Germinating Cannabis Seeds In Paper Towel Vs Soil

Germinating Seeds In Paper Towels: A Quick and Easy Way to Start Seeds Without Soil There’s a faster, easier way to germinate seeds, and it doesn’t involve pots, trays, or even soil or seed So I had 20 seeds. I put 10 in wet paper towels, and 10 in moist soil on a heat mat. I planted the 10 when they cracked. The paper towel seeds broke ground…

Germinating Seeds In Paper Towels: A Quick and Easy Way to Start Seeds Without Soil

There’s a faster, easier way to germinate seeds, and it doesn’t involve pots, trays, or even soil or seed starting mix. The trick? Using the baggie method to sprout your seeds more efficiently so you can save space at home, test their germination rate, and find out which seeds are still viable and worth planting. Here’s how to germinate seeds in paper towels (or coffee filters or newsprint—any of these common household items will work).

What if I told you there was a faster way to germinate all your seeds, without the need for seed starting mix, perlite, or vermiculite; without wrangling a bunch of seed starting trays, flats, and domes; and without any special equipment like heating mats, temperature sensors, and indoor seed starting systems?

The secret is as low-tech as you can get, and relies on only two things you likely already have in your kitchen: paper towels and Ziploc bags.

This seed starting trick is sometimes known as the baggie method, and it works with paper towels, coffee filters, or even just newsprint.

But first, you might be wondering… why start seeds with the baggie method instead of just starting them in soil? Keep reading; I’ve got all your answers below.

3 reasons you should use paper towels or coffee filters for seed germination

Now why would you want to germinate seeds in paper towels or coffee filters first, rather than germinating seeds indoors in seed starting mix?

1. It’s a good way to gauge if your seeds are viable to begin with, before you put them in pots.

Maybe you aren’t sure how old your seeds are (especially if the seeds were saved from your own plants).

Or, maybe you bought your seeds from a new seed catalog and want to check how healthy or accurate their germination rates are. (See the next section below on how to do a quick and simple germination test.)

2. You can start a lot more seeds this way and use only a minimum of space while they get going.

Germinating seeds in paper towels is very small-space friendly. You don’t need a bunch of trays or pots, a seed-starting shelving unit or even a wall of south-facing windows to make it happen. (Just a windowsill will do.)

Plus, the baggie method helps you pick out the fastest and most vigorous seeds to plant because you can actually see them germinate (a process that’s pretty mysterious to most of us since it happens underground).

3. Many seeds germinate much quicker in paper towels (versus seeds that are started in soil).

The heat, moisture, and controlled conditions inside a plastic baggie help them germinate in only a few days (or less, depending on the seed).

How to test germination with the baggie method

Every once in a while, especially if your seeds are about to reach their expiry date, it’s a good idea to do a germination test and find out if the seeds are still worth planting.

Try this quick germination test when you’re unsure about your seeds

  • Count out 10 random seeds from the packet you want to test.
  • Follow the instructions below to germinate the seeds in a paper towel or coffee filter, and label the baggie with the date you started them.
  • Look on the seed packet or in any seed catalog for the expected number of days to germination for the seeds you’re testing. Wait that number of days, then count how many seeds have sprouted in that time.
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If 8 out of 10 seeds germinated, that gives an 80 percent germination rate, which is pretty good for most vegetables. If only 4 out of 10 seeds germinated, then you have a 40 percent germination rate and the seed is, for all intents and purposes, useless.

When I find these, I throw the old seeds in the compost pile or feed them to my chickens. I might play around and put them in a random “salad blend” to sprout on my kitchen table, but I won’t bother planting them in the garden as a primary crop.

It is not wise to sow the seeds more thickly to make up for low germination. Weak seeds that struggle to even sprout will just result in weak plants that are likely to suffer from aphid infestations, fungal diseases, or other problems anyway.

But notice how I said primary crop: Older seeds that are borderline expired are actually useful in the garden as a secondary planting. I broadcast these seeds over my garden beds and let them grow in as a living mulch. I harvest (or cut them back) periodically to keep the plants low to the ground, but find they’re highly beneficial for suppressing weeds and improving soil tilth.

