The Q&A Archives: Success with Old Seeds?

Question: I am a novice gardener. A neighbor gave me a large box of assorted seeds (geranium, zinnia, impatiens, marigold, coleus). They are dated "packed for 1996 ". Will they germinate?

Answer: Many seeds remain viable for a number of years, although the percentage that germinate decreases over time. Viability over time also depends to some extent on storage conditions. You could check the viability by planting them and seeing what happens. Or, you could pregerminate some on a damp paper towel wrapped in plastic wrap and set in a warm location out of direct sun. Check them often and use the results as a measure of the approximate percentage that will germinate when planted, then plant accordingly. The results will probably vary from plant to plant.

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