Seed Viability Tests — 4 Clever Ways Experts Use to See if Garden Seeds are Still Good to Plant

Did you know that seeds have a shelf life? We asked experts how to use seed viability tests to see if they're still good to plant, to avoid disappointment come spring time

young seeds sprouting on a potting table
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While seeds don't have expiration dates as such, they do have a shelf-life after which you might find that they're no longer viable to produce new plants for your garden. But how do you know if those seeds you've found at the back of your shed are still going to sprout come springtime?

To take the guesswork out of the equation, you can do a few, simple viability tests to figure out if they're worth sowing at all — and how much from the packet you can sow.

Take a look at these 4 effective and foolproof ways to check if your seeds are any good, ensuring you have a lush, healthy modern garden in a few months' time.

1. Paper Towel Test

seeds germinating on paper towel

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Wondering how to save seeds for next year's garden and reuse them to improve your vegetable crops? The intention is right. The only little thing you will have to check is the seed viability. Otherwise, all your hard work could go down the drain.

'Moisten a paper towel, place a few seeds on it, and fold the towel over,' says Reese L Robins, a gardening expert at Just Pure Gardening. 'Keep it in a warm place for a few days. If the seeds sprout, they are viable. This method allows you to assess germination rates before committing the seeds to the soil.'

2. Water test

To develop an easy-to-maintain, healthy modern garden, it's important to check the quality of the seeds you purchase. It's a good idea to buy from a well-known retailer. .

Once you have all the products you need, put the seeds through a water test to check if they're worth planting. 'The fastest way to test seed viability is to place them in a glass of water, wait 15 minutes, and see which ones sink or float,' says Kat Aul Cervoni, landscape designer and founder of Staghorn NYC and The Cultivation by Kat. 'Those that sink are viable, and any that float likely aren’t.'

3. Seed Coat Inspection

seed packets with seeds spilling out

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Another tip on how to plant a modern garden is to do a thorough seed inspection.

'Carefully examine the outer seed coat for visual clues on viability,' says Reese. 'Healthy seeds usually have a smooth and intact outer layer. If the seed coat appears wrinkled, cracked, or damaged, it may indicate poor viability. A thorough inspection of the seed's physical condition can help you make informed decisions about which seeds are most likely to thrive in your garden.'

4. Wind Test

'To separate empty seeds, perform the wind test by pouring your seeds into a bowl and lightly blowing over them,' says Reese. 'The lighter, empty seeds are more likely to be carried away by the gentle breeze. This method helps you identify and discard seeds that lack the necessary internal structures for germination. While this test specifically targets empty seeds, it's a quick and practical way to ensure that the seeds you plant are more likely to yield a successful harvest for a healthy lawn or flower bed.'

3 viable seed packets to buy

Design Editor

Aditi Sharma Maheshwari is the Design Editor at Livingetc. She is an architecture and design journalist with over 10 years of experience. She's worked at some of the leading media houses in India such as Elle Decor, Houzz and Architectural Digest (Condé Nast). Till recently, she was a freelance writer for publications such as Architectural Digest US, House Beautiful, Stir World, Beautiful Homes India among others. In her spare time, she volunteers at animal shelters and other rescue organizations.