Hello gardeners, today we are going to talk about a well-known seed germination method. And that is the paper towel method or as some people call it the baggie method.
Starting seeds indoor was never easier with this method. All you have to acquire are some damp paper towels some seeds and you are good to go. I’m going with peppers but you can use this method with any type of seed. This method will improve your germination rates, and basically overall improve your success rates.
Let’s not dull any longer, let’s jump straight to the point.
Germinating Seeds in Paper Towel- Preparing your paper towel setup
Things you need
To begin to germinate seeds you will need a few things.
That is some clean water, I’m using a bawl of water because it is more convenient for me (a spray bottle will do the trick as well).
The next thing you are going to need is a plastic bag (or bags depending on the number of seeds you want to germinate), paper towels, and of course a few seeds.
For this germination process, I am going to use pepper seeds. As I said above many seeds can germinate with this paper towel method, tomato seeds, turnip seeds, peas seeds, and so on.
Preparing the seeds for the germination process
Some people will take their seeds and they will soak them overnight in a cup of water. I personally don’t do that.
Don’t get me wrong, you can do that if you want. But my opinion is that it is not necessary. Seeds germinate fast in wet paper towels already without this.
Eager to start germinating seeds in a paper towel? Just follow the steps below.
Now, you are going to get a paper towel and fold it 4 times. Dip it in the bowl if you are doing it exactly like me. If not take the spray bottle or whatever you are using and wet the paper towel.
Try not to use more water than needed, you don’t want it to be totally soaked and dripping, so be careful not to use too much water.
Place the damp paper towel on the table.
Take the seeds that you want to germinate. Open the wet paper towel (or wet paper towels) and spread the seeds directly across the middle of the paper towel.
Note: As I said above “fold the paper towel 4 times”. Therefore, when you want to germinate seeds you are going to unfold the paper towel only once and not all the way.
I always recommend two seeds per cup. People do four or five and they separate them after they sprout, that is up to you.
I like to do two per cup and then whichever looks stronger is the one that lives. So, it’s kind of a eugenics thing, we are killing off the week seedlings.
I will place 10 seeds because I’m doing 5 plants. When all of that is done you are going to fold the wet paper towel back to the original foldage (4 times).
Take the plastic bag and put the folded paper towel in the bag. I like to squeeze most of the air out of the bag, and then you are going to seal it up.
The plastic bag will provide your seeds with a greenhouse effect. Instead of plastic bags, some people use containers with lids, something like plastic egg cartons.
But I recommend plastic zip bags simply because of the faster and more successful germination rate.
When you’ve sealed the bag you’re going to put it somewhere dark. This is the thing that some people forget about.
But when you think about it, when your seeds are in the ground they don’t receive any light. You don’t want to put your seeds under lights. You are going to put them somewhere dark and warm.
The best place for most people should be on the top of their refrigerator. If you don’t have a refrigerator you can find a windowsill that gets direct sunlight (because of the heat) and wrap it up in tin foil to keep it out of the light.
If you have a heat mat, like a seedling heat mat you can use that. You don’t want the heat to rise up high, somewhere in the neighborhood of about 80 degrees is ideal.
But for most of you reading this, go to your refrigerator, get on a stool if you are short like me and feel the top of it towards the back. And if you feel a warm spot, that is a really good place to put your bagged germinating seeds.
Once you have found that place that is dark and warm, all you can do is wait and let the seeds germinate. When I say wait I really mean it, don’t open them tomorrow, don’t open them a few days later, they are not going to be sprouted.
I would say, wait at least a week, maybe a few days more (a week and a half).
When the seeds start to germinate, if you wait too long you can run into issues where the seeds will sprout and start winding into the fibers of your paper towel.
Therefore, you don’t want to wait too long for your seed to start sprouting. But wait a week at least and then pull the paper towels out of your bags.
When the waiting period has ended and you have pulled your bags out of that warm and dark space. You are going to take the paper towel out of the bag and open it.
There you are going to see all your seeds plain as day. The thing that you are looking for is a tiny little seedling.
But what that actually is, it’s a cotyledon sprouting out and it will look like a little white worm sticking out of your seeds. It mostly comes out of the top of the seed.
When you start seeing that, those seedlings are ready to be transplanted into the soil.
One other thing that you need for germinating seeds in paper towel
One other thing that you are going to need, that I didn’t mention above is a Sharpie (marker), and here is why.
If you plant five different varieties and you don’t have a Sharpie even if you think your memory is really good. In a week’s time when your start transplanting these, you are going to forget which ones are which.
One other thing I want to throw in, you can also use a coffee filter. Thus, if you have paper towels use those, if you have coffee filters use those. If you have both, pick one.
I have been using both for a few years now, haven’t had any issues with coffee filters nor with paper towels.
