Buying plants Gardening Sowing Seeds

What is Quality Seed & How Can You Ensure That You’re Buying It?

The Basics:

From a breeder’s standpoint, quality seed is determined by germination rate, vigor, “trueness to type,” purity, and above all, freshness.

Germination potential is highest when the seed reaches physiological maturity. But for practical reasons, seed harvesting must wait until the moisture content decreases slightly. Seed that is harvested at the proper moisture content strikes the balance between maximum germination and safe storage.

A germination test measures the number of normal seedlings produced by a sample of seed under optimal conditions. Seeds offered for sale must meet minimum germination standards. These standards differ, depending on the vegetable type, but most are between 60 and 80%. Some seed companies post the germination percentage of the seed lot on their packets.

Bean seedling germinating.

Seed Vigor means that the seeds can withstand less than optimal conditions and still germinate. Tests for vigor, though not required, go beyond the germination tests and help predict seed performance under varying practical conditions. One such test calculates the germination percentage under simulated cold, wet field conditions.

Trueness to type is determined when producers or certification agencies do field inspections to verify the identity of the seed and check for the presence of weeds or other unwanted plants. Inspectors also ensure that off-types, plants that differ in some way from the desired cultivar, are not present.

Seed Purity means that the seed packet contains only the stated variety, and no weed seeds, other crop seeds, or inert matter.

How to Distinguish Quality Seed

Examine the Packet

Information on seed packets often includes the following:

Seed pack showing packed for and sell by dates.
It’s important to know in what year the seed was designed to be sown. That information will appear on quality seed packs.
  • Variety name
  • “Packed for” and/or “Sell by” dates
  • Number of seeds contained in the packet
  • Days to germination
  • Days to maturity
  • Plant description
  • Planting information, such as starting time, seed depth, and spacing
  • Optimal growing conditions: soil, temperature, sun or shade

Know Your Seed Seller

Retail seed rack.

Talk with other gardeners about who they buy from. If you are not familiar with a seed company, check its website, and look for customer reviews. 

Reputable seed companies offer good customer service and provide detailed information about the seeds they sell. They stand behind their products. 

A reputable seed company has a vested interest in helping you succeed. They want to help make you a lifetime gardener and customer!

Trial garden.
Some seed companies maintain their own trial gardens in order to gain personal knowledge of the varieties they sell.

Check The Freshness

Last year’s seed is no bargain! Some seeds— onions and leeks are two examples—lose viability quickly. Others may retain their viability for some time, but only if they are stored properly.

With above information in mind, enjoy starting this year’s garden from seed!

The above article and photos are derived from a press release by the Home Garden Seed Association which promotes gardening from seed – the easy, economical, and rewarding way to garden. Visit its website for gardening articles and information about its members and activities. Members’ retail websites can be accessed through the “Shop Our Members Online” page.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

3 comments on “What is Quality Seed & How Can You Ensure That You’re Buying It?

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  3. Excellent information. I try and buy seed that has the germination rate percentage listed as have bought expensive seed in the past with very poor germination. Always disappointing. Saving your own seeds from open-pollinated plants is another excellent way to ensure quality seeds adapted to your growing climate.

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