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how to tell if seeds are viable

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.

How to test seed viability

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

Sunday, 24 March, 2019 at 3:00 pm

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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

  • Seeds
  • Kitchen towel
  • Plate
  • Cling film

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.

Discover how to test whether stored seeds can still be sown, using our easy three-step project, with expert advice from BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine.