Germinating Seeds in Paper Towel Method (10 Tips)
What if I told you the secret to germinating seeds overnight? (Or at least speeding up the process big time!) Yes – I am here to teach you all about the technique of germinating seeds in a paper towel inside a Ziploc baggie!
I discovered this life-changing gardening tip from someone in one of my online gardening groups during quarantine back in 2020 and never looked back. It’s been amazing to say the least!
Seed starting will never be the same! Armed with paper towels, plastic baggies, and grow lights for once they sprout, I am always SO READY for an amazing gardening season. And now you are, too!
This method of germinating seeds in paper towels is the quickest, cleanest, easiest, cheapest, and most successful seed starting trick I’ve tried. It’s also my favorite for all of those reasons!
What Is Paper Towel Germination?
Paper towel germination is an easy way to speed up seed sprouting! It’s so easy that I can’t believe I haven’t been doing it all along.
Simply keep seeds consistently moist by wrapping them in damp paper towels and sealing them up in plastic baggies for the greenhouse effect.
I can’t resist checking my plastic bag greenhouses the next morning and throughout the day. Some seeds like peas will often germinate overnight!
Let’s Get Started!
Seed germination in paper towels sounds super awesome, doesn’t it?! It is definitely my favorite method to use and to teach.
First get your materials ready and then go ahead and give it a whirl!
Here’s what you will need:
- Paper Towels
- Zip-top Baggies
- Sharpie or Permanent Marker
- Spray Bottle with Water
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I’ll wait while you go get your seeds, baggies and paper towels!
… (goes to check own seed germination in paper towel and baggies)
Okay, you’re back? Great! Let’s get started!
VIDEO: How to Germinate Seeds in Paper Towels
Learning how to germinate seeds in a paper towel is quick, easy, and fun! Just check out my video to get started or skip ahead for the step-by-step instructions.
I hope that helps! Hit us up in the comments with any questions. 🙂 Keep reading for the step-by-step guide!
Germinating Seeds in Paper Towel and Plastic Bag Method: Step-by-Step
The method of germinating seeds in paper towels is so easy! I am really excited to guide you through this experience. It’s my favorite fast germination gardening technique.
Here’s how to germinate seeds in paper towels:
- Place a half-size paper towel on your work surface or tear a full-size sheet in half.
- Use a spray bottle filled with tap water to moisten the paper towel.
- Space out the seeds you wish to germinate at least an inch apart, if possible.
- Lightly sprits the paper towel one last time to wet the seeds as well.
- Fold the towel to wrap it around the seeds.
- Place the folded paper towel with seeds inside the bag and leave a little air inside if desired.
- Seal the Ziploc baggie and place it somewhere warm!
Tip: For the most part, I place them out of direct sunlight and often more in the dark.
Where to Put Seeds Germinating in Paper Towels and Bags?
I find a little bit of heat speeds up most of the seeds I try to grow in this manner.
You can place them most anywhere that’s warm! On top of your microwave or fridge is a great starting point. You could also try near the dryer or somewhere else that gets warm.
(Just be sure not to create a fire hazard!)
Sometimes I like to place mine on the floor surrounding our heating vents!
In 2020, I had them in the kitchen, powder room, and dining room. It may or may not have driven my husband absolutely nuts. (Sorry babe!)
It was AWESOME!
Can’t wait to do it again… Every. Single. Year.
At any point in the year, I almost always have something germinating in baggies on top of the microwave. 🙂
What Seeds to Start in Wet Paper Towels and Baggies?
I am so excited about this process that I will probably start most of my seeds in wet paper towels forever.
Over the years, I’ve tried SO many different kinds of seeds in paper towels. We germinated all of these seeds using the wet paper towel method:
- Snow Peas
- Green Beans
- Wax Beans
- Key Limes
- Mixed Beans from a soup mix
I am sure there were many others since I loved this method and kept trying it. Betting my bottom dollar there will be many more, too!
I haven’t tried it, but I’ve heard you can use paper towel germination techniques on lavender, papaya, cactus, and poppy seeds.
Worth a shot!
When sprouting seeds, paper towels moistened with water can often coax even the most stubborn seedlings out!
