Are My Saved Seeds Still Good?

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
The first seed catalogs of the season arrived in the mailbox this week, hopefully, the first of many. If this excites you, chances are pretty good that you may have a collection of old seed around your house. If that is the case, now is a great time to run a simple germination test to see if those old seeds are still viable, or if they need to be discarded.

This is a very simple process, requiring little in the way of supplies or a special environment. The idea is to create an environment where the seed can remain moist for several days without being so wet that it rots before it germinates.

One easy way to do this is to place a couple of damp paper towels in a glass or plastic container (saucers work well) and place a few seeds on the top. While there is nothing magical about the number of seeds or their placement, most people find it helpful if a specific number are used. Multiples of ten make it easy to gauge a quick percentage of germination.

Cover the seeds with another paper towel and then cover with a lid. The lid should not be airtight, but it is important as it helps to slow water loss out of the paper towels. The seeds don’t need light for this test, since the only goal is to test for viability, not to grow a plant.

Check each day for germination and to make sure the paper towels remain moist. Some species will germinate quickly and at approximately the same time and some will not. For those that tend to germinate one or two at a time, it can be helpful to go ahead and remove those that germinate as this can help keep fungal issues to a minimum. Just remember to count the seeds you’ve taken out as viable!

If you do have seeds that show a low germination percentage, that doesn’t mean they can’t be used, you just need to overplant to compensate.

For more information on this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at
keith.reed@okstate.edu, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

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