Germinating seeds in paper towel is something you can do for two main reasons: for speeding up germination and for testing seeds viability. It’s easy to do but there are a few different approaches to it. We’ll cover all of them and then you can decide which sounds easier.
Moreover, when transplanting should be done and how it should be done is another process that we have to cover.
I want to let you know that this method can be used for all types of seeds, of all sizes. However, many prefer doing it only for small seeds.
I am perfectly aware that whenever I talk about germinating seeds, I end up talking about how to germinate them in potting soil/mix or how to germinate them in rockwool cubes for those growing plants in hydroponic systems.
However, this time we’ll be focusing exclusively on germinating seeds in paper towels. And on what comes after because you’ll have to complete germination in potting mix or rockwool cubes.
This is one important thing to remember: you can’t use only paper towels for the entire germination until you get strong-enough seedlings that can be transplanted.
And, in case you weren’t aware, you can definitely grow microgreens in paper towels, in case you don’t want to spend money on microgreen trays or microgreen growing kits. You can definitely do quite a bit of growing with the help of our simple, everyday paper towels.
Germinating Seeds in Paper Towel in 4 Steps
First thing first, let’s see what you might need in order to germinate seeds in paper towels:
- paper towels – you can sow plenty of seeds on a single paper towel, more than enough for a dozen of seedlings
- sprayer/plant mister or just use your fingertips for spreading out droplets of water
- ziplock/zip-top plastic bags or plastic containers with a lid, the kind that are leftover from vegetables/fruits bought from the supermarket
Step 1. Consider mixing water with hydrogen peroxide
You can mix 1 teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide with one cup of water. 2 teaspoons for 2 cups of water.
You can use just water to wet your paper towels but if you want increased chances of successful germination, I recommend using this mix of water and hydrogen peroxide to wet the towels.
Hydrogen peroxide is used because it can accelerate germination.
If you’re germinating in soil or rockwool cubes, you can instead soak up the seeds in the same mix for even a minute or two.
Step 2. Prepare your paper towels
If your paper towel is way bigger than the plastic containers that you’ve chosen for germinating seeds in paper towel then fold it until it fits nicely in the box. There’s no problem if you fold it once, twice, four times, etc. The same goes for ziplock bags.
Place your paper towel on a plate or in the plastic container that you want to do the germination in, in case you don’t have zip-top bags.
Wet the towel by simply slowly pouring the mix of water and hydrogen peroxide over it. Don’t absolutely drain it in liquid, just make it completely damp.
It’s easier if you have a plant mister because you won’t pour too much liquid/water over it. Well, if it’s soggy just grab a new one, you have a whole roll to get it right.
Step 3. Grab your seeds
Sprinkle seeds over the wet paper towel. You don’t need to absolutely crowd the seeds, like when we grow microgreens on paper towels.
They need to be spaced out pretty well, like we would do when we saw them in soil. It also depends on how many seedlings you want and add a few more to be sure because not all will germinate.
If you want a visual guide on the entire process, you can watch this YouTube video.
Step 4. Grab another paper towel
If you’re using a container that closes entirely and there are no holes in the lid for the water to evaporate, you don’t need to add a second wet towel on top of the seeds because the container alone will create that wet, greenhouse effect.
If you’re using a ziplock bag then you need the second towel.
Put the dry paper towel over the seeds and soak this one with water or water + hydrogen peroxide, too.
Put the two towels with the seeds sandwiched between them in a ziplock bag. Close the bag entirely so that the paper towels don’t get dry. They need to be wet all the time.
You can also just use 2 plastic plates to hold the towels, like in this video. There are many ways to do this.
Place the container/bag somewhere where it’s warm and they receive indirect light, not exactly in the sun. In terms of temperature, you should check out the recommended conditions for the seeds that you’re growing.
You should see some results in as little as a couple of days. At this point, they are sprouts and you can transplant them. That’s recommended if you are germinating the seeds between 2 wet paper towels in a ziplock plastic bag.
