Using seeds from years' past

PHOTO: Seedlings

Q. I found some stored seeds from previous years. Can I use them this growing season?

A. Many gardeners save previous years’ seeds, either from store-bought packets or harvested straight from the garden. Often, the reason for germination failure is sowing dead seeds. To test the viability of larger seeds, add them to a jar filled with water. The dead seeds will float, while the viable ones will sink to the bottom. Dry the viable seeds off and sow them immediately. To test the viability of smaller seeds, place 50 – 100 seeds between two moistened paper towels. Place the paper towel in a warm location out of direct sunlight and check daily for germination. Seeds should germinate within seven to ten days. If the paper towel begins to dry out before seeds germinate, re-wet it using a spray bottle. The germination rate should be at least 60 percent for viable seeds. If the germination rate is below 60 percent, sow the seeds more thickly than you normally would to ensure that an adequate number of seeds germinate. To test the viability of seeds from bulbous plants, such as Fritillaria, cut a few seeds in half. The fertile seeds should be fleshy and pale or translucent. 

Please contact Plant Information Service at (847) 835-8362 or plantinfo@chicabotanic.org for more detailed information.