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Germinating Seeds in Soil versus Paper Towel

Published on
February 13, 2023 11:44:38 AM PST February 13, 2023 11:44:38 AM PSTth, February 13, 2023 11:44:38 AM PST


Germinating your own garden seeds instead of purchasing seedlings is fun and saves you money to boot. However, seeds are delicate and may require coddling during germination and when transplanting them to their final location. There are two popular home gardener methods for germinating seeds:

- A germination bed made from moistened paper towel or filter paper

- Planting seeds directly in a small amount of soil or soil-less starter mix


Starting Seeds in Soil

Photo credit to

normanack under cc2.0


Unless you have a hydroponic garden, the soil is where your seeds are destined to live after sprouting. Starting your seeds directly in small pots or seedling trays filled with a good quality soil will eliminate one transplanting step.


1. The soil must be sterilized, light and loamy so that it fosters an environment where air and moisture move freely and is free from diseases.


2. Plan to water soil germinated seeds from underneath. Top watering can disturb the seed and lead to overwatering.


3. Use porous pots or pots with holes in their base. Set these in a pan that will hold about one inch of water. The soil will be uniformly moistened as it wicks up the water from below.


4. When germinating seeds in soil, it is easy to plant them too deeply. Small seeds should have only a light covering of soil, whereas larger seeds should be no more than one-half of an inch below the soil.


Paper Towel Germination

Paper towels, filter paper or even newspaper provides an excellent medium for germinating seeds. They are pathogen-free and make it easy to control the moisture content for proper germination. This method also takes the guesswork out of knowing if your seeds have germinated since you can easily observe them.


Photo credit to

mannewaar under cc2.0


To use this method:

1. Tear a paper towel in half and moisten one of the halves.


2. Place four or five seeds on half of the paper and fold the other half over the seeds.


3. Blow open a clear, sandwich size zip-close bag.


4. Place the paper with seeds inside and reseal the bag.


5. Set the bag anywhere out of direct sunlight that stays at room temperature. The bag acts like a miniature greenhouse that retains heat and moisture. You should observe seeds sprouting in about five to seven days.


6. The biggest drawback to the paper towel method is that the delicate, sprouted seeds must be transplanted manually to soil or another moisture-holding medium such as vermiculite. The main root is very delicate and should not be touched. Use tweezers on the seed body or the cotyledons when moving them to moist soil.


7. Do not push the seed into the soil. Instead, make a hole in the soil for the entire root, hold it in place and push soil gently over it. If the seed is already showing true leaves, make sure those remain above the soil. In a few weeks, the seedlings should be ready for outdoor planting if the weather has warmed up.


Check out this Infographic for more details about using both germination methods.



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