Gazette Gardener: Easy test can determine if seeds are viable

Gazette Gardener columnist Natalie Walsh has some suggestions on how to tell whether leftover seeds

There are two questions that I am often asked this time of year as we start our gardens: “How long do seeds remain viable?” and “How can I tell if they are?”

The answer depends on the seeds and how they were stored. Seeds last the longest if kept cool and dry.

Generally speaking, seeds left out in the potting shed may not survive, while those secured in a glass jar at the back of the refrigerator stand a good chance.

The first thing to do is inspect them. If the seeds look shriveled, chances are they will not germinate.

Simple experiment

If you aren’t sure, you can conduct a simple experiment to find out.

Take a sampling of about 10 seeds and spread them along the bottom half of several layers of damp paper toweling.

Fold the toweling so the seeds don’t touch.

Place in a plastic bag and store in a warm location out of direct sunlight.

Every few days, check the seeds. You are looking to see whether a root has formed, signaling that the seed has germinated.

Once the germination process begins, give it a week for other seeds to catch up.

After a week, calculate the rate of germination by dividing the number of seeds germinated by the number tested and decide for yourself whether the seeds are worth planting out in the garden.

Don’t waste the germinated seeds.

Instead, plant them in peat pots and plan to set them out in the garden later in the season when the time is right.

If no seeds germinate, they are too old and you will need to buy fresh ones.

If you don’t want to conduct the experiment yourself, Cornell University’s Web site provides the following general guidelines on how long vegetable seeds remain viable:

One year — lettuce, onions, parsnip.

Two years — sweet corn, leeks, peppers.

Three years — asparagus, beans, broccoli, carrots, peas, spinach.

Four years — beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Swiss chard, eggplant, kale, pumpkin, radish, squash, tomato, turnip, watermelon.

Five years — endive, muskmelon.

Avocado growing

Q: My son grew an avocado pit in a jar as a school science project. The plant rooted and it has grown well.

I am wondering if it can be planted outdoors in a container for the summer and whether it will bear fruit.

A: You can plant it outdoors for the summer in early June, once the weather has reliably warmed up. You will need to bring it back indoors at the end of summer.

In our area, an avocado tree can be a lovely houseplant but it is doubtful that it will fruit.

Happy gardening.

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