If you try any, hit us up in the comments and let us know how it goes, please!
Also, it’s worth noting that not all crops are best suited for paper towel germination. For example, kale germination time is very quick! You wouldn’t gain much by starting kale in wet paper towels.
Meanwhile, a number of cool weather crops and some delicate flowers sometimes work better direct sown.
Although, I did attempt sprouting broccoli seeds using this method!
My very first experience with wet paper towel seed germination was with peas. And it was every bit of amazing.
I am not kidding you – they literally had their little root radicle popping out the very next morning when I checked them! Most of the seeds germinated overnight!
Germinating Tomato Seeds in Paper Towel
I’m not going to lie. I got tired of waiting for my tomato seeds to germinate in the past.
First, I had to find and buy Roma seeds! It felt like they were sold out everywhere (stupid pandemic!!).
Then, I ordered them and they took the better part of a week to get here!
A week is major when you wanna start a garden!
Finally, they arrived and I planted them immediately. Like, right after I opened the mailing envelope.
Waited some more…
You get the idea!
Finally, I got tired of waiting so I decided to try the paper towel germination method that had worked so well with our pea seedlings.
Germinating tomato seeds in paper towels was way quicker than starting seeds in dirt. Starting tomato seeds in paper towels took about 5 days or less.
Planting directly in potting soil took more than 12 days if my memory serves me.
Probably closer to two weeks, but I was very impatient if I’m being honest.
Even under lights!
Needless to say, I will be germinating tomato seeds in paper towel and baggy method for the foreseeable future. 🙂
Germinating Eggplant Seeds with Paper Towel
I couldn’t get my eggplant seeds to sprout at all in traditional potting soil! Did anyone else have trouble?
I finally decided to try starting seeds in paper towel soaked in water in a zip-seal baggie for my eggplants one year.
Voila! Just like magic, I got excellent results germinating eggplant seeds using the wet paper towel method.
Once established, the tiny eggplant seedlings transferred very well to egg cartons with potting soil.
The eggplant seedlings also potted up well to bigger pots and grew to maturity outside.
I love that they self-pollinate! It was so exciting to see the bright purple blossom and then the purple fruit growing.
Waiting for the eggplant to grow larger, I gave the roving groundhog ample opportunity to steal it.
And steal it he did!
We were so disappointed because we still could’ve picked the eggplant small. That groundhog is the worst!
Hoping for better luck this year!
Germinating Strawberry Seeds (Paper Towel Method)
I have not tried germinating strawberry seeds in paper towels yet, but I fully believe it will work.
One year we grew baby strawberry plants from seed in little Dixie cups on my kitchen windowsill. They did AMAZING!
Superb germination rate and adorable little plants. The worst part was they took every moment of three weeks to germinate.
I did constant water misting at least once per day, so I have full confidence they will do well with paper towel germination.
This sounds like a good gardening starter project!
(By the way, if you’d like to try my method, check out my other post – Planting Strawberry Seeds in Pots.)
Germinating Apple Seeds in Paper Towel
Planting apple seeds is a little controversial in some of my gardening groups. It’s well-known or at least widely suggested that apple trees grown from seed do not grow true to type.
So, they may not at all resemble the parent plant.
In other worse, you may end up with a crabapple!
Or worse, no fruit at all.
Still, I am a curious gardener and love the growing process. I have heard success stories of those who’ve planted from seed.
I’ve heard grafting is the commonly used process, but I always think it’s good to give it the old college try.
Last year we found some Granny Smith apple seeds that had sprouted inside the apple! We happily harvested them and transferred some to soil and some to baggies with wet paper towels.
All of them did really well!
Unfortunately, they did not get all the care needed once we moved them outside, and some got roasted before being hardened off. It breaks my heart thinking about it, actually.
Better luck next time and at least we have a pear tree growing that we started with this very same germination method!
I can’t recall if it’s a Bartlett or D’Anjou, but the way my kids devour pears, I am going to pray whatever it is decides to bear fruit in a few years!
Tips for Sprouting Seeds in Paper Towel
Here are some of my best tips for sprouting seeds in paper towels:
- Write the date and seed type on the baggie. I use a Sharpie for this. I get so excited gardening, I often go overboard, so it’s good to know what’s what and when you first planted them!
