Seed viability test is my grass seed dead

Is my Grass Seed Dead?

This is a simple test for viability. It can be performed on grass seed that has been sown or is yet to be sown. It is ideal for checking whether old seeds will germinate.

My Grass Seed won't Germinate. It must be Rubbish!

99% of the grass seed you buy will be perfectly good. The only time you are likely to have bad seed is if it is very old or it has been stored badly. Old means 3 years plus and stored badly means fluctuating temperatures that also get hot; like in your shed!

Consider this: 

Your seed is a mixture of several different seed varieties that, if purchased from a reputable source, have been blended by a DEFRA registered seed merchant. For your mixture to completely fail means that all the varieties in your mixture are dud. As each variety would have originated from harvests of many hundreds of tonnes throughout Europe this would mean there is a massive problem affecting seed merchants and people like you everywhere. Therefore, bad fresh seed from a professional supplier is as likely as a flying pig.

You may be reading this because you are having problems getting your seed to germinate. The most likely cause is in the planting even though you think you have sown by following the instructions to the letter. Even professionals have bad results on occasions, and they will seed and over seed hundreds of times in their lifetime whereas the homeowner or amateur may only seed a handful of times in a lifetime and therefore not have the same level of skill, experience and knowledge.

This conversation is not new to us and we do know how to resolve it so you have come to the right place to get help. To resolve any nagging doubt that you have about your seed please consider the following and always test the seed.

Have you sown the grass seed in the right conditions?

To germinate, the seed needs these conditions:

  • The seed is in good contact with the soil
  • The ground temperature is above 10 degrees - 12 degrees or higher is great
  • There is plenty of ground moisture
  • The seed hasn’t been covered with peat, compost or soil
  • The seed is watered or covered with polythene so it doesn't dry out

If any one of these factors isn't true then potentially the seed just hasn’t germinated and is still alive. Correcting the condition(s) may solve the problem. However, if the seed has been allowed to dry out whilst germinating then the seed is probably dead.

To understand more about what may have gone wrong, read All about Grass Seed Germination

So, the above still doesn’t answer the question: Is my grass seed dead?

Test for Grass Seed Viability

This test can also be performed on seed that is yet to be sown. Perhaps you’ve just bought it or it has been in your shed for a number of years and you need to know if it will grow.

  • Take an old clean cloth and fold it into a flat pad about an inch thick. Place this in a tub or bowl that can be loosely covered and add half an inch of water. The cloth will soak up water and become saturated.
  • Scoop up seeds from a sown area. Discard empty husks and don’t worry if you get some soil as well
  • Sprinkle 20 to 30 seeds on the top of the cloth pad
  • Place the tub in a warm place away from drafts. Airing cupboards and utility rooms are usually ideal. Being in the dark isn’t a problem
  • Loosely put a lid on the tub to prevent too much evaporation
  • Maintain a water level of about half an inch until germination - do NOT let it dry out

Germination will take between 5 and 14 days, depending on seed type and temperature. If the tub and pad dry out you need to start again - re-filling after drying doesn't work because the seed is probably dead!

Count how many green shoots you have and look at the scale below. 

Percentage of Seed Germinating

  • If 75% plus germinated then all is well and you have a superb result
  • If around half germinated double your seeding rate
  • If less than half germinated and the seed is from a sown area something is not right and the conditions need to be improved.
  • If less than a third germinated and the seed has not been sown then this batch should be discarded and fresh seed purchased.