How to Germinate Seeds in Paper Towel

I will discuss how to germinate seeds in paper towel. Germinating seeds of vegetables, flowers and herbs in paper towel is an easy and faster way because it provides an ideal environment for seeds to sprout before transplanting them into soil. You will know when to transplant the seedling from paper towel to soil.
Seeds Germination in Paper Towel. These are fenugreek sprouts.
Seeds Germination in Paper Towel.
These are fenugreek sprouts.

Germinating Seeds in Paper Towel

Materials Needed
  1. Seeds you want to germinate
  2. Paper towel
  3. Plastic resealable bag or polyethylene bag or plastic storage container
  4. Spray bottle containing water
  5. Warm, dark place

Get the Seeds for Germination

The first important step is to get proper seeds. The success of germination largely depends on the viability and quality of the seeds (why seeds fail to germinate). Choose high-quality seeds from a reliable source.

The general rule is that the fresher the seed, the better its chances of germination. While some seeds like, carrot, beans, mango seed, tea plant seed, etc. need to be as fresh as possible to be germinated, while others have a longer shelf life and get germinated even, they are old.

It's always a good idea to store seeds in a cool, dry place to maintain their viability.

Prepare Seeds: Soak the Seeds

  1. Soak the seeds in water for 12 to 24 hours to help the seed to break dormancy and germinate faster. You can soak some seeds in lukewarm water, this will reduce soaking time. The seeds will start to decompose if soaked for too much time.
  2. By soaking, the outer shell of the seed shell begins to soften, making it easier for the seed embryo to sprout.
  3. In fruits like apricots, peaches, almonds, nectarines, etc. the actual seeds are in their pits, so you have to crack open the pits to take out their seeds.

Prepare the Paper Towel

Take a kitchen paper towel or a few sheets of tissue paper and moisten them with water. It is essential to ensure that the paper towel is damp but not soaking wet. Excess water can lead to rotting of seeds.

Placing Seeds on the Paper Towel and Folding it

Lay the paper towel on a clean, flat surface. Arrange the seeds evenly on one half of the paper towel, leaving enough space between them to avoid overcrowding to prevent entanglement of roots and shoots.

Lay Seeds on Paper Towel
Lay Seeds on Paper Towel,
Arrange them evenly.

Carefully fold the other half of the paper towel over the seeds, creating a seed and towel sandwich. Spray water on the folded seeds. Press gently to ensure good contact between the seeds and the damp paper towel. You could cover the seeds with another damp paper towel.
Germinating Seeds in a paper towel. Enclose seeds in a damp paper towel.
Germinating Seeds in a paper towel

Enclose in a Plastic Bag or Box

Transfer the folded paper towel with the seeds into a plastic bag like Ziploc bag or polyethylene bag or a plastic storage container and seal it, leaving a small opening for air. This works as a mini greenhouse which will help maintain high humidity levels, promoting germination. You may label the bag with the date and type of seeds.

Germinate Seeds in Paper Towel. Seal the wrapped seeds in damp paper towel in a plastic bag.
Germinate Seeds in Paper Towel.
Seal the wrapped seeds in
damp paper towel in a plastic bag.

The above picture shows the wrapped seeds in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag.

Provide Optimal Conditions for Germination : Seed Germination Temperature

  1. Place the sealed bag in a warm and dark. Seeds generally require temperatures between 21 to 29°C (70 to 85°F) for optimal germination. The three necessary conditions for a seed to germinate are oxygen, water, and temperature. For most of the seeds light is not needed to germinate, it may even hinder the germination process.
  2. You can place the bag indoors, if the outside temperature is too low or too high.
  3. The top of a refrigerator or inside a kitchen cupboard are commonly used spots. You can use heat mats for this purpose.
  4. Some seeds are grown in winter. Seeds like broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, radish, onion, parsnip, and spinach can germinate at low temperatures between 2-4°C (35-40°).


Open the bag every few days and check the paper towel to ensure it remains consistently damp. If it starts to dry out, use a water spray bottle to moisten it.

How to germinate seeds quickly, beans seeds germinated in paper towel
Beans seeds germinated in Paper Towel

When the Seeds will Germinate

Generally, the seeds may take a few days to a few months to germinate depending on the temperature and the quality of seeds.

Some seeds are quick to germinate, taking only 2-3 days such as coriander and fenugreek. Seeds of beans, chilies, bitter gourd, long melon, pumpkins, sunflowers, etc. will germinate in about a week time. Some seeds take like mango and avocado may take from a few weeks to few months to germinate.

Once the roots and shoots emerge, it's time to transplant the germinated seeds into soil.

Transplanting Germinated Seeds 

The next step is to transplant seedlings after germination. Gently transfer the seedlings after germination into prepared soil or planting pots. Handle the delicate seedlings with care to avoid damage.

When to Transplant Seeds from Paper Towel

Transplanting seeds from the paper towel to soil needs to be done at the right stage of germination. Consider the following points to determine when to transplant seeds from the paper towel:
  1. Emergence of Roots and Shoots: The seeds are ready for transplanting when you see both the roots and shoots. Once you see tiny roots and green sprouts, it indicates that the seeds have successfully germinated and are ready to be moved into soil.
  2. Timing: Transplant the seeds when the young and tender roots are long enough to be handled without causing damage, around 0.5 to 1 inch (1.3 to 2.5 cm) long. Healthy roots are usually white or light in color, and they should exhibit a strong, well-formed structure.
  3. Avoiding Excessive Growth: Do not wait too long, otherwise the excessively grown roots or shoots may be at a risk of damage during the transplanting process.
  4. Handle with Care: Use your fingers gently and try to disturb the roots as little as possible.

