Old Garden Seed Quality Check

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
The first seed catalogs of the season arrived in the mailbox this week. This serves as a good reminder to do a germination test on any old garden seeds you may have on hand.

This is a very simple process, requiring little in the way of supplies or a special environment. The idea is simply 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 in the container, most people find it helpful if a specific number of seeds are used. Multiples of ten placed in a grid pattern make it easy to gauge a quick percentage of germination. Note: if you look at a few seed packets, you’ll notice that virtually no seed offers 100% germination.

Cover the seeds with another paper towel and then cover with a loose-fitting lid. The lid helps to slow water loss out of the paper towels. If the paper towels dry out, the test will be compromised. The seeds don’t need light for this test since the only goal is to test for germination viability.

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 cannot be used, you just need to overplant to compensate for those seeds that are no longer viable.

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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