Dorothy Collins column: It's important to test germination on your old seeds

Several gardeners mentioned to me recently that they had some flower and vegetable seed which was several years old and they wondered if it was still good.

Several gardeners mentioned to me recently that they had some flower and vegetable seed which was several years old and they wondered if it was still good.

One person said that in a column a year or so ago, I described a way to test seed for germination and they wondered if I would repeat it. Here it is:

There actually are two similar ways to do this. In one, you can determine the exact rate of germination by counting out so many seeds and then seeing how many germinate.

I do it the easy way, which is: first, dampen paper towels with warm water until they are moist but not wet. Place your seed in one layer on it (one variety on each towel and be sure to mark the varieties). Roll up the towels and slide them into a clear plastic bag. Put them in a warm place (75 to 80 degrees) such as atop a radiator, a warm shelf or on top of the refrigerator.

Check these out every couple of days. Some, such as zinnias and marigolds, will germinate in a week; others will take longer. Some won't germinate at all and, of course, these are ready for the trash can.


Others germinate very well, and with some, it will be quite spotty. You will need to decide whether those of scant germination are worth the trouble.

If you do plant them, do so thickly to compensate. Testing is worth it; if the seed is worthless, you won't need to go to all that work for nothing.

New lawn soil

The Scotts Co., known for products for lawns, has now come out with Scotts Enriched Lawn Soil, which is to be used before seeding, and can be used either for new lawns or repairing bare spots.

The company says it contains a high level of organic content, sphagnum peat moss, wetting agent, and fertilizer -- all which improve germination and root development.

Tough trees

If you've had difficulty getting trees and shrubs to grow well, the problem could be soils subject to poor drainage, drought, compaction or alkalinity.

Now you can pick trees or shrubs which are more tolerant of such conditions through checking a publication from the University of Minnesota Extension Service called "Tough Trees and Shrubs for Tough Sites."


One test you can make to see whether your soil is compacted: Drive a spade down about 18 inches. If you can do this easily, it is not compacted; if you need to use a pickaxe, it is.

You can get a copy of this bulletin from your Minnesota county agent office or purchase a copy for a small charge by calling (800) 876-8636. Ask for item number 07502.

For your calendar

If you have been attending the garden tours each July sponsored by the Fargo Soroptimist Club, you will be happy to hear they are increasing the tour to two days this summer.

The tours will be July 17 on Fargo's south side, and July l8 on the north side. There will be eight gardens each day.

Perennial of year

Autumn Joy sedum has been named the 2002 Plant of the Year by the North Dakota Nursery and Greenhouse Association.

This plant, which grows to about 24 inches high, has gray-green foliage. In late summer, it blooms prolifically with pink to bronze heads which seem to change color week to week. It will do well in partial to full sun and will tolerate dry soil.


Many gardeners grow this plant and it is one of the best we have. If you don't have Autumn Joy, you ought to add it to your plant list this year.

Collins is The Forum's gardening columnist. Direct e-mail to her at

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