- Plant those with the longest time to germination first. I found the paper towel / plastic baggie method very helpful in speeding up germination for peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant especially.
- Don’t be discouraged if the seeds won’t germinate right away. You can check out my troubleshooting steps below for a better result!
- Use a gardening journal to track your efforts and results! I like to think I would remember everything but as a mom of two girls, I know it just isn’t true. I am definitely planning to start a garden journal this year to track our start dates, sprout dates, harvests, successes, and what to do different the following years!
- Space it out so you have more nights to enjoy it! It’s quick and easy to pop a few more seeds inside a wet paper towel and seal it up. Give yourself something fun to look forward to at the end of each day. Do it before bed so you get all the time while you’re sleeping for those babies to grow, grow, grow!
- Learn how to plant germinated seeds for greater success. Once your seeds sprout, you can move them to soil, water regularly, provide light, and nurture them to healthy young plants!
If you have any other tips for paper towel seed germinating, please share in our comments below!
Troubleshooting: Why Are My Seeds Not Germinating in Paper Towel Method?
Waiting for seeds to sprout takes a lot of patience! Sometimes I just don’t have it in me.
I find starting seeds in a paper towel inside baggies will give me an awesome head start!
Still, I may find some seeds not germinating in paper towel method, despite my best efforts.
Here are some troubleshooting steps to try as you begin starting seeds in paper towels.
- Is your paper towel too wet? Seeds can start to rot if there’s too much water and they’ve taken too long to germinate.
- Is your paper towel too dry? Your seeds may need constant moisture to sprout.
- Does your particular type of seed need sunlight to germinate? Try taping a baggie of seeds in a wet paper towel on a window or glass door!
- Are your seeds too old or otherwise unviable? If you’ve got a bad batch of seeds or a particularly old batch, they may not sprout no matter what you do. Try adding some heat! You can place your seed baggies on top of your fridge, microwave, or next to your heating vent on the floor.
- Does your seed need cold stratification? Try placing your baggies in the fridge for a week or two and check them again after they’ve had some time to chill out!
Paper Towel Method: Final Thoughts
I can’t say enough great things about starting seeds in wet paper towels! I love starting seeds this way.
Here are some of the best benefits of seed germination in plastic baggies with a moist paper towel:
- Quicker Germination – Seeds can sprout overnight or within just a few days! (Some varieties take longer, but the overall process is definitely quicker!)
- Less Mess – Starting seeds in plastic baggies with wet paper towels means no need to mess around with potting soil for a little while at first. Enjoy the cleaner and quicker start to your garden!
- Seed Viability Testing – The paper towel method makes it so easy to check the germination rate and viability of your seeds. This is particularly helpful when you have limited gardening space at your disposal!
- Small Space Friendly – If your indoor gardening setup is limited, you can still enjoy bountiful seed starting.
- So Much Fun – With a gardening activity like growing seeds in a plastic bag, preschool kids, toddlers, school aged kids – heck, just about anyone will enjoy the discovery and adventure of this fun process. Germination for kids at its finest!
Sprouting seeds, paper towels, what could be better… If you haven’t tried this method yet, what are you waiting for?!
As I’ve said, this is one of my favorite gardening adventures! I hope this guide makes it super easy for you and I’d love to hear how it goes.
By the way, once your seeds germinate using this method, move on to the next step – transplanting germinated seeds in soil!
Learn How to Germinate Seeds
In conclusion, as far as I am concerned, this is the fastest way to germinate seeds, and least messy way as well. I sprout seeds in paper towels like this every year and love it!
I will continue sharing this easy seed starting trick to help others speed up seed sprouting!
Here’s a quick visual to help at a glance:
Please share in the comments below and spread the love if you have other gardeners in your circle who may enjoy this fun and fast seed sprouting technique!
By the way, you can also check out our Google web story on germinating seeds in baggies or the one we made featuring 3 Simple Ways to Start Seeds!
12.03.21 – Edited to add links to clementine and lemon tree posts.
07.08.22 – Edited to convert to blocks and add info as needed.
11.11.22 – Updated to add link to Google web story. Also improved spacing.
