concerned that the viability of your seeds might be the culprit, there is something you may be able to do about it. Check out the sections below if you want to learn more about seed viability, and how you can improve it,
Checking Seed Viability
A lot of people like to simply throw away seeds that are out of date, but don’t do that. Out of date seeds are often perfectly healthy and viable.
While it’s true that after the expiration date passes, seeds tend to become less viable, they still tend to work! Give them a chance before going out and buying a new batch.
There are three things that will have an effect on the viability of a seed. Let’s take a look at them below:
- Incorrect storage conditions – if you store your seeds in the wrong conditions, they aren’t going to last as long. Correct storage conditions are usually cool and dark, like cupboards or drawers. If you know that you have been keeping your bag of seeds on the window sill in bright sunlight, they might be less viable.
- The seed’s age – all seeds should be viable for at least a year. Many are viable for two years or more, but as more time passes, the viability rate will drop.
- The seed type – some seeds will be viable for what feels like forever, while others won’t last nearly as long. Plants like beans and tomatoes have seeds that can be viable for around four years, while pepper seeds only last about two years at most. If you have cucumber or lettuce, you won’t have to worry about your seeds going out of date for at least six years.
What to do About it
The best thing you can do is make sure that you’re storing your seeds correctly. You can’t change the age of the seed, or the type, so try not to worry about those issues too much!
If you have old seeds and would like to give germinating them your best shot, there’s something you can do to help! We’ll go through some options to try below:
- Get some 10ml of Fulvic acid and mix it with one liter of water
- Using sandpaper, carefully scuff the outer shell of the old seeds. Tiny abrasions will allow water to be absorbed by the seed, which is what we want!
- If you can, mildly carbonate the water you have. Doing this will help the water get through the shell.
- Use a light enzyme or seed booster
- Cut down the spine of the seed using an Exacto knife to allow water to penetrate through the shell
The above options should only be explored when a seed has not begun germinating after three weeks. A common issue with old seeds is their outer layer, or shell, which hardens too much.
By creating weak spots or using a different tactic (like carbonated water), this issue can often be overcome pretty easily.
Things to Consider Before Germinating Seeds Using the Paper Towel Method
There is very little negative to say about the paper towel and plastic bag germination method, However, there are a few things to consider that some gardeners have mentioned over time. We’ll bullet point these concerns below:
- The use of plastic bags – there’s so much plastic in this world, it’s easy to see why this can be a concern. However, if you use your plastic bags responsibly, and continue to reuse the same ones, this shouldn’t be too much of a concern. Of course, it would be best if you could use biodegradable bags in the first place.
- The process might be stressful for the seeds and seedlings – germinating seeds on paper towels rather in soil may be more stressful to the plants. We don’t seem to know a lot about this, but it’s something to consider.
- Paper towels may contain harmful chemicals – some paper towels might contain chemicals like bleach that could be harmful to the seeds. Be careful when picking the towel you would like to use for your germination.
Paper towel and plastic bag germination is a great way to germinate seeds easily and quickly. It’s basically mess-free, and anyone can do it, even if you don’t have a lot of space.
If you’re someone who loves plants and gardening, why not try out this method? We’d love to hear how it worked for you, and what you grew. Good luck!