Is it Better to Start Seeds in Soil or in Paper Towels?
A trip to the local nursery often greets gardeners with vast flats of seedlings, from flowers to vegetables. Many gardeners start with a seedling, rather than a seed. Growing plants from seeds at home can be difficult, depending on the type of seed; disease and poor growing conditions can prevent a seedling from even emerging from the seed. Successful home gardeners have found that many seeds grow extremely well in paper towels for initial germination as opposed to beginning the seed in the soil.
Soil provides the natural environment for the seed to germinate and grow healthy. A well-drained and aerated soil mixture allows the seed to be planted and grown without any need to transplant. Although transplanting is a common process for most gardeners, moving any seedling places stress on the plant. Depending on the plant species, the transplant process can stunt growth or impede future fruiting if done improperly. Providing a permanent location for the germinating seed allows it to rest comfortably as nature intended.
On the other hand, soil has its disadvantages when it comes to disease and density. Pathogens within the soil can easily damage the seed before it can even sprout; you would need to purchase sterile soil rather than use your own natural garden bed. Soil density can be a problem as well since seeds need an aerated environment so that air and moisture can move freely through the substrate. Even placement of the seeds can cause failed seedlings in the soil; seeds planted too deeply will have problems trying to reach the surface for sunlight.
Paper Towel Benefits
Paper towels offer a controlled environment for successful germination. Disease is not a factor since the towel is sterile. Moisture and warmth within the towel are controlled with daily observation; you can add water to the towel when it becomes too dry and move it near a warm area if it is too cold in its original spot. The fact that you can watch the root emerge helps you know when to plant the seed. There is no guessing if the seed has failed while hidden within soil.
Paper Towel Drawbacks
The main disadvantage to the paper towel is the need to transplant. Moving the seed is stressful and can cause it to fail as a seedling. The root extending from the seed is highly sensitive for almost all plant types; even slightly touching the root can cause seed death. Using tweezers to move the seed, touching only the small seed leaves, is a good practice so that you do not touch or strike the protruding root. Once the seed has been moved from the towel into its final location, the seed should root and sprout successfully.
- Mr. Grow: Sprouting Seeds
- Iowa State University Extension and Outreach: Successful Seed Germination
- Texas A & M University: Seed Germination
- Urban Garden Magazine: Seed Germination
- North Carolina State University: Starting Plants from Seeds
Writing professionally since 2010, Amy Rodriguez cultivates successful cacti, succulents, bulbs, carnivorous plants and orchids at home. With an electronics degree and more than 10 years of experience, she applies her love of gadgets to the gardening world as she continues her education through college classes and gardening activities.
Is it Better to Start Seeds in Soil or in Paper Towels?. A trip to the local nursery often greets gardeners with vast flats of seedlings, from flowers to vegetables. Many gardeners start with a seedling, rather than a seed. Growing plants from seeds at home can be difficult, depending on the type of seed; disease and …