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My Top Tip to Improve Tomato Seed Germination

I love pottering in the greenhouse and garden and listening to classic rock with my Labradoodle, Florrie.

Home-grown tomatoes are absolutely worth it.

Home-grown tomatoes are absolutely worth it.

Everybody loves a home-grown tomato! They seem to be so much more juicy and flavoursome than those bought from a supermarket.

Shop-bought tomatoes have been grown to travel well and look good on the shelves for as long as possible. Flavour is not always of high commercial importance. However, there is nothing better than picking a cherry tomato off your own plant and popping it straight into your mouth! Yum!

Tomatoes are also the main ingredient in a variety of recipes, from soups and salads to sandwiches and sauces, so they're nice to have around.

And the key to germinating those seeds with ease? The paper towel.

Tomatoes ripening outdoors in pots

Tomatoes ripening outdoors in pots

Growing Tomato Plants Is Easy

Tomato plants are relatively easy to grow once they are established. I have had success planting them in pots, containers, grow bags and even directly in my garden border. Tomato plants grow and fruit best at a temperature of 21°C or above. So a greenhouse or a sunny spot in a south-facing garden is recommended.

Tomato Varieties

Tomato Varieties

Germinating Tomato Seeds Can Be Difficult

The difficult part of growing tomatoes is seed germination. Yes, you can buy small plug plants, but these can be quite expensive and you don’t get as much fun or the same sense of achievement as growing from seed!

There is also a larger choice of varieties from seed. Your choice includes grape, cherry, roma, plum, heirloom and beefsteak tomatoes. Their colours range from deep crimson to orange, yellow, green, purple, and even chocolate!

Tomato seeds can take up to two weeks to germinate in seed compost. Unfortunately, I have had mixed success with this method. I have often waited up to three weeks for seedlings to appear—only to be disappointed. Re-sowing the seed means that plants are late and their fruiting season is shortened.

Germinate seeds on kitchen paper

Germinate seeds on kitchen paper

A Simple Germination Method Using Kitchen Paper

One way to ensure a faster and more successful result is to germinate your tomato seeds in a paper towel or coffee filter before planting directly into compost.

To do this, cut a kitchen paper towel in half and moisten one of the halves.

Space your tomato seeds on one half of the paper and fold the other half over the seeds.

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Place the folded paper towel inside a plastic sandwich bag or nappy sack.

Place the bag somewhere that has constant warmth like an airing cupboard or on top of a fridge freezer. The bag acts like a miniature greenhouse retaining heat and moisture. This helps seeds generate in a few days.

Place the kitchen paper in a polythene bag

Place the kitchen paper in a polythene bag


I found that using this method my tomato seeds germinated in just three days! The main root sprouts first and is very delicate. So use tweezers or the end of a pencil to pick up the sprouted seed and transfer to compost and cover gently. Within a couple of days, you should see the first two green leaves appear through the compost!

Tomato seedlings

Tomato seedlings

Growing On

Tomato seedlings need lots of light and constant heat to grow well. So a sunny windowsill is ideal—as long as it is not close to a central heating radiator that is turned on and off regularly!

Keep an eye on how seedlings are developing. Their roots can quickly outgrow their pots and become constricted or ‘pot bound’. If this happens then simply pot them on into something larger until they are ready for their final growing spot.

More than any other crop, tomatoes need regular feeding and watering. Use liquid tomato feed following the manufacturers’ instructions. Never let your tomato plants dry out, otherwise your fruit may split or you may get a large black disc at the base of your tomatoes. Take care not to splash water on the fruits.

Dahlia seeds sprouting

Dahlia seeds sprouting

Try Germinating Other Seeds This Way

You can try the paper towel germination method on many other seed types, not just tomatoes. It is a good way of quickly checking whether old seed is still viable. Here are some quite-old dahlia seeds that I successfully germinated.

Please let me know whether this seed method is successful for you, and do share any seed germination tips you have!

I hope you enjoy a bumper crop of tomatoes this summer!

Florrie Labradoodle!

Florrie Labradoodle!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on April 18, 2021:

I have tried other seeds that way, but not tomato.

I look now and it's April...too late again.

I will probably be purchasing a plant in May that is at least 2 ft tall already.

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