Seed Viability Test – Are My Seeds Still Good

Seed Viability Test – Are My Seeds Still Good


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By: Tonya Barnett, (Author of FRESHCUTKY)

For many gardeners, establishing a large collection of seed packets over time is inevitable. With the allure of new introductions each season, it is only natural that overzealous growers may find themselves short on space. Though some may have the room to plant the entire packs of seed, others often find themselves saving partially used varieties of their favorite garden vegetables for subsequent growing seasons. Keeping an inventory of unused seeds is an excellent way to save money, as well as expand the garden. In saving seeds for future use, many growers are left to question, are my seeds still good?

Are My Seeds Viable?

Seed viability will vary from one type of plant to another. While the seeds of some plants will readily germinate for five or more years, others have a shorter life span. Fortunately, seed viability testing is an easy way to determine whether or not saved seeds are worth planting when the growing season arrives in spring.

To begin the seed viability experiment, gardeners will first need to gather the required materials. This includes a small sample of seeds, paper towels, and resealable plastic bags. Mist the paper towel with water until it is consistently moist. Then, spread the seeds across the paper towel and fold. Place the folded paper towel into the sealed bag. Label the bag with the seed type and the day that it was started then move the bag to a warm location.

Those checking for seed viability should ensure that the paper towel is not allowed to dry during the process. After about five days, growers can begin to open the paper towel to check to see how many seeds have germinated. After two weeks have passed, gardeners will have a general idea of the current germination rates in regard to the saved seeds.

While this seed viability experiment is easy to conduct, it will be important to remember that some types of seeds may not yield reliable results. Many perennials have special germination requirements, like cold stratification, and may not give an accurate picture of seed viability using this method.

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Most vegetable seeds remain good for about two to three years, but some, such as onions, deteriorate within a year and others such as lettuce, can successfully sprout after five years. The table below lists average years of viability for well-stored vegetable seeds, compiled from regional sources. There will be some variability because of the variety of seed and whether the seed was fully ripe and kept dry in storage.

Vegetable Storage Years Vegetable Storage Years
Arugula 4 Leek 2
Bean 3 Lettuce 5
Beet 4 Muskmelon 5
Broccoli 3 Mustard 4
Brussels Sprouts 4 Okra 2
Cabbage 4 Onion 1
Carrot 3 Parsley 1
Cauliflower 4 Parsnip 1
Celeriac 3 Pea 3
Celery 3 Pepper 2
Chard, Swiss 4 Pumpkin 4
Chicory 4 Radish 4
Chinese Cabbage 3 Rutabaga 4
Collards 5 Salsify 1
Corn Salad 5 Scorzonera 1
Corn, Sweet 2 Sorrel 4
Cucumber 5 Spinach 2
Eggplant 4 Squash 4
Endive 5 Tomato 4
Fennel 4 Turnip 4
Kale 4 Water Cress 5
Kohlrabi 3 Watermelon 4

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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St George News

FEATURE — The beginning of a new year finds many gardeners preparing for the growing season ahead. Clearing space to start seeds indoors, inventorying seeds and supplies, and ordering seeds, plants, and more are usually part of the process.

While organizing, you may uncover seeds from past seasons. Do not discard these just yet. When seeds are stored properly, many can last from one to five years or more.

Seeds stored in a cool location like the refrigerator in an airtight container maintain their viability best. But even those stored in less-than-ideal conditions may surprise you. Older seeds may still sprout once they pass their average life expectancy, but you are likely to see a reduction in the success rate.

The type of seed also influences how long seeds can be stored and remain viable. Start by checking the expiration date on the seed packet. Onions, parsley, and parsnip seeds usually last one year. Corn, okra, and peppers two years beans and peas for three years tomatoes, turnips, beets, chard, and watermelon four years and Brussels sprouts, cabbage, muskmelons, radishes, and spinach last for five years.

The same principles apply to saved flower seeds. Marigold and zinnia seeds can maintain good viability for two to five years ageratum, nasturtium, sunflowers, and yarrow for three to five years monarda four years, and calendula for four to six years.

Stock Image | Photo by Unsplash, St. George News

But the longer you grow plants, the more likely you are to push the limits. This often results in unexpected success or valuable insight for future gardening endeavors.

When in doubt use this quick-and-easy test to see if your seeds will sprout. Place ten seeds on a damp paper towel. Roll up the towel with seeds inside, place in a plastic bag and store in a warm location.

After a week or so, unwrap the paper towel and check the seeds for sprouting. If nothing has happened, rewrap the seeds and wait a few more days.

If all the seeds have sprouted, you have 100% germination and can plant the seeds as recommended on the package. If only half the seeds sprout, for example, you will need to plant the seeds twice as close together to compensate for the lower germination rate.

The sprouted seeds can be planted indoors or out depending on the time of year, available space, and your climate.

If none of the seeds sprout, consider breaking out the glue and getting the family involved in turning these leftover seeds into works of art. Select a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors to create your masterpiece on wood or heavyweight card stock. Large seeds like beans, peas and corn are easy for crafters of all ages to handle. Use tweezers for finer seeds that add detail and texture to your creation.

Testing seeds now can help you save money when placing your seed order. You can focus your planting budget on new seeds and supplement with your existing inventory.


How to test seed viability

Like food, seeds have a shelf life. Find out how to test whether yours are 'viable' in our guide.

Published: Sunday, 24 March, 2019 at 3:00 pm

Sowing seed that is old is a bit of a gamble. It might germinate well, but it might not. Over time, seed viability decreases, and different seeds have different storage times.

To take the guesswork out of sowing old seed, do a simple viability test. It will tell you if the seed is worth sowing at all, and how much to sow. If only a small percentage of seeds germinate, you’ll need to sow a greater number to ensure a decent crop.

Follow our 14-day test to check whether your old seed is worth sowing, below.

You Will Need

Step 1

Lay a piece of damp kitchen towel on a plate, then sprinkle a sample of your old seed in individual rows to aid identification.

Step 2

Cover the plate with clingfilm and keep it in a warm place indoors. Make sure the towel stays moist and check regularly for signs of germination, noting the date when shoots appear.

Step 3

Germination times vary between veg, but after two weeks most viable seed should have sprouted. Count how many have germinated – if it’s about half, then you’ve got 50 per cent viability. The lower the percentage, the more seed you’ll need to sow to get a decent crop.


Watch the video: Seed Viability