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how to tell if seeds are good

How to Know If Garden Seed Is Viable

I have old packets of seeds. How can I tell if they are still viable?

Answer: Most seeds last for several years, however others have a relatively short life. How do you know if your seeds are still viable? When properly stored in a cool, dry place, seed’s shelf life can be extended. Yet, even then, there is no guarantee that they will still be productive for next season’s planting. There are two easy tests you can take to check to see if there is life left in your old seeds.

Water test: Take your seeds and put them in a container of water. Let them sit for about 15 minutes. Then if the seeds sink, they are still viable; if they float, they most likely will not sprout. This method, in my opinion, is not the best way to check your seeds. For surer results, try performing a germination test.

Germination test: Take some of your seeds, preferably 10, and place them in a row on top of a damp paper towel. Fold over the paper towel and place in a zip-up plastic bag and seal it; this helps to keep the towel moist and protected. Then put in a warm location, like a high shelf or on top of the refrigerator, and check the seeds often—around once a day—to see if they have began to germinate and/or to check the moisture of the paper towel. If it needs more water, carefully mist the towel to where it is damp, but be careful not to apply too much water. Make sure the location you have chosen is away from exposure to direct sunlight. This can overheat your seeds.

Your seeds should begin to germinate in several days up to a couple of weeks, depending on the seed-type. A good rule of thumb is to wait roughly 10 days; however, if you want to give your seeds the best chance, research the germination time of your specific seeds. Once the allotted time has passed, check to see how many have germinated. If you placed 10 seeds on the paper towel, this will be pretty easy to calculate. If less than 5 seeds sprouted, your old packet may not have much success when it comes to planting. If more then 5 sprouted, than your seeds still have a lot of vigor left in them!

Some people wait to perform this germination test around the time of planting, so that the successfully sprouted seeds can be placed directly in their garden—a good way to cut time and ensure the plants will flourish beautifully outdoors.

No matter what step you take to test the viability of your seeds, always remember that every seed is different and your results may vary. With success, you can help your little seedlings sprout into the magnificent, thriving plants they were meant to be.

Image: Jeffdelonge
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If you have an old packet of seeds, here are some ways to determine if it is worth planting.

Check If Seeds are Still Good to Plant with the Wet Paper Towel Test

When you’re planting a garden , you want to make sure you’re not wasting time, energy, and garden space with bad seeds. Before you go and buy all new seeds, however, test out what you have with a wet paper towel.

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Seeds from all plants have a germination rate that steadily decreases over time, meaning that you have certain window to plant them and get the most out of them. If you have some leftover seeds and you’re not sure if they have gone bad, Trena Heinrich at Food52 suggests the wet paper towel test:

Take a paper towel and run it under water then ring it out. Place 3 to 4 seeds in the paper towel and place in a warm spot in your house. I usually use the top of the clothes dryer because it’s used so often, but you could use a heating pad set on very low.

If you don’t see any sprouts within a couple days, they aren’t viable for planting anymore. Some seeds can be good for years, so don’t go throwing out anything until you’ve checked. Most seeds are inexpensive, but you might at leat be able to save yourself a trip to the store.

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DISCUSSION

There are several different germination tests that are used by the pros to determine the germination rate. Just using one paper towel and placing the seeds on top may be too conservative of a test. At the very least, put a second moist paper towel over top of the seeds. It’s also common practice to roll the paper towels to conduct an aptly named rolled towel test.

Another easy test would be to put 1-2 moist paper towels in a Tupperware container with the seeds on top. You can put the Tupperware lid back on and trap in some of the humidity that is generated from the paper towels.

Depending on the plant, germination may be dependent on the temperature and/or the presence or absence of light, so if you buy a new packet of seeds and cannot get them to germinate in a test like this, they may not be in the proper environment to measure germination accurately.

In any of these tests, give the seeds a week or two to germinate and you’ll know what to expect for your garden!

When you’re planting a garden, you want to make sure you’re not wasting time, energy, and garden space with bad seeds. Before you go and buy all new seeds, however, test out what you have with a wet paper towel. ]]>