Tag: vegetable gardening

How to Germinate Seeds in Paper Towels

Germinating seeds in paper towels adds an extra step before planting but often leads to better outcomes. It is easy to do and takes just a few minutes!

Start Seeds in paper towels for better germination and a head start on the season.

Have you ever planted seeds just to wonder why they aren’t germinating? Maybe the seeds are old? Maybe the growing conditions aren’t right? Did I plant them too deep? If you have ever tried to start seeds indoors you know it can sometimes be a frustrating process.

Germinating seeds in paper towels before you plant them in containers adds an extra step but often leads to better outcomes. Seeds germinate more quickly and you can easily check on your seeds as they start to grow. Best of all, it is easy to do and just takes a few minutes.

Now we will go through this process step-by-step. Let’s get started!

Advantages to Germinating Seeds in Paper Towels Before Planting

You may be wondering, why germinate seeds in paper towels at all? Why not plant them directly in the soil and skip this step all together?

Excellent questions! Here are some reasons why I germinate many of my seeds in paper towels before planting:

  • I use a lot of seeds that I have saved from previous years. It is impossible to know if seeds are still good just by looking at them. Within a couple of days I will know if the seeds are still viable or if I need to purchase new ones.

  • Putting the seeds in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag makes greenhouse-like conditions which often leads to faster germination.

  • You can see exactly which seeds have germinated so you only plant seeds that are sure to develop.

  • It is fun to check you seeds each day and watch them grow!

What types of seeds to germinate in paper towels?

If you have seeds saved from previous years, this method can be used to test germination of pretty much any type of seed. Place a few seeds in the paper towel and see if they start to grow. If all are duds, it is time to purchase some new seed!

Most of the time though, I just start seeds that I am going to start as transplants rather than seeds I would sow directly in the garden. Good choices for transplants are vegetables with a longer growing season than would be damaged from cold and frosty conditions. This way you can start them earlier and get a head start on the season.

Here are some of the seeds I regularly start inside:

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Pumpkins
  • Zucchini
  • Squash
  • Cucumbers
  • Melons
  • Some flowers


To germinate seeds in paper towels you will need:

  • Paper towels
  • Sandwich sized zip-top bags
  • A permanent marker
  • Seeds
Seed packets with paper towels, bags, and a marker

How to Germinate Seeds in Paper Towels

Start by wetting a paper towel. I usually use about 2 paper towels per type of seed. You want the paper towel to be fully moist but not dripping wet.

Holding a paper towel under running water.
Start by wetting a paper towel or two. You want them moist but not dripping wet.

Lay the paper towels flat and place the seeds on one side. You can put however many seeds you want as long as you leave some space between them. This way they will not crowd each other as they start to grow. It is a good idea to start a few more seeds than you think you need because you will rarely get a 100% germination rate.

Pumpkin seeds on a damp paper towel
Lay the seeds on one side of the towel. It is a good idea to start a few more seeds than you think you will need.

After you have placed your seeds fold the paper towel one or two more times so it will fit in your zip top bag. Place it inside the bag and seal it closed. Label the bag with the permanent marker.

folded paper towel in a zip-top bag
Label the bag so you know what is inside!

Place the plastic bags where they will not be disturbed. Since many seeds germinate well at room temperature, I usually just leave mine on the kitchen counter. This way I will not forget to check them often. Make sure you keep the seeds out of direct sunlight because they will easily become too hot.

Make sure you check your seeds every day for progress and signs of growth. If the paper towels seem like they have dried out, add a little more water to keep them moist.

starting seeds in paper towels
Leave seeds where you remember to check on them often. I usually put mine on the kitchen counter.

When to Plant Your Seeds

Most seeds take 3-5 days to germinate. I have had some that have taken up to a week. As soon as you see some root growth you can plant them in peat pots, egg cartons, or plastic containers.

Transplanting the seeds as soon as possible makes is less likely that the roots will become damaged, which may impede growth and proper development. If you wait too long, the roots will become long and tangled in the paper towel and root damage is more likely to occur. After you plant your seeds, it generally takes 2-5 more days for the seedlings to emerge.

pumpkin seedlings in peat pots
After your seeds germinate plant them in pots. They will usually emerge in a few more days.

