Germinating seeds in 1/3 time with 3X more success, yes, you have to try this!
This is our FAVORITE method to germinate seeds quickly. As passionate gardeners, we have been using it to start seeds for over 10 years! It works great for all herbs, flowers, and vegetables seeds. For most types of seeds, this is our go-to method!
In this article, we will look at-
When and how to use this seed germination method.
Comparison of two methods: germinating seeds on paper towel vs. germinating seeds in soil.
Some helpful tips we have learned along the way, and readers questions at the end!
Definitely check out the tips, because there is one thing that you should NOT copy what the nurseries do!
And feel free to download this pretty (and free ) printable planting calendar when you start the seeds! =)
Our favorite method to germinate seeds super fast with much more success.
We discovered this method to start seeds from an older book- Planning The Organic Vegetable Garden. It made such a huge difference , we just LOVE it and have been using it every year for the last 10+ years! This method is called pre-sprouting, or pre-germination in the book.
Step one: germinate seeds on paper towel
All you need is a plastic or glass container with a tight lid. Clear ones will make it easier to see through, but not required as the seeds don’t need light to send out roots.
Put a piece of paper towel or white paper on the bottom of the container, add water till the paper towel is thoroughly moist, but no puddles of water.
Sprinkle seeds in groups on the damp paper towel, close the lid, and make a note to yourself what type of seeds are where, especially when you have seeds that look identical, for example- broccoli, kale and cauliflower.
Place the container with seeds out of direct sun.
This is very important, because a closed container can get super hot, and all the germinating seeds would die from the heat.
Start checking on them the next day. If the seeds are really fresh, some will germinate in as little as 1 day! The fastest germinating seeds include everything in the cabbage family – bok choi, broccoli, kale, cauliflower etc, and lettuce. The slowest seeds to germinate are pepper, eggplant, fennel, celery, which may take 5+ days. The rest such as tomato, beets, chard, squash, onions, will take about 3 days.
Step 2: Plant germinated seeds in pots
It is important to have pots and soil ready to go.
As soon as you see roots coming out, plant them right away. If the roots get too long, it will be hard to separate the roots from the paper towel. If that happens, just plant the paper towel!
It may seem hard to pick up a tiny seed, but it really is quite easy. you can use a tooth pick, or just your fingers, which is what I do.
Plant them at a depth of 1-2 seeds size ( shallow depth for small seeds, deeper for bigger seeds) , and gently mist them daily for the first week.
We also like to put the pots in saucers and fill the bottom with water till the soil in each pot is saturated, then empty the saucer. It will take a couple of days for the little green leaves to pop out. Now they will need full sun to grow strong and healthy!
Comparison of germinating seed on paper towel method with germinating seeds in soil.
Here’s how to germinate seeds in soil, which is what most people do:
In a pot filled with soil, sprinkle some seed, add a thin layer of soil, water thoroughly. And wait.
Sounds familiar? Once you try the paper towel method to start seeds, you will rarely go back to the soil method. Here’s why.
Pros of germinating seed on paper towel:
- Great success rate: Have you ever scatter a whole packet of 300 seeds, just to have 3 plants survive? The reason is soil tend to dry out, while the paper towel maintains consistent moisture level. When we germinate seeds on paper towel, we sow 12 seeds if we want 10 broccoli plants, because almost all of them will germinate and grow. When we get fresh seeds from a good seed company, the germination rate is almost 100%!
- Test old or new seeds: If you have seeds that are a few years old, germinating seeds on paper towel is a great way to quickly test if they are still alive. We have been able to grow healthy plants from cabbage or tomato seeds that are over 5 years old! If you store seeds in a cool and dry place, some can have quite a long life. We also use this technique to find out if the new seeds we got are good quality.
- Faster germination: For example, cabbage seeds take 1-2 days to germinate on paper towel and another 2 days to leaf out, while it can take 2-3 times longer if sown directly in the soil.
Cons of germinating seed on paper towel:
There is one extra step of planting the germinated seed in soil. So if you want to plant a whole field of flowers or vegetables, this method will not be practical.
Now you see the pros and cons, it is very easy to see which method is better for the home gardener!
Some helpful tips we have learned along the way, and readers questions:
- 90% of the time we use this method to germinate seeds, but we sometimes direct sow seeds that grow super easily and super fast, or less attractive to pests, such as arugula, radishes, or carrots.
- Although you see seedlings grown in six-packs at nurseries, I think it’s a fantasy because those plants were grown in perfect greenhouse conditions with daily fertilizers. It’s very hard to grow seedlings to that big in a six-pack for home gardeners. We prefer to grow them in 4 inch pots, or a long deep planter like in the above image. This allows the seedling to grow quicker and bigger before being transplanted, so they don’t disappear with one bug bite!
- Have pots and soil ready! Because the seeds could germinate in as little as one day! If your seeds grow into the paper towel, yes, you can plant the paper towel.
- For the first 1-2 weeks after planting them in pots, mist the seedlings or gently water them, and keep the soil moist. They are fragile and can fall over easily!
- Our favorite seed companies are Baker Creek Seeds, and Bountiful Gardens, both are started and ran by some great passionate people! Just look at that gorgeous green corn below from Baker Creek, irresistible!
Below is an extreme example of how much we love this method! =)
A couple of delicious pics from our garden-
Wish you a beautiful and bountiful garden this spring!