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planting marijuana seeds in dirt

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 Benefits

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.

Soil Drawbacks

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.

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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.

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Safely Watering Seeds: How To Keep Seeds From Washing Away

Many gardeners decide to save money and start their plants from seeds, only to be disappointed by the experience. What happened? If the seeds are not watered properly, they can wash away, be driven too deep, and overwatered or underwatered, all of which affect seed germination and growth.

Learn how to water seeds properly, thereby maximizing the germination rate.

Safely Watering Seeds

Before planting seeds indoors in a seed tray, water the soil thoroughly so it’s moist, but not wet. Then plant the seeds according to the instructions that came with the seeds. You won’t have to water after they are planted, preventing seed movement.

Create a mini greenhouse by covering the seed tray with a plastic tray or plastic wrap. This will keep the moisture and warmth inside, and you shouldn’t have to water again till after the seeds have germinated.

After the seeds have germinated and you’ve removed the cover, check the soil at least once a day for moisture level. Alternatively, if you don’t use a cover, plan to water the seeds once a day to keep the medium moist but not wet.

Whether watering newly planted seeds inside in a tray or outside in the ground or container, it’s important not to displace the seeds or force them further into the soil.

How to Keep Seeds from Washing Away

Watering a seed tray can be from above the soil line or below the soil line, which many experts prefer.

  • When watering from above, it’s important to use a gentle spray such as from a mister or spray bottle.
  • When watering from below, add water to a tray under your seed tray. Allow the water to fill about a ¼ inch (6.35 ml.) above the bottom of the seed tray. Keep an eye on the seed container to see when the water reaches the top of the soil. Immediately pour off any remaining water in the tray. A capillary system, which can be purchased, allows water to be drawn up into the soil as needed.
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Watering newly planted seeds outside also requires care when watering so the soil doesn’t wash away. Use a hose fitted with a fine spray nozzle or use a watering can equipped with a fine mist spray.