Hope you get better and faster germination this year by starting your seeds in paper towels before transplanting. Happy Gardening!

Not ready to plant right now? Be sure to pin for later!

Start Seeds in paper towels for better germination and a head start on the season.

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January Garden Checklist

The weather is cold but there is still plenty to do in the garden! Here are some tips and ideas for your garden this month.

The new year is here! Here in Oregon the weather is often very cold and wet in January which makes it difficult to get outside. Luckily there is still plenty to do indoors on these rainy days!

January is a great time to focus on planning, indoor projects, and maintenance tasks so you will be well prepared for the season ahead. The list below is based on my garden in zone 8, and you may need to adjust timing based on your specific climate and geographic location. Here are this month’s chores:

1. Build raised beds for next season

If you are wanting some new raised beds in your garden next year, now is the time to start building them! This way they will be finished and ready to plant in the spring.

raised garden beds

2. Plan your vegetable garden for next year

Now is the time to start planning what you want to include in your garden next year! Plan to include vegetables that have done well in the past as well as some new varieties that you will like to try. Also include flowers such as marigolds to help attract bees and other beneficial insects to improve pollination.

I usually plan my garden on a piece of graph paper. I always work in pencil because my plans are sure to change! After you are done place it in a plastic page protector. This will help to keep it clean and dry when you take it outside to plant your garden in the spring.

garden plan on graph paper

3. Look through seed catalogs and order seeds

Nothing beats the winter doldrums better than getting a seed catalog in your mailbox! Many seed companies will send you a free catalog if you request one on their website.

My absolute favorite seed catalog is from Territorial Seed because they are located in Oregon where I live. They carry varieties that do well in my specific climate and I have had great success with seeds I have purchased from them. Other popular seed companies are Park Seed, Burpee Seed, Botanical Interests, and Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Enjoy going through the catalog and dreaming about what seed varieties you want to try. Be sure to order early for the best selection.

Look through seed catalogs and make a list

4. Start a garden journal

Having a garden journal can help you stay organized throughout the season. Keep your garden plan, plant tags, and empty seed packets so you know what you planted this year. Also keep a list of planting dates, harvest logs, and other notes that you can refer back to. Next year you can look back at what went well and what you learned.

Start a garden journal by finding a notebook that you like. I like to use a 3-ring binder so I can easily add and remove pages. Record whatever information you find the most useful. Use dividers to help keep everything organized.

Use a 3 ring notebook as a garden journal

5. Clean and sharpen gardening tools

Now is a great time to clean and sharpen your garden tools so they are ready for the season ahead. Proper care and maintenance will help your tools last longer and function better.

Clean your tools in soapy water and soak in vinegar to remove rust. Also sharpen your pruners, loppers, and shears. Make sure to store your tools in a clean, dry place.

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6. Start pruning fruit trees while dormant

Regular yearly pruning will help develop a strong structure so your trees can handle the load of heavy fruit. It will also help to keep the trees healthy and improve fruit quality.

The best time to prune fruit trees is in the winter months when they are dormant. Winter pruning is easier on the tree and also easier for you because you can better see the framework of the tree without the all the leaves in the way. Pruning fruit trees can be a big job, depending on how many fruit trees you have. Start early and try to finish before the buds begin to break in the spring.

an apple tree that needs to be pruned

7. Harvest vegetables from your winter garden

If you have any vegetables in your winter garden continue to harvest them throughout the season as needed. Carrots, onions, beets, turnips, and other root crops can be stored in the ground and harvested throughout the winter as long as the ground temperature stays above 20-25 degrees or so. The tops will die back but the roots will be crunchy and sweet. Make sure to dig all your root crops before spring because the quality will start to decline when growth begins again.

Harvest carrots throughout the winter

Final Thoughts

Hope you find some time to get in the garden this month! Print the checklist below to help keep you on track. There are also some blank areas so you can add your own items to the list. Happy gardening!

Free Printables:

January Garden Checklist (color version)

January Garden Checklist

January garden checklist
January garden checklist

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