A simple seed germination test may be a deal breaker

Editor’s note: This article is from the archives of the MSU Crop Advisory Team Alerts. Check the label of any pesticide referenced to ensure your use is included.    

Almost every growing season, there are reports of growers experiencing poor stand establishment in both the field and the greenhouse. This year is likely not going to be different. The causes of poor stand in the field or in the greenhouse are multiple and include soil borne diseases, residual herbicide, insects, nematodes, pH, high EC (electrical conductivity), chemicals from plant residue etc. However, we don’t always think of poor seed germination as a potential culprit in situations of poor stand. The expression "garbage in, garbage out" is well known in the area of computer science or information technology. Although not exactly true in agriculture, experienced growers would tell you that this is common wisdom, especially when dealing with seed performance. In other words “poor seed in, poor crop yield out.” Whether in the greenhouse or in the field, a seed lot with low germination may cause significant losses to the grower.

Every seed that fails to germinate is money being lost by the grower. However, if the germination rate is known, the seeding rate (field) or the total number of flats (greenhouse) could be adjusted to account for lack of germination and mitigate the losses. It is therefore critical to run a germination test before sowing. Even though seed companies provide a germination rate, it is always good practice to double check the information on the farm as a sort of insurance policy. Mistakes do occur and sometimes the seed can be put in a wrong container. A seed germination test may be a deal breaker for your crop. Seed germination testing is simple and can be summarized in the following steps.

  1. Spread a paper towel on a water proof surface.
  2. Wet the paper with water and allow excess water to drip for about a minute.
  3. Count 100 seeds and place them on one half of the wet paper towel. (Mix the seed well to insure the sample is representative of the whole seed lot.)
  4. Fold the towel over so that the half without the seeds is on top of the seeds.
  5. Roll the towel into a moderate tight tube.
  6. Put the tube into a zip lock bag and pace the bag in a warm spot (70 to 85°F).
  7. Make a germination count every two to three days and remove seeds with a visible radicle.

Most vegetable seeds will germinate within one to three weeks depending on the species.

At the end of the germination test, the number of seed that germinated represents the percent germination rate. If there is not enough seed to use 100 in the test, 10 or 50 seeds can be used. If 10 seeds are used, the number of seed that germinated is multiplied by 10 to obtain the germination rate. If 50 seeds are use the number of seeds that germinated is multiplied by two.

Additional information on seed germination testing can be found at: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/AG182.

Dr. Ngouajio's work is funded in part by MSU's AgBioResearch.

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