I first learned how to make seed tape several years ago when I was looking for a better way to sow carrot seed. Sprinkling those seeds onto the soil evenly was practically impossible. More often than not, I would end up with dozens of seedlings coming up in one spot, followed by several inches of bare soil. And all that thinning – definitely not one of my favourite tasks!
Then I heard about seed tape – just lay it on the bed, cover it up with soil and water. No fussing with tiny seeds, no wondering if you’ve sown too many seeds or not enough, and minimal thinning.
If you have hung around a seed stand for any length of time, you have likely seen ready-to-use seed tape. Why make your own seed tape, you may ask? One word: Variety. The pre-made options are limited while DIY seed tape gives you the flexibility of growing any variety you choose (think dozens of options vs. one or two).
Let’s get started…
You will need seeds (of course!), waxed paper, toilet paper (aka TP - organic is now widely available), a ruler, a non-toxic marker, a pen and non-toxic children’s glue. If you prefer not to use glue, you can also create your own by mixing flour with a bit of water, although I have personally found this mixture a bit frustrating to use. You will also need some clothespins and some string or a laundry rack when you set up your drying spot (Step 2).
When you prepare each section of seed tape, you will have a length of TP with dots of glue topped with seeds. You can’t just leave the strips on the table to dry as the glue does go through the TP & will stick to whatever surface you are working on, so the seed tape needs to be hung up. The glue only takes a few hours to dry so anywhere that you can attach it using clothespins will work, from an indoor laundry rack to a string tied between kitchen cabinet handles. The one thing I wouldn’t recommend is hanging them outside as you don’t want critters or the wind to damage them.
Now that your supplies are gathered and a drying area is set up, you are ready to make seed tape.
Cut up a few lengths of TP to whatever length is most convenient for you. I find it easier to handle short strips of seed tape, both when making it and in the garden, rather than longer sections that can get stuck together or rip. I generally use 2-3’ lengths but you can, of course, use any length that you want, so long as it fits on your table.
Cut a piece of waxed paper that is slightly longer than your TP strips. I didn’t do this on my first attempt at making seed tape and the TP ended up sticking to the table & ripping, even though the glue was still wet. Waxed papers slick surface releases the glue-dotted TP much more easily and it also protects your work surface from marker stains, which WILL go through the TP (I learned that on my first try too – good thing they were washable markers!).
Place one length of TP on the waxed paper and mark your desired spacing with the marker. If you have fresh seed, you should be fine going right to the recommended final spacing. For example, if the packet of seed indicates that radishes should be thinned to 2” apart, mark the TP every 2”. If your seed is a little older, you may want to do half spacing and then thin once germination occurs. In the radish example, you would mark the TP every inch, then remove every other seedling once they germinate, resulting in a final spacing of 2”.
Since TP is a 4.5” wide, you can create multiple rows on each length which will then be cut into individual strips. Once you mark the 1st row, simply copy the seed spacing in the other rows. Leave enough room between rows so that the strips are wide enough to be easily handled without tearing after they are cut (4-5 rows of max).
You don’t have to worry about spacing in between the rows as that will be done in the bed itself (i.e. if you need 4” spacing between rows, you simply space the individual strips 4” apart). If you prefer to do the row spacing ahead of time as well, you can create seed mats instead of seed tape (see “Seed Mats” below).
If you are growing different varieties, figure out how many TP rows of each you want, then mark both the beginning and end of the row with the name or initials. Or don’t and be surprised by what comes up! I use a pen to note the variety as markers tend to bleed.
Starting with the top row, place just a dab of glue on each mark. Use no more than a literal “dab” of glue as this is more than sufficient for the seed to stick and you want it to dry relatively quickly. When you reach the end of the first row, go back and plop one seed onto each dab of glue. There’s no need to push the seed down; it will stick to the glue on its own.
Do one row at a time so that the glue doesn’t start to dry on you before adding the seed. Also, start with the top row and work your way down, which minimizes the chance of accidentally disturbing a row that’s already been done.
After you complete one length of TP, gently remove it from the waxed paper. Do this slowly, so as not to tear the sheet or disturb the seeds. Hang the seeded TP in the drying area, making sure that you leave a bit of space between each length so that they don’t touch.
Once the glue is completely dry – I usually wait at least 4-5 hours or even overnight just to make sure – you can fold up & store the seed tape in a zip lock bag until you are ready to use it, be that the next day or two months from now.
When you are ready to sow, simply cut the seed tape into individual strips and away you go.
You can, of course, cut the tape into strips before you store it but I find the thin strips rather fragile and easily torn, so I prefer to leave the TP lengths intact until it’s time to sow.
One alternative to seed strips is a seed mat where you not only space the seeds within each row, but you also use the correct spacing between each row. Then, instead of cutting the sheets into strips, you would use the entire mat as is.
When creating seed mats, I use paper napkins instead of toilet paper. If the napkins are the thick, multi-layered type, I separate them into individual layers. Paper napkins are also a great way to sow using the Square Foot Method as you can create a seed mat for each “square”. Technically, the square foot method sows seeds in a grid pattern, but I prefer to stagger the rows within each square, which is what I’ve done for the French Breakfast radish seed mat below.
One of the great things about making your own seed tape/mat is that most of the work is done ahead of time. In fact, I often make seed tape during the winter - it’s a bit of garden therapy when there’s a foot of snow outside. Then, once the season gets going and there are more tasks to complete than there are hours in the day, sowing is that much easier and quicker.
Related Post: Tips on How to Use Seed Tape