How to Test Seed Viability

Welcome to How to Test Seed Viability, created and photographed by Bridget Indelicato, Founder, Innisfil Seed Library (2019).


What is seed viability testing?
Seed viability testing is a simple process used to determine the rate of germination of your older seeds. The higher the rate, preferably 70% or higher, the greater chance of growing a healthy plant with vigorous seeds. The waiting period for testing is 10 days to two weeks, but it's suggested you check every few days in between. This essential process is easy, fast and inexpensive.

When is it time to test seed viability?
It's important to test your older seeds and seeds that tend to have a shorter shelf life like most peppers. By testing viability well before the growing season, you're more likely to avoid disappointment when you're waiting for your seeds to sprout in the garden or on your indoor starter trays. Checking for viability of seeds before you donate them to the Innisfil Seed Library will also ensure success for seed borrowers and ultimately sustainability of our program.

Steps for testing seed viability:

1. Get your supplies ready: 1. select 10 seeds of one variety 2. paper towels 3. bowl of water 4. plate 5. resealable baggies 6. permanent marker

seed viability 1

2. Wet paper towel in water and ring out excess.

seed viability 2

3. Place 10 seeds on one side of the moistened paper towel on a plate, allowing space between each seed.

seed viability 3

4. Fold paper towel over seeds into a little packet.

seed viability 4

5. Place packet into labeled baggie and seal. Record on the baggie or in a journal the date you started the test. Store in a warm room, lighting not important. Open and check every few days for germination, from 10 days up to two weeks.

seed viability 5

A successful germination rate should be 70% (ie. 7 out of 10 seeds sprouted) or higher. Here are some examples of successful and failed seed viability tests:

1. Butternut squash: 90% germination (PASS!)

germination 1

2. Peas: 100% germination (PASS!)

germination 2

3. Nasturtium: 60% germination (FAIL)

germination 3

4. Beets: 60% germination (FAIL)

germination 5