12.29.22 – Updated post with link to apple seeds post, kiwi, lime, grapefruit, as well as next step for the germinated seeds. Also added proper size pics and new photos.
01.20.23 – Updated to add infographic image with the process.
03.15.23 – Added link to gws.
04.13.23 – Added eggplant photos.
04.23.23 – Updated to add FAQ section, added more photos and added video.
Can’t wait to get seeds started using this paper towel germination method this year!
I decided to try this method. After a few weeks I have a tiny sprout of a day lily seed. When and how do I transplant it?
Hi MaryJane, that is so exciting you’ve got a baby day lily sprouting! Does it have any roots yet or just leaves?
I would try to make sure you have some roots and then transfer it to a little pot or paper cup with potting soil.
Lightly mist with a spray bottle to keep it from drying out and set it in your window or under some grow lights where you can keep an eye on it and make sure it’s watered enough.
I’d feel comfortable planting outside when it’s about 6 inches tall, with at least 4 leaves. (Maybe 6-8 weeks old?) But, you can also keep it under lights until you are ready.
Good luck – please let us know how it goes!
Avocados and mangos work great this way as well, and they’re so beautiful!I look forward to trying ginger 🙂 Thank you for such a thoughtful post, I’m trying ALL of these with my kids this week!
Hi Susie, thank you so much for your kind feedback – I hope you and your kids love this! We had so much fun seeing how quickly different seeds would germinate. 🙂
I’ve never grown avocados or mangos but really want to try now! Thanks for the tip. So far our favorites are the baby lemon trees and baby clementine trees we were able to start using the paper towel and baggie method – they really took off once we transplanted them to soil and wintered over indoors. (Wish I could get my hands on some lime seeds now!!)
Love to hear how everything goes for you guys – good luck and have so much fun!
Amazing article! It featured well the advantages of germinating seeds in different ways. As well as those methods and applicable seeds for germination. Thank you for sharing this one. Worth reading and applying.
Hi Lewis, thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful feedback – I am so glad you found value in my germination tips! So easy, clean and quick with a great success rate! 🙂 Best wishes and happy gardening!
Hi, i used this method for sprouting coriander seeds and the roots are starting to get longer just One week later. When I transplant them into soil, do I place it root down into the soil or root up?
Hi Shazia! Great job with sprouting your coriander seeds! I’ve done one of two things in this case with similar seedlings.
1. Plant with the roots down and the top of the seedling above the soil. DO NOT expose to direct / harsh outdoor sunlight straight away as it could scorch your baby plants. Gradually!
2. Plant the WHOLE THING in the potting soil! Roots down but the baby plant will know what to do. I’ve completely buried sprouted pea seedlings outdoors and then those ones didn’t need to harden off with the natural sunlight.
I hope this helps! LMK if any other questions!
I don’t know how I found your website, but I’m so glad I did! Such great tips and info!
I run a Garden Club at an elementary school and this year we’re “training” the Kindergarteners to learn basic gardening so they can join the garden club in 1st grade 🙂
I was wracking my brain on an easy yet fun activity for the kinders and thought of germinating seeds in paper towels. Your step-by-step instructions make it so easy for me to plan it out for the students.
Do you have any specific tips for kids ages 5 and 6?
Hi Suzan! Thanks so much for stopping by and for your kind words! I am so glad you’re going to try this activity with the Kindergarteners to get them excited about gardening! My youngest is in K also and she is my little gardening buddy. I can definitely put together some seed starting tips for age 5 and 6. I’ll try to do something more visual but in the interests of a speedy reply, here are my thoughts!
– Use spray bottles to moisten the paper towels for sure! Remind the kids to space out the seeds so they aren’t touching, if possible.
– Get gardening themed stickers and let each child decorate the plastic baggies!
– Write names on the bags with Sharpie so everyone remembers whose is whose.
– Put together a fun guessing game of gardening facts, with questions like, what do plants need to grow!
– If possible, bring in seed pods or seed heads from your own gardens. Pass them around and show the kids how to harvest the seeds too! 🙂
– Schedule time to peek and check on the seeds a few times each week!
– Use different kinds of seeds (labeled in different bags) and make predictions of which ones will germinate first.