(In fact, this is one of the methods I teach in my online course, Lazy Gardening Academy, that mimics natural systems and helps your garden become more self-sustaining.)

What types of seeds can be germinated with paper towels?

All vegetable, herb, and flower seeds can be germinated in a paper towel or coffee filter, but personally, I find the baggie method to be most effective for seeds that take a long time to germinate.

Certain seeds that need a warm start (like chile peppers) are stubborn, taking up to three weeks to germinate. They need juuust the right conditions present before they sprout: the perfect balance of heat, moisture, and time.

In most seed starting scenarios, one or two of these requirements are usually lacking, which delays germination.

The baggie method speeds up the process by providing these conditions consistently with minimal effort on your part.

You can also germinate tomato seeds in paper towels or coffee filters, as well as cucumber, squash, muskmelon, and watermelon seeds.

Can you germinate kale, cabbage, broccoli, onion, or turnip seeds with the baggie method? Sure you can.

But cool-season seeds like these aren’t as finicky about heat, and seeds from the brassica family germinate quickly on their own anyway (usually within a couple days).

The baggie method isn’t necessary unless you want to test their germination rates; you can start them more easily just by sowing the seeds directly in the ground.

The same can be said for flower seeds. While you can sprout them in paper towels or coffee filters first, germination speed isn’t that important for flowers the way it is for vegetable seeds.

How to germinate seeds in paper towels or coffee filters

Step 1: Gather your supplies.

  • Paper towels, coffee filters, or newsprint (use whatever you have around the house)
  • Ziploc (resealable zip-top) bags
  • Seeds

I personally like to use coffee filters because the paper has a denser weave, which keeps the roots from growing into the fibers and making them difficult to separate when you’re ready to plant.

Depending on how many seeds you want to germinate at a time, cut the coffee filters as needed. (I cut mine in half to fit inside standard sandwich baggies.)

Step 2: Moisten the coffee filters.

Wet the coffee filters and wring them out, so the paper is damp but not drowning in water.

Step 3: Place your seeds on the coffee filter.

Place your seeds on the bottom half of the paper, leaving an inch between seeds to give their roots room to grow. Fold the top half over the seeds to sandwich them.

Step 4: Place the coffee filter inside a baggie.

Slide the coffee filter (with seeds) inside the baggie.

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I like to blow air into the bags using a straw and then seal them tight to speed up germination. You can also leave your bags flat, but the air creates more of a greenhouse effect (which is especially helpful for chile peppers and other heat-loving seeds).

Step 5: Wait for the magic of germination to happen.

Place your baggies in a warm area of the house. For me, that’s a south-facing window, but you can leave them anywhere with a decent amount of heat and humidity, such as a bathroom or laundry room.

Just don’t keep them too hot (like on top of a heating pad), as you risk cooking the seeds before they ever sprout.

You can see the greenhouse effect created by the baggies here, which aids in germination. Because of this, you shouldn’t have to re-moisten the coffee filters while waiting for the seeds to germinate.

Within a few short days, you should see your first sign of life—a radicle emerging from the seed coat. This is the primary root and develops from the embryo of the plant.

Step 6: Transplant the germinated seed.

Once the radicle reaches an inch or two in length, carefully transplant the germinated seed in potting mix, burying only the radicle (the white part) and keeping the stem and seed coat above the soil line.

Handle the seed by its seed coat, as the radicle is very delicate (as well as the life line of your soon-to-be seedling).

Don’t try to remove the seed coat before transplanting; it’ll fall off on its own when the first leaves (cotyledons) start to unfurl.

If any part of it is enmeshed in the paper, cut around the root and plant the whole thing in a pot, paper and all. The roots will grow around the paper and the paper will eventually disintegrate.

I try to transplant the seed as soon as it’s germinated so it doesn’t rot inside the baggie.

Sometimes you can wait until the first leaves appear if you need a guide as to how deep to bury the stem, but definitely keep an eye on the moisture level inside the baggie and provide plenty of ventilation at this stage.

After you’ve transplanted all your seedlings in small pots, keep the potting mix evenly moist with good airflow around the plants to prevent damping off disease.

