The Simple Paper Towel Trick That Makes Testing Seeds For Viability A Breeze

Eureka! You have discovered one of the best surprises: seeds you forgot you stashed away. But, how do you know if they're still good? fseStore-bought seeds should have the year they were packaged for listed somewhere on the label. For example, if the seeds were saved in 2022, the label will say something like "packaged for 2023." Knowing how old your seeds are can help determine if they are still useable or not, but there are many factors that determine if a seed will germinate. Before you plant a whole bed with questionable seeds, you can do a viability test using a damp paper towel. 

While most seeds will have high germination rates for three years or longer, how they are stored is vital. Humid conditions, spaces that are too hot or too cold, and storage in direct sunlight can all shorten the lifespan of seeds. Any time you are not sure whether your seeds are still good, try this little paper towel trick to make sure they will germinate and grow.

Germinating seeds in a paper towel

For this project, you just need a few supplies, including a plastic sandwich bag, a damp paper towel, and your seeds. Essentially, you are creating a mini-greenhouse to encourage those seeds to sprout. Since wet conditions can lead to rot, you will need to soak your paper towel in tap water and wring it out so it is only slightly damp. If there is water pooling in your plastic bag, the paper towel is too wet. Fold your damp paper towel in half, and line it with 10 seeds. Fold the paper towel again, covering the seeds. Put your germination kit in the sandwich bag and close it. Place your mini-greenhouse in a warm spot, but not one that is in direct sunlight. After three days, start checking for changes every day or so. If the paper towel starts to dry out, mist it with water. 

How long it will take them to germinate varies depending on the type of seed. Most should sprout within around 10 days, but it may take up to two weeks. At this point, you should have the results you need. If fewer than five of the 10 seeds have sprouted, your germination rate is 50% or less and it's probably best to buy fresh seeds. Conversely, if most of your seeds sprouted, you're in luck! You have viable seeds to plant.