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seed germination

People spend a lot of time and money in their vegetable gardens. This makes it all the more disappointing when a garden has rows where seeds were planted but for some reason did not grow.

There are several possible reasons why seeds do not grow. These include planting too early and having cold injury, birds or other animals stealing the seed, and planting the seeds at the wrong depth.

While some of these factors cannot always be prevented, knowing the germination percentage of the seeds planted can give growers a better idea of what their garden will grow. Knowing the germination percentage before planting is extremely important.

What is a Germination Percentage?

The germination percentage is an estimation of the viability of seeds within a population. These seeds have been tested by the seed company, and the percentage is guaranteed to germinate under the right conditions. Keep in mind that the external factors, such as planting too early or too deep, is not considered the right conditions.

The germination percentage is often printed on the packet or on a tag attached to the bag. If a grower has seeds purchased from a previous year or have harvested open-pollinated seeds, the germination percentage goes down the longer the seeds are stored.

Seed Germination Test

seed germination

A seed germination test.

A seed germination test can be a simple test that growers can do at home. To perform a germination test

  • place seeds in a damp paper towel about an inch or so from the bottom
  • roll the towel up and place in a jar with a little water in the bottom (the towel will absorb the water and keep the seeds moist)
  • check the seeds every couple of days to make sure the seeds are moist and there is a little water is in the bottom of the jar (if doing this in January, the seeds need to be kept in a warm location)
  • between seven and 10 days later, unroll the paper towel and see what germinated

It is important to do the germination test well in advance of the planting season. If a grower has already planted and is not happy with the stand, a germination test on some of the left over seeds may help to determine the problem.

A seed germination test will give growers a good idea of what will germinate in the field. If the test determines that is a low germination percentage, throw the seeds away and purchase more. Doing the germination test early in the year will give more time to purchase seeds.


If a gardener is worried about planting seeds directly in their garden, an alternative is to plant seeds in containers. Once the plants grow to the appropriate size, growers can transfer them to their garden. This takes time, but will evenly spaced plants throughout the garden.

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