Love that you are doing this! Good luck and feel free to let us know how it goes – we’d love to hear!
Thank you so much! I can definitely apply this to the lesson for the Kinders. I love your idea of seed heads. Nothing in my own garden to show them right now, but I might just have to get some special flowers to do that!
Hi Suzan! I am so glad these ideas on germinating seeds for kids may work for your kindergarten pre-gardening club kiddos! I have tried both methods – planting directly in the ground works best when you bury the whole seedling so it isn’t immediately sunburned, in my experience. Also keep in mind your growing zone and expected hard frost date if applicable. When planting in pots, you can grow them indoors or harden them off and move them outside as appropriate. (I have posts on hardening off if that is of any help.) Any of these can be great teaching moments!
Let us know how it goes and if you have any other questions!
Thank you, Kate! Will let you know how it turns out! 🙂
Quick question – once the seeds have germinated and sprouted, can they be planted directly into the ground or is it better in pots?
Hi Thank you for this lovely info. I am trying to plant Kakabeak seeds and did what you said with the paper towel, but used a plastic bag, I put it in the bottom of my boiler (hot water) cupboard. I was excited that 5 days later I saw a sprout . I have put them on seed mix soil now, in the paper towel and a little soil on top. Thinking the towel will rot away. Now I am questioning whether to dig up and plant straight into the mix? What do you think? Kakabeak is a native bush plant in New Zealand and has the most beautiful 3-4 inch long pea type flowers. Mine is white, but you can get the in yellow and the most common red colour. Thank you for any info. Regards Fay
Hi Fay, lovely to hear from you! Thanks so much for your comment! Kakabeak is new to me – thanks for explaining its origin and appearance. I’ll ask my husband about it as he studied for a semester in New Zealand. 🙂 Did you bury the paper towel as if it were part of the seed? In other words, is soil around it on all sides? I can assure you that the other seeds germinated in paper towels in my experience have grown successfully even with a bit of paper towel still attached. I didn’t want to disturb the roots and I agree with the belief that the paper towel would break down in the soil much like compost. How are your seedlings doing at the moment? If they look healthy – unless the plant is known to be finicky or temperamental, I would leave them be and continue caring for them! If they look in need of something, check sunlight / grow light, moisture, etc. before anything else.
Congrats on your sprout – that is very exciting, especially for a plant that sounds so exotic and fun! Feel free to ask any other questions and definitely let us know how it goes!
I sprouted a star fruit when i lived in florida. I havent had any luck here in michigan. Im trying your method tomorrow. I got 16 seeds from 1 star fruit. The trees are so beautiful and delicate.
Hi Rebecca! So great to hear from you and about your experience with sprouting star fruit! I have not tried those seeds yet, but I just looked them up and the starfruit trees are gorgeous! I may give it a whirl as well! 🙂 That is definitely a big climate change but I am confident you can do this. Please let us know if you have success with the germination. Wishing you all the best!
The baggie method works great. Even better when you spray the seeds with a 10:1 mix of water : hydrogen peroxide (3%). Hard shelled seeds (okra, etc.) can be snipped with fingernail clippers (away from the radicale) and the peroxide dramatically speeds up germination. Mixture can be made with 1 cup water (minus 1 tbsp) + 1 1/2 tbsp hydrogen peroxide. Using the baggie method with H2O2 (for broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and cabbage) I had 90%+ germination rate in two days this last weekend. Sometimes even helps with seeds that should no longer be viable.
Hi Douglas, thanks so much for taking the time to share this great tip! I am definitely interested in trying that. I’ve had luck snipping the corners of really tough pumpkin seeds before and scarifying canna seeds so that makes perfect sense about the other tough-shelled ones. I have heard of using hydrogen peroxide in seed starting but have no personal experience. I am so glad to hear of your positive experience with it and hope to give it a whirl this year. I’ll try to remember to update the post if so! Thanks so much – wishing you a wonderful garden this year!
Hello! Is the Author and creator of this page the same person? I would love to hear how they created this page!
I will be using it for a school write-up and I have chosen this page.