You’ll need to harden them off for a few weeks before moving them outside, but once the seedlings develop their second set of leaves (the true leaves), they’re ready for their final place in the garden.

Troubleshooting: why are my seeds not germinating?

Sometimes the paper towel trick doesn’t work, or you run out of patience waiting for seeds to sprout. Here are a few reasons why your seeds aren’t germinating despite your best efforts:

  • The paper towel is too wet: Seeds swimming in water may rot before they sprout, especially if they require a longer germination period.
  • The paper towel is too dry: Seeds need consistent moisture to germinate, and you may need to mist the paper towel periodically to keep them moist.
  • Seeds need more exposure to sun: Certain seeds require light to germinate, so if your baggies are tucked away in a room that sees little light, try moving them closer to a window.
  • Seeds are too old: All seeds have an expected shelf life, and that shelf life diminishes under certain conditions. Use this seed life expectancy chart to find out how long your seeds should last.

This post updated from an article that originally appeared on February 1, 2013.

Linda Ly

I’m a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring—all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is. Read more »

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Germinating in wet paper towels vs soil

So I had 20 seeds. I put 10 in wet paper towels, and 10 in moist soil on a heat mat. I planted the 10 when they cracked. The paper towel seeds broke ground first by two days.

These results aren’t conclusive because of two variables I couldn’t accurately measure or control in the soil. Moisture level and temperature. The wet paper towels were more moist and warmer. I believe if those two variables are identical, media doesn’t matter as long as the seeds are in direct contact with it.

Further experiments to come.

MicroRoy
Active member
polzek

From my experience, soaking them in water or wet paper work faster than puttin them straight to soil, for me it was 2days for pregermed seeds and a week when planted straight to soil, also did tests with same strains and the ones presoaked were faster. On the other hand planting straight to soil brings other benefits according to TLO style of growing.

neverforget4/20
Member

Theres an old post by coot where he mentions that the interactions between the radicle and soil microbiology are complex. Im not sure how significant it is but i germ in inoculated soil.

stoned-trout
if it smells like fish

planting direct in soil is soooooooooo much easier. hey just like mother nature . yeehaw. save the paper towels for that rib dinner

sourpuss

I do a combo method. Screw paper towel. Soak for 24 hrs. Sink or swim dont matter. Then plant em in soil. The soil removes the casing for you. The soak gives you a more even pop time.

Dr. Fred
Member
Tri_Cho_Me
Member

New grower here. Haven’t germinated anything yet. I think I’m going to paper towel then bury in my Happy Frog. I like the idea of seeing the tap root come out first before I bury. That way I at least know it was started before I buried it.

MrBungle
Well-known member

I have to say, I have always been a direct sow kind of guy. I usually go with the mandala method, but I recently tried some older seeds direct sow with no luck, all 5 seeds from a 10 pack and nothing germed.. so I decided to put the other 5 in a paper towel.
I learned a trick from my old buddy to do with older seeds.. you basically paper towel germ the seeds but let the paper towel dry a couple times, before putting the wet paper towel in a plastic bag, and in a warm dark spot for germination. I figured nothing from nothing means nothin.. so I did it.. check my seeds today (3 days later) 3 out of 5 had nice inch long white tails. We will see if they break ground to become plants. Anyways I have had great success with direct sow, and now am seeing the benefits of paper towel method as well.. Both are great.

Bongstar420
Member

It doesn’t matter.

The paper towel is so you can see that your stuff did actually germinate whereas, in soil, thats hard to verify (pythium is common destroyer of seed that just germed).

I just put them in water at room temperature to reduce the amount of blank cells when doing seed tests as some seed lines have poor germination due to genetic compatibility or sometimes adverse environmental conditions during seed set.

So I had 20 seeds. I put 10 in wet paper towels, and 10 in moist soil on a heat mat. I planted the 10 when they cracked. The paper towel seeds broke ground first by two days.

These results aren’t conclusive because of two variables I couldn’t accurately measure or control in the soil. Moisture level and temperature. The wet paper towels were more moist and warmer. I believe if those two variables are identical, media doesn’t matter as long as the seeds are in direct contact with it.