How to Start Seeds in a Paper Towel

Updated/Fact-Chacked on April 7, 2022 by John

Did you know that there is an unconventional way to start seeds fast? And it doesn’t even require you to use pots, seed trays, containers, or soil?  This method is not only easy to execute but also works well with all seeds and it’s less messy.

You do not need special equipment for this seed-starting technique. You only need a moistened paper towel and the seeds. Before we delve further into this, why would you want to start your seeds in a paper towel? Here are a few good reasons.

How to Start Seeds in a Paper Towel

1. To Test the Viability of your Seeds

Sometimes, you aren’t sure whether your seeds are fit for planting. Maybe you have stored them for too long. Or you want to plant some types of seeds that you have never planted before. It could also be that you reserved the seeds are from your previous harvest. Regardless of the reason, starting your seeds in a paper towel will help you determine if they are healthy.

2. Works in Limited Space

If you don’t have a lot of space, a paper towel will come in handy. Despite the small size, a paper towel will accommodate many seeds. The space allows you to observe the germinating seeds closely. As a result, you can easily select the fastest-growing seeds for planting.

3. Seeds Germinate Much Quicker on Paper Towel

You may want to germinate your seeds fast. Doing it on a paper towel helps to expedite the process. A paper towel is a seed environment that you can control easily. It allows you to stay on top of crucial germination factors such as moisture, heat, light, and so on.

Paper towels are also pathogen-free, and this provides some cushion for your germinating seeds.

growing seeds in paper towls

How to Germinate  Seeds in  Paper Towel


  • Seeds
  • Fill a spray bottle with clean water
  • Paper towels (alternatives can be newspaper or coffee filter papers)
  • Plastic container. The container doesn’t have to be transparent but make sure the lid is transparent. (an alternative is a ziplock bag)
  • Tweezers for transplanting
  • Labels and a marker
  • Containers to plant the seeds after transplanting.

Line the bottom of the plastic container with paper towels. One or two layers of paper towels are enough.

Spray the paper towels using the spray bottle until they are damp but not soaking wet.

Now place the seeds on the paper towels leaving spaces between the seeds. Don’t overcrowd the paper towel.

Now cover the container with the lid to create a greenhouse effect.

Place the container in a warm place away from direct sunshine. The container helps to retain both moisture and heat. If it is extremely cold, you can place the container on a heating mat. Within a few days, your seeds should be showing signs of germination.

Monitor the humidity levels. If the paper towels become dry, spray using the spraying bottle. Opening the container daily when checking gives the seeds a chance to get more oxygen.

Transplanting the seeds that you germinated on a paper towel is where the challenge comes in. The plants are still young and delicate. You could easily damage them if you are not careful. The trick is making sure not to touch the roots.

Use a popsicle stick, wooden coffee stirrer, or tweezers to hold the leaves. However, you need to exercise maximum caution to avoid damaging the leaves. Only place them on the cotyledons or the body to aid movement.

As you transplant the seeds, make a hole in the soil. See to it that it’s big enough to accommodate the delicate root. Insert the root into the hole and put soil around it gently. Should there be any leaves on the seeds, leave them above the ground.

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Seeds that Germinate Well On A Paper Towel

How to Start Seeds in a Paper Towel

A myriad of seeds can germinate on a paper towel. These include flower, vegetable, and herb seeds. However, this method is best-suited for seeds that take ages to germinate. It speeds up the process and allows you to plant in good time.

Here is a list of seeds that you can germinate with the wet paper towel method, some are great for kids to grow;

  • Peas
  • Beans
  • Cucumber
  • Zucchini
  • Squash
  • Kiwi
  • Pineapple
  • Eggplant
  • Pepper
  • Tomatoes
  • Zinnias
  • Snow peas
  • Green peas
  • Turnip
  • Broccoli
  • Lemons

Note that this list is not exhaustive. If you can’t find the seed you’d like to germinate on this list, don’t be discouraged. Follow the instructions to start it on the paper towel. Chances are that it will germinate.

Testing Seed Germination Rate with a Paper Towel

It is disheartening to plant seeds only to find out later that could not germinate. Instead of going through such an ordeal, you can test your seeds before planting. All you need is a paper towel and ten seeds from the batch you intend to plant.

Moisten the paper towel place your seeds on it. Put in a clear sandwich bag. Seal the bag and keep it away from direct sunlight. Give the seeds 5-7 days to germinate.

If 8 out of the 10 seeds sprout, you have an 80% germination rate. This means that you can go ahead and plant them. Anything below 5 out of the 10 seeds hints at a poor growth rate. Planting seeds from such a batch might disappoint you.

For such a batch, I recommend trying other methods of speeding up germination such as soaking, scarification, and cold treatment.


Benefits of Starting Seeds on Paper Towel

Germinating seeds on a paper towel has its benefits. With this method, your seeds sprout in a few days. Germination can even happen overnight.

Starting seeds on a paper towel is straightforward and less messy. You don’t need trays, soil, pots, and so on. Cleaning up after your seeds germinate is easy. Also, you do not require much space for this process.

The paper towel method germination trick allows you to test seed viability. You don’t have to waste time and resources planting seeds that will not grow. On top of that, it is an eye-opening experience that allows you to learn more about germination.

How Long Should You Wait to Transplant your Seeds?

Experts recommend that you transplant your seeds from the paper towel as soon as their shoots emerge. If you delay, you may encourage the growth of mold and rot. This will contaminate or damage the seeds.

If you prefer to wait for the first leaves to emerge, monitor the process closely. You need to know that some seeds will germinate faster than others. For example, lettuce and squash sprout within 5 days. On the other hand, tomato seeds may take up to 10 days to germinate.

Be patient with seeds that are taking longer to germinate. Nonetheless, it shouldn’t take them more than 2 weeks to germinate.

And there we have, a simple-to-follow method on how to start seeds in a paper towel.