Germinating Seeds In Paper Towel Vs Soil: What Are The Benefits?

By Paul Smart •  Updated: 03/04/22 •  7 min read

Germinating Seeds In Paper Towel Vs Soil: What Are The Benefits? For those of you who are beginner gardeners and are starting off growing seeds for the first time, you may wonder why some people germinate seeds in paper towels vs soil. Is there some sort of advantage for doing one over the other?

Germinating seeds in a paper towel is most commonly done in cases where the seeds are known to be relatively difficult to germinate. This typically happens with things like carrot, parsley, and parsnip seed which require extended periods of moisture and a relatively shallow planting depth. Achieving these conditions for long enough can sometimes be difficult in soil, as a result, many gardeners do you use this method to get the seeds going.

The other reason that gardeners sometimes germinate seedlings on a paper towel is that they are testing the viability of the seeds in cases where the seeds are relatively old. This saves time and space in your garden and ensures that at least something comes up. 

Can Any Seed Be Germinated On Paper Towels?

While it is most common to grow seeds that are relatively difficult on paper towels it is possible to germinate pretty much any seed using this method. Things like tomato, peas, beans, or pretty much any seed for that matter will successfully germinate on paper towels provided that they are kept moist for long enough.

Is Germination On Paper Towels Faster Than Germinating In The Soil?

I have seen several reports which suggest that growing seeds on paper towels is faster than germinating them in the soil, however, when you look at data from places like the University of California which carried out of study looking at the time it takes for a seedling to germinate it is apparent that the primary determining factor on germination rate is temperature. To read more about this click here.

The observation that some gardeners have that seedlings germinate faster on paper towels is typically based upon the fact that the temperatures that are achieved on paper towels vs in soil is much higher. This gives our perception that germination on paper towels is quicker. The reality is that it is the temperature difference that is driving the rate of germination, not the specific method.

If you want to accelerate the rate of growth of your seeds in the soil the best way to do this is to use a heated propagation tray as this will ensure that the temperature remains elevated at around 77 to 86°F (25 to 30°C) which is ideal for the germination of most seeds. 

If you live in a relatively cold climate that has a short growing season the use of heated propagation trays will have a substantial effect on the size of the crops that you can produce in a vegetable garden. This is because it allows you to start growing the plants approximately 4 to 6 weeks earlier than would be the case otherwise. Growing plants for 6 weeks earlier in a season will have a substantial effect upon the yield achieved.

If you are interested in purchasing a heated propagation tray the one that we would recommend is the ipower germination kit. The reason we recommend this particular product is because it has a removable seed tray and a humidity dome that both provide significant benefits to the user. The removable seed tray is beneficial because it is the component that is most likely to deteriorate first in the unit. As such the ability to replace this component will extend the life of the unit substantially.

The second key feature that is critical to the performance of the unit is the humidity dome which ensures that any heat applied to the environment is retained for a longer period which helps to maintain the ideal environment for seedlings. To see the latest price on Amazon click on the link below.

Get Off To An Early Start With A Heated Propagation Tray

Are There Any Disadvantages In Germinating Seeds On a Paper Towel?

There are one or two disadvantages to growing seed seeds on paper towels. The main thing is that once the seedlings germinate they need to be transferred into the soil by hand which can be a little bit difficult and can also result in the new shoots being damaged in the process.

The second disadvantage of germinating seeds on a paper towel is if you leave them on the towel for too long they will start to produce roots that mesh with the paper towel making the seeds a little bit difficult to remove which again can damage things like young roots and stems.

However, I personally think that these disadvantages are worth putting up with when growing seeds such as carrots, parsnip, and parsley which are notoriously unreliable when planted directly into the soil.

An alternative method that I use to overcome the issues associated with germinating seeds for these couple of vegetables is to plant them into seed trays and ensure that the seed trays are dipped into a pool of water approximately a quarter of an inch thick. This layer of water is sufficient to ensure that the soil remains moist and has little chance of drying out.

What Is The Best Way To Germinate Seedlings On Paper Towel?

If you are going to germinate seeds on a paper towel the best way to do this is to first wet the paper towel to ensure that it is damp but not sodden. This can be achieved by wetting the paper towel and then ringing it out with your hands to remove any excess moisture.

Once the paper towel is wet it can then be placed into a plastic tupperware container and seeds can be placed on the surface of the towel. A sheet of paper towel can then be folded over the top of the seeds so that they are completely covered. At this stage, the lid should be put on the container and it should be stored in a location that has a consistent temperature around about 70°F (21°C).

At this temperature, most seeds will germinate within 7 to 10 days as such it is advisable to check the seedlings after 5 or 6 days and then every second day after that until the seeds germinate. 

Once the seedlings have germinated they can then be transferred into seed trays or directly in the garden depending upon the nature of the seed that you’re planting. As mentioned above is important to be very careful with the seedlings transfer to ensure that you do not disturb them significantly.

One of the ways to achieve this is to carefully lay out seeds when they are first planted into strips. These strips can then be separated into individual lines when the seedlings need to be transferred into their final position. These lines can then be placed into farrows in a similar manner to using seed tape. This transplanting process is much faster and easier than picking the seeds out individually

I hope you found this article useful and have great success with your seeds. If you have any additional comments or questions please leave them in the section below.

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Paul Smart