Transplanting Seedlings into Prepared Soil

This is how to transfer germinated seeds or seedlings to soil:
Prepare the soil or growing medium in the pots or garden beds where you plan to transplant the seedlings. Wet the soil before transplanting.

Create a small hole in the soil and carefully place the germinated seed in it, covering the roots with soil and leaving the shoots above the surface. Do not push the seed in soil.

Apricot seed germinated in paper towel after stratification
Apricot Seed Germinated in paper Towel

Care After Transplanting

Once transplanted, ensure that the seedlings receive the appropriate care, including sufficient light, water, and nutrients.

List of Seeds That Can Be Grown in Paper Towel

The paper towel method is a versatile and widely used technique for germinating a variety of seeds. 

Best Seeds to Germinate in Paper Towel

While not exhaustive, here is a list of common types of seeds that can be successfully propagated using the paper towel method:

Vegetables: Bitter melon (gourd), Carrots, Cucumbers, Lettuce, Peppers, Radishes, Squash, Tomatoes, Long melon, Zucchini, etc.
Herbs: Basil, Chives, Chili, Cilantro (Coriander), Curry leaf plant, Dill, Fenugreek, Lavender, Mint, Parsley, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, etc.
Flowers: Alyssum, Coneflowers, Cosmos, Daylilies, Hostas, Marigolds, Nigella, Nasturtiums, Pansies, Petunias, Poppies, Sunflowers, Zinnias, etc.
Fruits: Apple, Avocado, Cantaloupes, Cherry, Custard apple, Nectarine, Peach, Plum, Pumpkins, Strawberries, Watermelons, etc.
Trees and Shrubs: Forsythia, Lilacs, Mango, Magnolia, Maples, Nectarine, Peach, Persimmon, Sunflowers, Oaks, etc.

Seeds Needing Stratification before Putting in Paper Towel: 
Some varieties of cherry seeds might benefit from a cold treatment before germination. Some of such seeds are Apple, Cherry, Nectarine, Peach, Plum, Strawberries, etc.

Germinating Seeds in Paper Towel vs. Soil

Is it better to germinate seeds in paper towel or soil?
Germinating seeds in a paper towel and germinating seeds directly in soil are two common methods, each with its own advantages and considerations. Let's compare the two methods of plants growing from seeds.

Advantages of Germinating Seeds in Paper Towels

You will be able to save a lot of time and disappointment when your seeds won't be sprouting in soil after planting them. You thus save time.
  1. Faster Germination: Seeds may germinate more quickly in a paper towel, especially if conditions are optimal. Germinating seeds in paper towels is a great way to quickly prepare your seeds for sowing. The paper towel method creates prime conditions for seeds to germinate in less time.
  2. Control Over Moisture: It's easier to maintain consistent moisture in the paper towel method, thus preventing seeds from drying out or becoming waterlogged.
  3. Observation of Germination: Placing seeds in a paper towel provides a clear view of the germination process. You can easily monitor the development of roots and shoots, allowing you to intervene if any issues arise.
  4. Space-Efficient: The paper towel method is a compact and clean process.
  5. Faster Rooting: I have observed that the seeds germinated in paper towel root much quicker than those germinated by direct planting in soil due to the helpful environment that paper towel creates for sprouting.

Advantages of Germinating Seeds Directly in Soil

  1. Natural Environment, Reduced Transplant Stress: Germinating seeds in soil provides a more natural environment. Once germinated, you need not transfer to seedling because these are already in the growing medium, thus avoiding the risk of damaging delicate roots and shoots while transplanting seedlings from the paper towel to soil.
  2. Less Intervention: Once the seeds are planted in soil, there is less need for constant monitoring compared to the paper towel method where it is necessary to ensure the paper towel remains consistently damp.
The choice between germinating seeds in a paper towel and germinating them directly in soil depends on factors such as the type of seeds, available space and the level of control. Both methods can be successful with proper care and attention to the specific needs of the seeds you are germinating.

Why Seeds Are Not Germinating in Paper Towels

Sometimes the seeds may not sprout in paper towel, due to the following reasons:
  1. The paper towel is not consistently damp for the seedlings to emerge. Check the paper regularly to ensure that it does not dry, spray some water on it if necessary.
  2. Another important reason of not germinating seeds is too much moisture, because the paper towel is too wet, causing mold or fungus growth.
  3. Temperature: Incorrect temperature may also be the reason. Too low or too high temperature will prevent the seed sprouting. You can use heat mats or grow lights if your house is not warm enough.
  4. No proper light: Some seeds need bright light and some need total darkness to germinate.
  5. Old Seeds: The seeds are old and no longer viable - all seeds have a shelf life, so make sure to check the date on the package and use fresher ones if possible.
  6. Seeds Need Stratification: Some seeds require stratification, means exposure to a cold environment before they will germinate.
By following the above simple steps and providing the right conditions, you can increase the success rate of seed germination.

Video on Seeds Germination in a Paper Towel