Hi Amber, thanks so much – I am happy you found value in my content for your school project! Yes, I am the creator and writer for this site and my young daughters are my helpers in the garden. 🙂 Please email me if you need anything further! Thanks so much and good luck. – Kate Van Druff
I read your article. I like germination method. My question is if towel is dry should I keep spraying water.? If near heat vent, and it gets dry should I moist towel every day?
Hi James, excellent question – I should update the article with this information. Yes, if your paper towel dries out, please do spray it with water to moisten it again. It doesn’t need to be soaking/dripping but lightly spraying will help the seeds continue to germinate. Thanks for stopping by and best of luck! Happy Gardening. 🙂
I used the paper towel – baggie method on several seeds last night. After reading these comments, I realize I may have over-
moistened. Should I go back and unseal the bags to allow some drying out?
Hi MG – thanks for your comment and good luck with your seeds! Are they large that you can remove them and replace them? If so, maybe try that and squeeze out some of the liquid from the paper towel. If you want to open the bag to allow a bit of drying, that should be okay too – just remember to reseal after a little while. 🙂
Good luck and happy gardening!
Hi I’m growing kiwi, how long do the roots have to before I put them in soil
That’s great to hear you’re growing kiwi! I moved mine into little nursery pots pretty soon after I noticed successful germination. I think they didn’t even have a true first set of leaves yet, just the cotyledon. I think you can put them in a little container or flower pot and baby them for a few weeks under some grow lights. Make sure you check the variety and your grow zone to avoid the cold temperatures freezing / killing them. The brown fuzzy kiwis need to come indoors in certain zones during the cold season. Wishing you all the success with your kiwi plants!
Hi, I just found your site and am very interested in trying this method. You only show vegetables but I’m wondering about flower seeds, specially as they are so much more tinier. Wondered if you have tried this.
Hi Jan, what a great question and point you bring up – thanks! I will try to snap some photos of flower seeds starting in wet paper towels. I have successfully germinated Celosia and Zinnias using this method. Some like Bachelor Buttons may do best this way and then stick them in the fridge inside their bags. I am sure other flowers will also do well – I’ll update with whatever we do. Thanks for your note! Happy Gardening!
What vegetables seeds germinate fastest? How many seeds do you recommend to plant per seedling pot?
I’m hoping to give away plants for an Earth Day booth. But got a late start.
Hi Liese! Definitely speed up the process with the paper towel method. I’ve found pea seeds / snow pea seeds can germinate overnight sometimes this way – it may still take a few days to break the soil but the roots emerge very quickly. I’ve also found Kale to be pretty quick. I usually plant 2 per egg carton cell, so maybe 2-3 seeds per 3-4″ nursery pot if that’s what you’re using. You could also make little seed goodie bags if you need a quicker turnaround. Sounds like a wonderful offering!
thank you for this info !! going to do this with my second grade students!
Hi Elena! Thanks for your comment and stopping by – that sounds wonderful for your students! I am so glad they’ll get to enjoy this activity. 🙂 Wishing you all lots of success!
What about if you haven’t had time to plant but keep them wet?
Hi Dustin, great question! Yes, you can rewet them and keep them in the bag a bit longer. 🙂 (I’ve done this.) If you see any signs of mold (black or pink, etc.), swap out the wet paper towel for a new one. Good luck!
Another idea to speed germination and reduce chances of mold/rot is to use distilled water, not tap water. Once I transplant into first pots, or when germinating in soil, I use distilled water. My tap water is pretty good quality but is over-chlorinated (eats away my faucets, too). Distilled water contains nothing that will inhibit sprouting or early growth.
Hi Karen! This is a great tip – thank you so much for sharing your method of using distilled water for those early seedlings! I have noticed some mold here and there, but have not tried distilled yet. Great suggestion – thanks!! Happy Gardening!
I put the blueberry seeds in a paper towel on the fifteenth of February, if it is correct they should germinate by spring because I heard that it takes a long time to germinate.By the way, I will let you know if the blueberry seeds germinated, which normally germinate in 45 days.
Hi Amir, lovely to hear from you – thanks for sharing that info about starting blueberry seeds using the paper towel method. I really hope you have some success and please do report back and let us know! I’ve had luck with lots of fruits and hope to try blackberries and blueberries soon. Wishing you all the best – happy gardening!