Checking Seed Viability

If you have older seeds lying around, it is entirely possible that they have lost some of their viability. As seed ages, the likelihood that it will actually germinate decreases. Sometimes, this isn't such a big deal-just plant more seed than you normally would to be sure that enough germinates to suit your needs. But if you don't have many seeds left, or know for a fact that you need a fairly large amount to germinate, you will want to test your seeds to check their germination rate. There is a simple, cheap way to do this.

Testing Your Seed

To test your seed for viability, you need four simple things: paper towel or napkins, a plastic sandwich or zip-lock bag, a mister bottle, and your seeds.

  1. Tear off two sheets of paper towel and stack them, or stack one napkin on top of another.
  2. Using your mister bottle, dampen the paper towels completely. They don't need to be sopping wet, just evenly moist.
  3. Place 5 seeds on the moistened paper towel.
  4. Roll up the towels and place into a plastic baggie. Mark the date somewhere.
  5. Place the baggie in a warm place.

After a couple of days, start checking the bag daily for signs of germination. Germination times for common seed grown plants can be found below. If your seeds are taking much longer than they should, most likely they aren't viable. Give them as much time as seems reasonable, and see what you have. If two out of the five germinate, you know you will have to sow double or more of what you need to make sure that you have enough of the plants you need. If they all germinate, you're all set. Sow to your heart's content.

Another good thing about this method is that it can be used to determine germination rates for plants that you are not familiar with. You can place a few of these new, unfamiliar seeds in a baggie and do this test at any time to see how long they take to germinate, and, therefore, when in the winter or spring you should start the seeds. Something that ends up taking twelve weeks to germinate, for example, would need to be started in early winter indoors in order to be of a decent planting size by spring. Much of gardening is based on trial and error. It is the experimentation, the constant learning, that makes gardening fun and rewarding.

Germination Time for Common Seed-Grown Annuals

Common Name Germination Time
Ageratum 5 to 14 days
Alyssum 7 to 14 days
Baby Blue Eyes 7 to 14 days
Baby's Breath 10 to 15 days
Bachelor's Button 7 to 14 days
Bells of Ireland 25 to 35 days
Black Eyed Susan Vine 10 to 15 days
Calendula 7 to 14 days
Celosia 3 to 6 days
China Aster 8 to 14 days
Cleome 10 to 14 days
Coleus 10 to 15 days
Cosmos 5 to 10 days
Geranium 10 to 14 days
Globe Amaranth 10 to 21 days
Impatiens 10 days
Larkspur 15 to 20 days
Love-in-a-Mist 10 to 15 days
Love-Lies-Bleeding 10 to 15 days
Marigold 5 to 7 days
Mealy-Cup Sage 14 to 21 days
Mexican Sunflower 7 to 14 days
Morning Glory 5 to 10 days
Nasturtium 9 to 14 days
Nicotiana 14 to 21 days
Petunia 10 to 14 days
Poppy 8 to 10 days
Purple Hyacinth Bean Vine 7 to 14 days
Scarlet Runner Bean Vine 7 to 14 days
Snapdragon 7 to 14 days
Sunflower 5 to 12 days
Sweet Pea 14 to 21 days
Verbena 14 to 21 days
Viola 10 to 20 days
Zinnia 7 to 10 days

Germination Times for Common Seed-Grown Herbs and Vegetables

Crop Germination Time
Basil 7 to 10 days
Bean 7 to 14 days
Beet 10 to 14 days
Broccoli 7 to 10 days
Brussels Sprout 7 to 10 days
Cabbage 10 to 14 days
Cantaloupe 5 to 7 days
Carrot 10 to 14 days
Catnip 7 to 14 days
Cauliflower 5 to 7 days
Chervil 14 to 28 days
Corn 5 to 7 days
Cucumber 7 to 14 days
Dill 10 to 21 days
Eggplant 7 to 10 days
Fennel 10 to 21 days
German Chamomile 10 to 15 days
Lettuce 4 to 6 days
Mint 12 to 15 days
Parsley 21 to 28 days
Pea 7 to 10 days
Pepper 7 to 10 days
Pumpkin 7 to 10 days
Radish 3 to 5 days
Spinach 7 to 21 days
Squash, Winter 7 to 10 days
Tomato 7 to 14 days
Watermelon 5 to 7 days