Simple Seed Viability Test

I love buying seeds.

My local nursery makes it particularly enticing by carrying row after row of the beautiful Botanical Interest brand seeds but I even love to go to Home Depot and browse their racks of Burpee and other more common brands.

Most seasons I’ll buy way more seeds than I need and often double up on varieties that I already have at home.  It is a sickness, really.

So when I went to my messy shoebox o’ seeds (I really need a better organization system) this season, I realized that some seeds had “expired” 2 years ago.  Expired!?  What does that mean?  Will these seeds grow ugly, bad-tasting plants?  No, no, of course not.  The only concern with “expired” seeds is that they may have trouble germinating and may not germinate at all.  So… that being said, in your envelope of expired seeds, you have one of two things – seeds that will or will not germinate.  The only way to figure out what kind you are holding is to test it!  Read more below to see how I did it last week.

Testing the viability of seeds is really very simple and quick.  I wish I had learned about it earlier.  It would have, potentially, saved me from throwing out a lot of seeds.

Most seeds will last 2-3 years but most brands will put an expiration date on the seeds that is one year from when they are packaged.  They probably do this to protect their brand name and make sure that their germination rates stay high.  Nothing is sadder than a seed that doesn’t sprout.

Step 1:  Collect the seeds that you want to test.

Step 2:  Using a dampened paper towel, arrange 6 seeds, with plenty of space between them, on the towel and roll it up.  (I fold my towel in half before I put the seeds on it.)

Step 3:  Place each of your paper towels in a separate Ziploc bag and label it.

Step 4:  Collect all of your bags and put them in a dark warm place.  (I keep mine in the cabinet above my fridge.)

Step 5:  Check your seeds 3 days after you put them up.  You’ll find that a lot of the seeds have sprouted.  I plant these right in the ground.  If they’re sprouted, you can count them as viable.  If any of the towels are drying, add a little more water.

Step 6: For those seeds that hadn’t sprouted on day 3, check them again on day 5 or 6.  If your seeds are viable they are probably sprouted.  If they aren’t viable, they probably haven’t sprouted.  You can give the ones that haven’t sprouted a couple more days just to be sure.  If the paper towels have started to dry out, wet them slightly again.  Throw out the seeds that don’t sprout.

This is a really simple system.  If you search the internet, you’ll find much more complicated systems.  Ones that use notebooks and charts and different methods for different types of seeds.  Personally, most of my packets of seeds cost .99-1.99.  This is about as much effort as I want to put out for that price point but you can certainly do more work if you are so inclined.  The internet is full of ideas.