Starting Seeds Indoors in Wet Paper Towels or Coffee Filters

By Idelle, February 23, 2017


Starting Onion Seeds indoors in wet paper towels or coffee filters

Starting Onion Seeds indoors in wet paper towels – here’s one that is getting it’s legs!

Starting Seeds indoors in wet paper towels or coffee filters

If you want to start vegetables from seeds in your garden, but have trouble keeping the soil moist until seeds germinate, here’s a simple solution: germinate the seeds by folding seeds into a paper towel, getting it damp, and storing in a reusable container until the seeds germinate. Once their green heads and white roots appear, you can gently press the seedling into loose potting soil and “mist” water them in. I like to use a spray mister at this stage as a watering can may wash away the tiny seedlings at this stage.

Starting Seeds indoors in wet coffee filters

All you need:

  • Seeds (I’ve started lettuce, cabbage, onions and mustard here)
  • Paper Towels, or even better – coffee filters
    (the seedlings don’t “grab” a hold of the coffee filter as easily as paper towels)
  • A waterproof permanent fine tipped marker for labeling seeds on paper towels (I start several different seeds, each in it’s own coffee filter “envelope” that I label). Fold the seeds into the paper towel or filter, label each “envelope”, then quickly soak them in water to dampen the paper
  • Container to hold the moist folded towels or filters with seeds – it is common to use plastic bags, but I prefer to reuse an old disposable tupperware container. Any bowl or container will do! It’s good to loosely cover them but let air get in, but not let evaporation occur to quickly. I think it’s best if you don’t cover them with a tight fitting lid as air is good, but make sure they stay damp for the 3-14 days it takes to germinate. Some people recommend putting them into a box to keep them dark, but I have had decent luck in the dark and just sitting on a bookshelf, not direct sunlight, but general room light.
  • Warm Location – Keep the seeds in a slightly warm area between 65-75°  (or warmer at 70-80° if germinating pepper seeds). Putting them on top of a refrigerator or water heater can help keep them warm.
  • Potting Soil & Pots (or plant directly in garden or cold frame if conditions permit). Keep an eye on the seeds, once you see some roots and the start of the green cotyledon leaves (the first set of leaves), delicately remove them and press into loose potting soil. You can plant directly in the garden if the weather permits (or you have a cold frame) or plant in pots and keep indoors under lights until timing is appropriate to transplant them outside. Lettuce, Spinach, Mache, Mustard, Kale and lots of other cool weather veggies can be planted much earlier outdoors as they are more suited to cold weather and frosts, these can also planted in cold frames during winter months for winter harvests!
  • Mist seedlings for the first several days to avoid washing them away with a watering can or wand. Keep seedlings damp until they have time to put roots down for the first few days. But don’t overwater, soggy seedlings are not happy seedlings!
Starting Seeds indoors in wet paper towels or coffee filters

Some people recommend putting the seeds in the dark, I’ve had luck in both light or the dark.


Transplanted lettuce seedlings that were started in a wet paper towel. Lettuce seeds are the quickest germinators I’ve found! I transplanted these directly into my cold frame after they germinated in the paper towel (on Feb 21st, which was a warm week at 60+ degrees), and they seem to be doing quite nicely so far! I’ll post updates soon.