Paper towel vs. planting media - which do you use and why?

I’m wondering how many of you use the paper-towel-in-a-baggie method, petri dishes or direct soil planting (or other)and what you find to be the benefits of your methods and the downsides as well. I’m putting together a hybridizing presentation and I’d like some input if you could be so kind. Thanks for your help.

I use paper towels – for just about everything, not just roses. I like them because if I am feeling impatient, I can pull them out and check on their progress without hurting anything (and I can never be patient enough for the first rose sprouts of the year!) AND, you don’t have to worry with them if you don’t want to – because it is completely inclosed, no need to water or anything. That is especially nice if I decide to give some seeds another year to try and germinate. Finally, they are small, compact, and clean meaning my room mate doesn’t object to me stratifying them in the frige.


I use a mixture of sand and peat moss. I tried paper towels, but had fungal and bacterial growth on some of them, and I was afraid that it might infect the germinating seeds. I don’t have problems with fungus or bacteria on the sand/peat moss mix.

Do either of you use anti-fungals such as captan on the media?

I don’t use captan. I have tried hydrogen peroxide on paper towels, but only after they were infected. It seemed to knock down the infections for a while, but they eventually came back.

I like to use peat in zip lock baggies. I transplant when they germinate. The dark peat sets off the white radicles easily. It has been very important for me to have the peat moist enough, but not too moist for best success. I get a little bit of white fungi, but it doesn’t hurt the seeds and in fact I suspect helps them. The little bit of germination I have so far has been in pockets in the baggies with a little bit more of the fungus. Fungi in the order Glomales can produce gibberellins which can enhance germination. I should ID out the fungus. I’ve used towels in the past too and got more microbes than I like and if I’m not fast enough the root hairs get too connected to the towel and it is hard to pry them off. I think different paper that is more coarse and “institutional” may reduce the problem. In the past when I had relatively small seed numbers I would stratify in the fridge in a little bit of moist peat and then plant families in their own bedding plant pack and transplant. It gave me more of a buffer in terms of time. Since I have a lot of seeds the baggies take up little room and I check them at least once a week for germinated seedlings. I have a crate of the baggies after they come out of the fridge on the basement floor where it’s about 55-65F and germination continues for about 3 months there. It tends to peak relatively early (~2-3 weeks after coming out of the fridge) and then slows down. I should put them back in the fridge and alternate temp some for the more difficult germinators, but haven’t done much of that.

Take Care,


David, would you possibly have a picture of this method? Does the bag stand up or do you lay it down? Do you place the seeds on top of the peat or are they just mixed in?

Hi Judith,

I just take the ziplock sandwich bags (yellow and blue make green kind) and put the seeds in there and a couple heaping tablespoons of moistened peat. I massage and toss the seeds and peat together some, accumulate the seeds and peat at the bottom of the baggie, push some air out and zip. I write on the baggie with sharpie as I shell my seeds and put them in there for what cross it is and come back later with a sticky label with the designated numeric code for the cross. I usually shell all my seeds, organize alphabetically by female or numeric seedling code and then by male. I then assign the code and print out the labels and put them on the bag. As I pot I just record the code on the potting stake. I take about a dozen baggies all the same side up and all and hold them together with a clamp clothespin on each side up by the green zipper (seed and peat is at the opposite end). When I check the baggies for germination I hold the zipper end and flip through the baggies looking at the other end with peat and seeds. If there’s germination in a bag I undo the clothespins and get them out and transplant them where they will go under lights. The baggies are pinned and grouped according to types of crosses or whatever. If I have a couple hundred seeds in a baggie I would add a little more peat or make a couple of baggies for the one cross. If there’s too much peat it’s hard to catch some germinating seedlings since the radicle would have to go so far to get to the edge to see it. This method works well for me because of space constraints. I have all my baggies of seeds in one of those 30 gallon square storage bins, carefully out of reach of the dog who likes to chew things and likes to nibble on the clothes pins.

As I transplant I often pour out the contents of the baggie onto a lid (ice cream pail lid) where I can get to the seedling nicely. Since the lid is flexible I then just fold it and tap the peat and seeds back into the baggie and seal it up.

Take Care,


Thanks David, that’s a clear explanation! Sounds like a good method. I’ll have to try it!

Judith, I’ve used both baggie/paper towel and other methods. I find the baggie/paper towel to be the most convenient to use as stated in some of the previous messages. I noticed no difference in germination rate with either method. So, I believe it’s a matter of preference, the time you have, the space you have available, and how adventurous you are. I use Captan to soak my seeds first before I put them in the moistened paper towels.

Hybridizers experiment a lot, so you may determine on a variation of the methods discribed. I hope this information helps.

Hi Judith:

I use the paper towel method in baggies. First the baggies are used to collect the hips. I use a permanent marker to write the crosses on the baggies. Then at a later date, the seeds are shelled and returned to the same baggies. Then, when I have time, I fill out plastic markers that are used at planting time and put them in the baggies. Up 'til this year, I have always used a Captan soak to dampen the paper towels. This year I will only use plain water. I will let you know how this approach turns out. (I will still use a Subdue drenching of the seedling beds after all of the seeds are planted.)

Jim Sproul

Hi Judith,

I use unbleached coffee filters/baggies with the filters dampened with 10% hydrogen peroxide to pure water and wrung out. The germination rate is higher than the peat moss in baggies for modern roses even though the fugus and probably the bacteria growth develops on the seeds between the filter folds. My best defense against too much fungus is to clean off as much of the seed shell with an exacto knife as I can. However, the more difficult to germinate seeds from older roses root in the peat moss when they won’t in coffee filters. Root hairs don’t grow into the filters as easily as paper towels. The light sandwich bags lose moisture in the refrig so I use the heavier sandwich size freezer bags which don’t. I also have very good success with putting seeds into lightly moistened 10% hydrogen peroxide to pure water peat mosst rounds placed on a tray and secured in a plastic bag and put in a lightless room between 50 - 55 degrees. After germination , I move them to a clear covered tray with heat underneath. All of this is labor consuming except the last method so other ways mentioned already are probably better for volume seed germination.

I use the paper towel/sandwich bag for any seeds requiring stratification. I have no experience with germinating rose seeds as yet. If the seedling root punctures the paper towel and I can’t easily extract it, I carefully tear the paper towel away containing the root. Then, I’ll plant seedling and paper towel remnant in a 3" peat pot w/ seed starting mix.

Thanks everyone, this is a big help. I’m giving a little talk on hybridizing and it’s good to be able to present the pluses and minuses of the different methods.

Has anyone tried alternatives such as Safer’s Fungicide or Neem Oil on the seeds rather than Captan?