The Lifespan and Viability of Seeds

Kris Wetherbee shares information about the lifespan and viability of seeds, including the life expectancy of seeds, germination standards and tests, seed storage and the real age of packaged seeds.

| October/November 2000

Learn about the lifespan and viability of seeds.

Good beginnings can equal a great garden.

I'll never forget the year I ordered seeds for a new variety of yellow tomato. Having never tasted a tomato that wasn't red, I looked forward with mouth-watering anticipation to plucking the first ripe fruit from the vine. That summer brought the perfect sun for growing tomatoes just bursting with flavor. Sure enough, by early August my plants were covered with green fruit, all beginning to turn a vibrant shade of . . . red!

Sound familiar? Unfortunately, the viability of seeds don't always produce what their packets promise. And while the discrepancy may be less blatant than alternately colored produce, the results may be no less disap pointing: plants that quit before they get started; entire packets of seed that refuse to germinate; a vegetable touted as disease-resistant that nevertheless succumbs to a devastating blight; a tried-and-true varietal that fails to perform as it had in years past.

Though it's tempting in the face of such flops to hang up your garden gloves, take heart: It may not be your fault. That seed likely passed through many hands before it reached yours, with any number of factors affecting its viability and vitality along the way.

Before we take you on a journey into the life of a seed, take this quick quiz to see how seed-savvy you already are. You'll find the answers throughout the article. so when you finish here, read on.

1/22/2011 9:56:34 AM

Thank you for a well researched and well written article. I am a new small scale seed seller and your article has helped to define what should be a standard practice in the industry. Fortunately I live in a dry environment and have access to a huge basement. I also have my own germination testing station and test the germination of the seeds I sell regularly. Thanks again for a really good article, I learned a lot, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

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