Pre Sprouting Seeds in plastic bags

RG100March 6, 2009

I have recently been reading about pre sprouting seeds on wet paper towels in ziploc bags. This sounds like a really quick and effective way of germinating seeds, especially the big ones.

I wanted to check if we can do this successfully with smaller seeds too like impatiens, petunias, zinnia, peppers etc. Also is there any difference in the plant growth? Also how much time does it reduce by? If the packet says sow indoors 6-8 weeks before planting outside - should I cut the time doen or still keep it the same?

Any help on your experience would be usefil.

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started_with_bean(Zone 5--MA)

I did it last year with morning glory seeds, and they sprouted overnight. I put them between two layers of coffee filter and put the baggie on top of a warm radiator. I read somewhere that coffee filters were better, so you don't rip out the sprouted roots when you go to plant them. The roots might grow into the paper towels.

The plants grew fine, both in pots and in the ground.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2009 at 4:26PM
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nckvilledudes(7a NC)

I am also using moist vermiculite in baggies to germinate clematis seeds. Some of my clematis cohorts who are also into other types of flowers use it quite succesfully to start a wide variety of seeds.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2009 at 6:04PM
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albert_135(Sunset 2 or 3)

I have never quite understood, unless one is doing some kind of experiment to educate ones self or want to view the seed in detail frequently, why use the paper? Why not just put the seed in soil to start with?

    Bookmark   March 7, 2009 at 1:05PM
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I use the baggie method with seeds of heat-loving plants and I never need starting kits, greenhouses or numerous other tricks that others spend cash on. I use coffee filters, hydrogen peroxide diluted to 0.3% in a spray bottle and the diffuse light in my living room.

Not damaging roots in transplanting can be tricky and I tend to use a toothpick to help me separate fragile roots that have grown together. Avoiding mold growth in the baggie is extremely important.

Albert, this technique helps avoid a week or two of constantly moist potting soil and some of the fungal issues associated with that method. While I still germinate the majority of my seedlings in soil, I have had much better germination rates for lupines, CA salvias, peppers, tomatoes and melons in baggies.

Here is a link that might be useful: the baggie method faq

    Bookmark   March 7, 2009 at 4:14PM
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nckvilledudes(7a NC)

If you don't add too much water to the vermiculite, you don't end up with mold in the baggies. I have more of an issue with mold forming in pots that I am wintersowing outside. I agree that transplanting the sprouted seeds can be a challenge, but if you wait until the plant puts out top growth, I have less of an issue and the seedlings transplant better for me than if I do it when only roots have emerged.

Never done tomatoes or peppers in a baggy as I never have problems with them in pots or peat pots with seed starting mix.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2009 at 6:41PM
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dandy_line(3B (Brainerd, Mn))

Use of baggies for sprouting should only be done when it is advantageous for those 'difficult' types that like to languish in pots. For the easy to germinate types, you're only creating more work for yourself using baggies.
I've found that baggies work very well for things that require time in the refrigerator as they take up very little space.
The easy germinators will take care of themselves without any extra effort.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2009 at 9:19PM
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Depends. Done all kinds. Baggies with vermiculite work wonders for long or difficlut to germinate seeds. Sometimes I just need to save warm space. Winte sowing outside during the winter is great as less mess. I try to keep my seeds unless they need otherwise, in warm humid environment which baggies provide beautifully. Germination reduced drastically by soaking seeds overnight and putting in the baggies.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2009 at 12:00AM
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nckvilledudes(7a NC)

Use of baggies for sprouting should only be done when it is advantageous for those 'difficult' types that like to languish in pots.

Have to disagree wholeheartedly with the above generalized statement. Clematis seed for one can be germinated in both pots and in baggies. However they seem to germinate in the baggies much more readily and faster than those done in pots. Don't know whether it is the higher humidity or what but you can't knock success. I know of several other people who use the baggie technique for other types of seeds and they swear by it. The bottom line is that the technique should be tried for your specific type of seeds to see if it is advantageous to you and your seeds or not.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2009 at 8:22AM
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crrand(z4 MN)

I like to pre-sprout larger seeds in baggies with coffee filters because I save my tomato and pepper seeds for many years. Since the germination rate is a little worse every year I avoid the situation where I need to make room on the warming tray for an entire flat and have only half the compartments sprout. Or worse, have multipe seeds sprout in one compartment and then either sacrifice one sprout or risk root damage to both sprouts when separating. Furthermore, I think older seeds will sprout at varying rates in the same batch. I can carefully remove each sprouted seed with a toothpick when it is ready and return the bag to the warming tray with the hope that more seeds will sprout in the coming days.

