How many times have you sowed a handful of teeny tiny seeds—onions, carrots, and basil for instance, or even worse, those little specks of lettuce— and wished you had a magnifying glass? Or sowed a row of teeny tiny seeds, only to end up thinning out over half the seedlings?
But it’s not just a matter of going cross-eyed when seed-starting time comes around. Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate, and the wind decides to pick up as you flick down a fingerful of seeds.
Sometimes all you want are a couple of seeds as you gently shake out the packet, and a whole year’s worth pours out. (Kinda like getting that last sip of iced tea in your glass, and you end up with a face full of ice.) More often than not, a few get stuck to your fingers or even under your fingernails.
I’ve been there. But now I have seed tape!
Seed tape—basically a strip of paper with seeds embedded in it for precision planting—is sold at many nurseries and garden centers, but you likely aren’t going to find seed tape in the variety you want.
It’s also expensive for what it is, especially since I’m all about affordable DIY. In fact, you can make your own seed tape at home with nothing more than toilet paper and school glue.
So how is this different from simply going outside and dropping a seed in the ground? Why take the extra step of making seed tape?
The advantage is that you don’t have to deal with the elements, especially if you want to conserve your seeds. You save time and can space your seeds more accurately without worrying about under-seeding or over-seeding.
If you need more seeds, you can buy them now before you run out (and not be in for a surprise later when that variety might be sold out). And since tiny seeds barely need to be covered, the paper makes it easy to see how much soil you’re adding on top.
Each seed strip only takes minutes to make, so you can knock out a few in an afternoon and store several varieties of seed tape to sow throughout the year. It’s also a good rainy day project to do on your own or with kids when you can’t work outside in the garden.
As soon as the sun comes out, you’ll be ready to sow!
DIY seed tape
- One-ply toilet paper
- Washable non-toxic glue (like Elmer’s)
- Paper seed envelopes or plastic zip-top bags
- Tweezers (optional)
Step 1: Find a cheap roll of one-ply toilet paper.
Roll out a length to fit your garden bed. (You can also use two-ply toilet paper and just split the paper apart.) I usually don’t work with anything longer than 4 feet, just because it’s easier to manage several shorter lengths of seed tape than one extra long tape.
Step 2: Dab on some glue.
Place small dots of glue on the toilet paper according to how far apart you want your seeds spaced. For most plantings, 1 to 3 inches is a good start as some seeds may not germinate.
I like to stagger my plantings, so I place glue in a zig-zag pattern down the length of toilet paper.
Step 3: Add seeds.
Using your fingers or tweezers, place a seed onto each drop of glue.
If you’re gluing in a single straight row, you can glue your seeds to the bottom half of the paper, and fold the top half over to secure them while the glue dries. This keeps things neater and your seeds will still be able to sprout through the paper.
Step 4: Wait for your seed tape to dry.
Once you’ve glued on all your seeds, allow ample time for the glue to dry and make sure the seed tape is not sticking to your surface.
Step 5: Store your seed tape.
When those little glue dots have hardened, roll up your seed tape and stash it in an envelope or zip-top bag until you’re ready to use them. Be sure to label your seed tape!
How to use seed tape
At planting time, simply water your soil and smooth the surface. Unroll your seed tape, set it on top of the soil, and lightly cover with more soil.
It’s okay if the toilet paper shows through a bit. It’ll quickly disintegrate and decompose in the ground.
As with all teeny tiny seeds sown by seed tape or even the traditional way, gently mist the soil until the seeds have sprouted and established firm roots; you don’t want a strong blast of water to displace your meticulous work.
Within a week you should see perfectly spaced rows of little seedlings coming up!
Read next: This Is What Happens When a Seed Germinates
This post updated from an article that originally appeared on March 22, 2012.