How to Check for Seed Viability (Video)

Use our seed viability test to make sure you get the most from your saved seeds every year.

By Kale Roberts

Are My Garden Vegetable Seeds Still Good?

You are a little too good at saving seeds at the end of the garden season; now you have drawers full of past years’ seeds. But are your old seeds still good for planting this year? Take a look at the expiration date first. According to Iowa State University, the life expectancy of vegetable seeds is as follows:

1 Year — Onion, parsley, parsnip, salsify
2 Years — Sweet corn, leeks, okra, pepper
3 Years — Asparagus, beans, broccoli, carrots, celeria, celery, Chinese cabbage, Kohlabi, spinach, peas
4 Years — Beets, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Swiss chard, chicory, eggplant, fennel, kale, mustard, pumpkin, rutabaga, squash, tomato, turnip, watermelon
5 Years — Collards, cucumber, endive, muskmelon, radish
6 Years — Lettuce

Perform a Seed Viability Test

You Will Need:

  • Sealable plastic sandwich bags
  • Paper towels or coffee filters
  • Cup of water
  • Sunny window

When in doubt, test seeds out! Moisten the paper towel or coffee filter. Fold 10 seeds into the towel or filter. Seal the paper seed-filled towel in a zipper bag and then be sure to mark the bag to identify the seeds. Place the bag in a location where the temperature is around 70 degrees. (We test exactly 10 seeds because easily correlates to a percentage. If 8 seeds sprout, you will know you have about 80 percent viability for that particular plant variety.)

Wait  7-10 days. Be sure the paper towel or filter does not dry out during this time. Count the number of seeds which germinate and calculate the percentage. If less than 70 to 90 percent (less than 7 of your 10 tested seeds) have germinated, then planting with those seeds would not be worth the effort. If 70 to 90 percent have germinated, use them but sow them thickly. Performing seed viability tests makes seed saving a less risky endeavor.

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