Do you have some old vegetable or flower seeds laying around in a drawer or on a shelf? Do you wonder if they are still any good? There is an easy test for seeds to see if they will still germinate before it is planting time. First, check the packet to see if there is a date anywhere. Color packets usually have the date near the top on the back. If seeds are not more than a year or two old, most will still germinate well. I have found decent germination on seeds 5 years old

Count 10 seeds and place them in a row on the edge of a wet paper towel. Even a half a towel may be enough. Roll up the towel with the seeds inside and place it in a shallow pan. I have found that a 9 by 13 inch pan works well for up to a dozen rolled up paper towels. I place a strip of masking tape along the edge of the pan to mark the kinds of seeds. Add a little water to the pan to wet the towels every few days. If the left over packet contains only a few seeds, you can use fewer than 10 seeds. If the seeds are expensive or valuable, you may even want to plant them in a pot after sprouting.

Some seeds will sprout within a week, but some may take 3 weeks or longer. Usually, all the viable seeds of one kind will sprout within a few days of each other. If you use 10 seeds, it is easy to calculate the germination percentage by multiplying by 10. For most seeds, 70 or 80% is normal germination. If a packet only has 30 to 50%, you can still plant extra thick to get a normal stand. Mark the percentage and date on the packet so you will know how heavy to plant.


Allen Wilson

Allen has been writing about gardening for over 30 years. He is a retired professor of Horticulture.

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