Germinating seeds in paper towel in a plastic container with a lid
If you’re using a container with a nice height, the roots of the seedlings will simply grow in the paper towels and you can let them grow for about a week in total.
You just need to make sure that the paper towel is always wet because they will die otherwise. Pour a bit of water in a corner in the container if it gets dry. Make sure to avoid getting the seedlings wet.
In 5 days, you’ll see quite the nice changes and in about 7 days a lot of the seeds will be ready for transplanting. They’re still very tiny and barely have 2 small leaves, really fragile.
When should you transplant the germinated seeds?
Should you transplant them only after germinating for 2 days in the paper towels so that there in fact no roots growing in the towels?
Some people definitely prefer transplanting the sprouts after only a couple of days of germination.
Others are confident in extracting the roots intact so they wait until they get to the seedlings stage, which can take about a week. This is the more riskier choice and I would recommend transplanting them after a couple of days, when they’re just sprouts.
You’ll have to decide which way is the best for you.
Germinating Seeds in Paper Towel: How to Transplant the Seedlings
Speaking of transplanting seedlings/sprouts from paper towels, this is where things get serious.
You see, the seedlings are really tiny and fragile and they need more growth until you can transplant them in the garden.
You’ll need to transplant them into their own starting cups, which can also be simple plastic cups.
The starting cups can also be forgotten plastic containers that you have around the house.
Or a germination tray with individual cells.
The cups/containers can be filled with organic potting mix or any other potting soil that you have around.
Others prefer growing the seedlings in seed-starting mix.
Or you can make your own mix from 4 parts compost, 1 part perlite, 1 part vermiculite, and 2 parts peat moss.
Once you’ve transplanted the seedlings, water the soil with a sprayer or just pour a bit of water directly onto the soil/potting mix.
If you’re growing them indoors until they are strong enough to be transplanted in the garden or in bigger containers, you’ll also need grow lights if you can’t place them on a window sill where they receive sunlight daily.
How to transplant sprouts
The same containers and potting soil/mix can be used. There are just a few things you need to be aware of.
If you’re transplanting after a couple of days of germinating in paper towels, you’re transplanting sprouts that need to grow into seedlings.
Transplant the sprouts with that tiny, white root down.
Make a tiny hole with your finger into the soil and put it with the white root down.
Then cover the sprout with soil, just a fine layer.
What type of seeds can you germinate in paper towels?
As I’ve said, all types of seeds work in theory.
Most people still prefer using this method only for smaller seeds, they’re definitely easier to germinate because they don’t have a big, tough shell. Thus, no soaking of the seeds is needed.
Plus, if you wet the towels with a mix of water and hydrogen peroxide, the chances of a successful germination increase.
I even saw someone germinate sweet corn with this method. Just as I saw a video about how to sprout lemon seeds with the paper towel method.
As you can, literally all kinds of seeds are germinated this way.
However, for plants like herbs or leafy greens, you can just sow the seeds in potting soil and let them germinate in the container that they’re going to grow in. Or sow the seeds directly in the garden. I think it’s just easier that way.
Why are seeds germinated on paper towels?
Generally, this method is not frequently used. People still prefer sticking to germinating directly in seed-starting mix/potting soil. Or in rockwool cubes for hydroponic kits.
This method is used if you want to speed up the process a bit. Or if you want to experiment with new methods and see how they compare to what we’re used to.
For some, it’s easier to transplant successful sprouts in individual cups and wait until they grow into seedlings than it is to sow the seeds in potting mix/soil from the beginning.
For others, this is a quick way to test seeds viability, to see if they’re still good.
It’s a nice method to test seed viability if you don’t want to waste time and effort with sowing the seeds in germination trays or in containers or maybe directly in the garden.
If you have no soil at the moment and you have some seeds that need germinating, then the paper towel method will be perfect for your situation for a couple of days or more until you get all that you need.
If you want to experiment with something new that pretty much doesn’t cost a thing, maybe involve your kids in the process, I definitely recommend germinating seeds in paper towel.