Simple Paper Towel Seed Germination

By: Chris | Last Updated: October 30, 2020

We’ve all been there. You buy a bunch of seeds, take care to plant them according to the instructions, and…..nothing happens. This problem is further compounded if you are using a growing medium such as rockwool to start seeds. When seeds fail to germinate not only do you have to restart new seeds, you also have to use a new rockwool cube. That’s no fun. You need this simple paper towel seed germination technique!

I have been blown away by the effectiveness of the seed starting method I’m going to share with you below. Don’t overthink it, it really is as simple as it looks. This has been my go-to method for germinating seeds for quite a while, and I’ve enjoyed a near 100% germination rate ever since.

How to Germinate Seeds

If you’re in a hurry and just want the highlights, here ya’ go:

Seeds should germinate within 3-5 days.

Simple Seed Germination, By The Numbers

Needed Supplies:

As you can tell from the supply list above, this is a very simple method of starting seeds. Don’t overthink this, there isn’t really a wrong way to do it!

I use a simple plastic container that a meal came in from a local restaurant. Your container doesn’t have to match mine. I prefer a container with a transparent lid, but the shape doesn’t really matter. The idea is to have a container that will hold humidity, and allow UV light to penetrate the top and encourage those seeds to sprout. Beyond that, be as creative or basic as you want.

Step 1: Place Paper Towel in Container

Place dry paper towel inside container
Dry paper towel placed in container

This is really simple. Cut or tear a piece of paper towel so that it will lay flat in the bottom of your container. The type, or brand, of paper towel does not matter, but a more absorbent towel will hold moisture longer, which is a good thing.

Do: Make sure the paper towel stays damp, and moisture condensates on the inner lid of the container.

Don’t: Don’t fold or use multiple layers of paper towel. This makes it hard to separate the seedling from the towel when you’re ready to transplant.

Step 2: Wet the Paper Towel with Water

Photo of damp paper towel in container
Wet paper towel in container. Notice water is not pooled in container.

Simply spray the paper towel with water until it is saturated. There doesn’t need to be standing water in the container, but the towel needs to be fully wet. Don’t get too caught up in worrying about doing this right. It’s simple, spray it til it’s wet.

What Kind of Water? I have used tap water from the sink, distilled water, and pH balanced water all with equally effective results. Like I keep saying, this is simple. Don’t overthink it.

Step 3: Place Seeds on Paper Towel

Photo of spinach seeds on damp paper towel
Press seeds lightly into damp paper towel

Now it’s time to place your seeds in the container. To do this, space the seeds out an inch or two so your roots don’t get tangled in each other. Gently press the seeds onto the paper towel. All you’re trying to do here is get the seed wet. It’s simple, put the seed in the container, push down on it, repeat.

Seed spacing will depend on how rapidly the root system of your desired plant grows. Experiment with spacing to see what works best for you. I don’t pay much attention to spacing. After all, it only takes 3 or 5 days to have nicely germinated seeds.

Step 4: Mist the seeds

Photo of misting spinach seeds with water
Once pressed into the paper towel, mist the seeds with water

Now that you have the seeds situated in the container, hit them with a nice mist of water. Simply wet the seeds. If you end up with standing water, drain it out. 

Step 5: Close the Lid & Put ‘em in the Sun

Photo of seeds on damp paper towel in a container with the lid on
The lid allows humidity to build up inside the container

Now it’s time to close the lid, and let those seeds get a sun tan. I don’t place the seeds in the dark, I don’t place the seeds on a heating pad, I don’t do any of the typical things you are likely used to. 

I simply close the lid on the container, and set the container in my grow box in full view of the grow light. This can work equally as well if you have a window sill that gets a nice amount of sunlight.

Maintain Moisture Levels

You’ll want to check the container daily to make sure the paper towel looks damp. Don’t open the container unless the container needs to be misted. Let those seeds bask in all their humid glory for 3-5 days.

If the container doesn’t appear humid, or lacks condensation on the lid, open the lid and give it a good misting. Make sure you keep the lid sealed so the humidity level stays high.

It’s Simple to Germinate Seeds

Photo of spinach seeds beginning to germinate
Spinach seeds beginning to sprout

The seeds in the photo above were purchased from a big box store, and had a pretty low germination rate. I normally enjoy a near 100% germination rate with high quality seed from High Mowing Seed Company. I don’t get any kickbacks or affiliate cash from them, I simply love their product!

It really is that simple to germinate seeds. I use this method to germinate all the seeds I grow in my hydroponic garden. If you decide to try this method, send me some pictures and let me know how it works for you! As always, if you have any questions please leave them in the comments or contact me here.

Transplanting Tips

Photo of germinated spinach seeds
Spinach ready to transplant into a substrate. I use rockwool for lettuce and spinach.

Once your seeds have germinated, it’s time to transplant them into the growing media of your choice. I personally use rockwool for the majority of my indoor hydroponics because I enjoy how easy and clean it is to use.

  1. Wet the paper towel before removing seedlings. This will make the paper towel easier to tear, and will keep the root lubricated.
  2. Tear the paper towel away from the root. Don’t try to pull the root through the paper towel as this will likely result in breaking the root. If the root does break, but there is a decent amount of root still connected to the seedling, plant that sucker anyway. It will still grow.
  3. Tweezers are really helpful when transplanting small seedlings. They allow you to maneuver the root into the grow media with less chance of damaging the root.
  4. Seedlings will stay healthy in the germinating container for several days after sprouting. If you don’t have time to adequately transplant them on the day you think they’re ready, don’t feel rushed.
Chris Cook started Happy Hydro Farm to share his passion for hydroponic gardening! Growing your own food is incredibly rewarding both physically and mentally. His mantra - "Take excellent care of your plants, and your plants will take excellent care of you."