Transplanting the germinated seeds
Basically, at this point, you are going to need your seeds that have been germinating. In this case, mine have been in paper towels for 10 days.
Double cup method
You are also going to need cups, whatever cups you are going to use. You can use Solo cups, mine have been already used once.
When I’m done with using these Solo cups I like to keep them because if you are doing this a lot, it takes forever to poke holes at the bottom in all of them.
if you are using Solo cups you are going to poke holes at the bottom, holes don’t need to be neatly done. They just need to serve their purpose of dispensing excess water.
If you are going with Solo cups, you are going to need two of them. What you basically do is you use one without holes at the bottom and place the one with holes in it.
This acts as a drip tray. Thus, you have your cup with the soil and the plant put into the empty intact cup to serve as a drip tray. That is how a ton of people do this, and this is called the double cup method.
My way of doing it
I rarely use the double cup method, simply because I got the cups that I like the most (on amazon). I also bought the tray for them, from my local nursery. But honestly, you can use any type of container you like.
I prefer the cups I got simply because I have a special tray for them. They fit in this tray tightly, therefore when I’m carrying them outside they are not tipping over.
The actual transplatation
So, it has been ten days and you are ready to transplant. You pop open your bag, you open up your paper towel.
There, you should see that the germination process has begun a while ago. You should see the little cotyledons starting to sneak out.
Congratulations, you have successfully done seed germination of your first plant using the paper towel method (baggie method).
What comes next is easier than you can possibly imagine.
You are going to take the cup you have prepared with the soil in it. You are going to make little holes in the soil using your finger.
My measurements for the hole are the depth of the first segment on my index finger.
Placing the germinated seed in the soil
Now to place the germinated seeds in the soil. There are a couple of ways you can do this, I’m going with my fingers.
You might want to use a little card or something to pick up your germinated seed from the paper towel. You need to be careful because they tend to be very fragile and soft and you can easily squash them.
When you have picked your seeds up from the paper towel, you are going to put them in the little hole you made.
In this case, I am doing two seeds per hole. You can put as many as you seem fit (I already explained above why I always put 2 seeds per pot).
When you have placed the seeds in the soil, you are going to gently cover them back up until the whole thing is filled.
When you fill the cups don’t pack the soil in. I sometimes shake it down a little because it is going to settle no matter what.
But you don’t want to be packing it down or there will be no space for them to expand. The soil will simply be too dense and the root system will have a hard time expanding as well.
When the sprouting seeds are planted, take that Sharpie, mark it, and then you wait. In a week or two weeks, or if you are unlucky three weeks (basically a few weeks), and the baby plant will start to show itself.
But ideally, it shouldn’t take that long, with the paper towel method the germination rate is much quicker.
Related: Best Soil for Seedlings
You’ve got your cup, and you can put this somewhere with light. Now that the seed is covered with the soil you can put it under lights.
If you are using grow lights, here is another mistake people often make. They will often place the lights way up high to shine down on it.
Related: How to Use Grow Lights for Seedlings
When you do this, your seedlings are going to reach for that light and they are going to get all long and skinny. You don’t want that, you want your plants to get all bushy and thick.
That’s healthy, if they are long and leggy they will start tipping over and that is not good.
Therefore, with brand new seedlings, you would want your lights to be two or 3 inches from the top. Therefore, the root system will grow healthy and so will the plant.
Related: Best Grow Lights for Seedlings
A few tips
You can find soil mixes specifically for planting seeds (germinating seeds) and that is a really good option.
Another thing a lot of people do is, they will start with small pots and once their plants get a few sets of true leaves they will switch it to something big.
And that is a good thing, bigger pots will have longer-term soil. So, that is something to keep in mind as well.
Also, as you might guess when the plants are big enough and their roots are strong, they can be transplanted into the garden.
1. Does the age of the seeds affect the seeds’ germinating process?
With this method, you can germinate old seeds as well as new seeds. I used this method with seeds that were five years old and didn’t have a problem whatsoever. Just follow the steps above, and before you know it your plant will be ready for your garden.
2. Do seeds need light to germinate with this method?
When the seeds are placed into the ground (your garden soil or whatever), for a natural germination process. Do they receive light? The answer is no. Therefore, light is not needed when you want to germinate seeds.
3. How long does it take for seed germination to take place with this method?
Depending on the age and the quality of the seeds the answer to this question can variate. But the most common time-lapse is somewhere between a week and 2 weeks, about a week and a half.
We have reached yet another end to our gardening journey. I hope that I was able to shine some light on this subject and that you got to learn something new along the way.
With this fast germination method starting seeds was never easier, and your garden space is going to look pretty good. Best of luck and a good day to all of your gardeners out there.