Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

How to Test Seeds for Germination Before Planting

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Seedling growing in garden

Before you head out to plant your garden this year, it’s a good idea to test your seeds for viability, especially if you’re using seeds you collected or leftover seeds from last year.

If your seeds aren’t viable, you can save yourself a lot of work by finding out before you plant them! Or, if they’re only 50% viable, you may want to plant twice as many, to make sure you have enough plants.

Seed Germination Test

Here’s an easy DIY technique for testing seed germination that can be done using ordinary household materials.

Step 1: Gather Materials

Seeds, marker, baggie, and paper towel
To test seed germination, you’ll need:

  • 10 seeds of each type you’re testing
  • One or more zip-seal plastic baggies
  • Paper towel (one for each type of seed you’re testing)
  • Permanent marker for labeling seeds
  • Labels cut from a plastic shopping bag (if conducting multiple tests).

Step 2: Wet Paper Towel

Wetting paper towel under sink faucet
Dampen the paper towel, and spread it out on the counter. A regular size paper towel folded in half will easily fit inside a quart bag.

Step 3: Deposit Seeds on Paper Towel

Placing seeds on wet paper towel
Space out the 10 seeds on the paper towel. Don’t mix the seed types – put your zinnias in one paper towel, and your tomatoes in another.

Step 4: Seal Seeds in Plastic Bag

Rolling seeds up inside wet paper towel
Roll the seeds up inside the paper towel, pressing lightly to make sure the seeds are in contact with the damp paper. Put the paper towel with seeds inside a plastic baggie and seal it up. If you’re testing more than one type of seed per baggie, write the seed type on a plastic label using a permanent marker, and roll the label up with the paper towel. If you’re testing more than one type of seed in different baggies, write the type of seed on the outside of the baggie.

Step 5: Wait for Seeds to Germinate

Seeds wrapped in wet paper towel and sealed in plastic bag
Place the sealed bag of seed packets in a warm spot in your house, and wait to see if they sprout.

Step 6: Check Seeds for Germination

Germinated seeds in paper towel
Check seeds every few days for germination by gently unrolling the damp paper towel. If they haven’t sprouted, roll the seeds back up and return to the bag.

Determining Results of Seed Germination Test

Once the seeds have germinated, count how many have sprouted, then multiply that number by 10 to get your germination percentage. For example, if 7 out of 10 seeds sprout, you have a 70% viability rate.

If less than 5 seeds sprout (under 50% germination rate), you may want to discard the seeds, or plant more than you think you’ll need. If it’s planting time when you conduct the test, you can plant the seeds that sprouted in potting soil, or discard them and plant fresh seeds from the batch.

Further Information



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