Small seeds like impatiens are just too difficult with the baggie method. For me it works best to seed them thinly in a tray and then when most are big enough, carefully separate them and transplant into individual squares. I know I lose some that way, but I still use up less room on the warmer.


    Bookmark   March 8, 2009 at 2:38PM
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elledive(Z5 IL)

I start all my vegetable seeds that like to be transplanted and flowers with the baggie method. I agree that it's alot more work, but the reason I do it is to grab the interest of my children. I have a son (12) and daughter (8) that love to garden and it starts at the seed starting level.

I start a seed starting center in the kitchen. They each get a plate, a bowl of water, coffee filters, ziplock bags, permanent marker, and seeds. They start by dipping a coffee filter in the water and lay it on the plate. They scatter seeds on their coffee filter and fold it in half. They label their zip lock bag and then slide the coffee filter inside the bag. Voila! They have started their own seeds. Then the magic begins; usually within 3 days some of the seeds are already germinating.
The seeds we start in the baggies are: tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, beans, cucumbers, and brussell sprouts. We've noticed that the larger melon seeds do not like the baggie method. They tend to mold and go mushy. We also don't start our lettuce in baggies; they much prefer small recycleable containers (cottage cheese and whip cream containers). Once they are large enough we split them up and transplant them to clear storage containers. We also start our cosmos and marigolds with the baggie method. Once the vegetable and flower seedlings have at least two leaves, we use our fingers to pluck them from the coffee filter and gently plant them into the seed pellets. Depending on the plants, we may transplant them two or more times.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2009 at 11:07AM
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elledive(Z5 IL)

Here are some photo's showing how easy and FUN it is:

    Bookmark   March 9, 2009 at 11:50AM
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elledive(Z5 IL)

If you haven't figured it out yet, I am new to posting and trying to figure out the coding. I think I finally have it. Thanks for being patient.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2009 at 11:58AM
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Those are great pics Elledive.

Thanks all for your comments - Actually I am trying the baggie method for the first time. I am trying with Okra seeds which did nothing for me last year when I sowed them in potting mix. So I soaked some for 24 hrs in lukewarm water and now have put the ziploc bag next to a heating vent. I am surprised how fast so many of them have sprouted.

I have one more question though - for the bigger seeds - should I be rinsing them after a couple of days because I get some weird smell from the bag. I dont know if it is mould and if it is ok to wash them with water and put them back in the bag?

Also what is the best time to plant them in potting soil - when they have a couple of leaves coming out?

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 1:59PM
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nckvilledudes(7a NC)

I don't typically get any smell although the ones I put in baggies go into moist vermiculite. Just realize that some seeds will put out a root and the cotyledon leaves very close to the same time and others may have the root develop and then some time may pass before the cotyledon leaves emerge. For those that I have sprouted in baggies with vermiculite, I find that waiting until the cotyledon leaves have developed make for more effective transplanting.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 2:28PM
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Hello all. I'm trying the "paper towel/coffee filter" method of stratification for the first time. I used to simply plant seeds outdoors and let them stratify naturally but I had such low germination rates that I decided to try this method.

At the moment I'm using 4 groups of Eastern red cedar (juniperus virginiana) tree seeds as a test of this method. I soaked them for 72 hours in a weak solution of water and hydrogen peroxide to help kill bacteria on the seeds and soften the tough seed coat.

I have one batch of seeds in a mix of sand and peat in a plastic bag, one batch in a damp paper towel inside a plastic bag, and the other two batches of seed in damp coffee filters in plastic bags. I've sealed the bags except for a small opening and inserted a plastic straw to allow air to enter the bag.

After three weeks I noticed the paper towel (Scott brand, plain generic towel with no print or special dyes) as started to discolor in a few areas, possibly mold. The seeds have no mold on them however. So I replaced the paper towel with a new one. The coffee filters do not show any signs of mold at this time.

