How to Test Seeds for Germination

If you are like most gardeners, you probably have a container filled with seed packets or loose seeds leftover from more years than you’d like to admit. It is after all a sin to throw away perfectly good seeds – but keeping them too long does cause a problem. You see the longer you keep them the less likely they are to germinate.

So how do you know when your seeds have gone past the limit for planting? I’m glad you asked. It’s simple really. You test their germination rate. Now before you start worrying about an elaborate set up and calculating scientific data, hear me out.

  1. Select 10 seeds from your packet. Yes. You heard me. You only need 10.
  2. Fold a piece of paper towel in half to form a rectangle. The type doesn’t matter so go ahead and use your favorite brand.
  3. Moisten the paper towel until it is damp, but not dripping.
  4. Spread the seeds over the paper towel leaving plenty of space between seeds for sprouts to form.
  5. Fold the towel over the seeds and slip it into a food storage bag.
  6. Place the bag in a warm location. I like to put mine on top of the water heater or other appliance that provides slow heat.
  7. Check the bag for germination daily, as seeds tend to germinate quickly with bottom heat and may sprout sooner that the times indicated on the seed packet. Wait at least two to three days after the last seed germinates.
  8. Count the number of seeds that have sprouted and multiply by 10 to get the percentage of seeds that germinated. For example, if eight seeds germinated the germination rate is 80 percent.

A germination rate of less than 70 percent indicates poor germination and should not be considered reliable for planting in your garden.

Still can’t throw them away? I have a solution for that too. Remove the vegetation on slopes or along the edge of your garden and rake the area to loosen the soil to a depth of 2 to 3 inches. Mix your flower seeds together and broadcast them over the area.

Spray the area with the mist attachment on your hose and keep it moist until seedlings appear. This creates an interesting display of flowers while using up leftover seeds.


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