Has anyone else had problems with mold using the paper towel/coffe filter method? Are the towels too wet? If you squeeze the towel no water drips out of them so to me this is "damp, but not wet".

These test seeds will be in warm stratification for another three weeks, then go into cold stratification (40F)for about 8 weeks.



    Bookmark   August 2, 2010 at 8:09AM
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When do you transplant from baggie to actual pot? when is the optimal time to do so with increased success rates?

how do you transplant them?

tried twice on my lavenders and they kinda shriveled and died

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 7:31AM
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albert_135(Sunset 2 or 3)

Couple of random comments.

There is a government site out there somewhere that says to use the brown paper towels.

Except for germination experiments I've never found any use for plastic bags and paper towels.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 1:51PM
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I have this year returned to gardening after many years away from it. I absolutely love it. I'm not a professional gardener but here's my take on this topic. Every time you handle roots or transplant you run the risk of damaging a plant and you force the plant to go into recovery mode. If you are growing edibles as I do then it really makes a noticable impact on yields and yield times. The baggie and paper towel method is fine for checking germination rates but otherwise I would not do it. Just plant seed as close as possible to where it will live. If you are getting a jump start on Spring then plant into ample sized containers and give them plenty of light so they don't get tall and lanky and weak.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 11:41PM
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I love this the paper towel or "baggie" method that I learned from GardenWeb about two years ago. I like the security of it; It's satisfying to see the shoots coming out of the seeds so fast.
I use the baggie method for many types of seeds because I have success with it. Sometimes when I seed directly into pots or the ground, I get so preoccupied with keeping the soil moist while waiting for the seed to germinate that I actually rot the seed! I know I know... I use it for Datura seeds and other seeds that are supposedly "difficult" to start. Of course I won't use the "baggie" for poppies or oregano, but both of those germinate readily in soil (It's getting the oregano to grow more true leaves that is hard for me)!

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 7:29AM
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This year I placed over 100 sugar pea seeds on soft paper towels, placed about 20 on each lair and overlapped it, then the same on the next lair.
Had about 5 levels of seed,separated by paper towels.
All were placed on a paper plate for sturdiness.
Watered lightly till all levels were moist, inserted plate into 12 inch clear plastic bag, leaving one side propped open.
in 5-6 days I had every seed sprouting, long white tentacles.
Planted seed and had the most delicious crop of sugar peas yet...I'll forever start them this way.
Reason I did this ?..I read these seeds needed to be started in a clean environment.
I think I'll try more like this
By the way after initial watering, I never had to moisten them.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 8:21PM
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If a seed is special, it is worth the extra trouble. I have sprouted daylilies and roses as well as a a strange tree over this summer using this method.

You got to check them. If they look moldy, rise them off with peroxide and put them back in with a new moist coffee filter.

One thing I do initially and if they develop mold in the process is put them in a hand held strainer, soak them with soap and rinse them off in the sink over and over.

I got a lot of good pants that I expect to bloom next year.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 9:10PM
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Would a 'sandwich and salad' sprouter work ? That jar with the lid with the holes in it ?

    Bookmark   March 30, 2013 at 8:22AM
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alameda/zone 8

While sprouting daylily seeds recently, I came upon a method that works really well. I mix my hydrogen peroxide/distilled water in a container, then after the seeds have germinated, I soak a round cotton pad [not the balls, the flat cotton pads] in the solution, squeeze most of the water out, then put the seeds in half of it, fold the other half over and put back in the plastic baggie. This works just great!

Also, for storing seeds in the fridge, a friend told me about this idea. Cut the bottom out of a cereal box, about 3-4" high, and you have a nice storage container to line the seed baggies up instead of jumbling them up in a bigger plastic bag. They take up hardly any space in the fridge.

Got lots of these seedlings to plant this afternoon!

    Bookmark   October 12, 2014 at 6:28PM
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"Has anyone else had problems with mold using the paper towel/coffee filter method?"

If you nuke and cool the final package before adding seeds rinsed with something like hydrogen peroxide (and your fingers too?), that might help keep mold down.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2014 at 1:10AM
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I use the paper towel/plastic bag all the time,I leave the end of the bag open and never have problems.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2014 at 8:00AM
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