Seed Germination with Kids

 Counting out 10 seeds.

Counting out 10 seeds.

 Pocahantos and my daughter laying out seeds.  I did have to go back and lay them out a little differently.  I put them in two rows with more space in between.

Pocahantos and my daughter laying out seeds.  I did have to go back and lay them out a little differently.  I put them in two rows with more space in between.

Before you plant seeds, it's a good idea to know what the germination rate of your seeds are.  I wrote more about germination rates and why they are important in Conducting a Seed Germination Test - particularly when you are planting a greenhouse full of seeds like we are!  But also, testing seed germination rates is a great activity for kids.

After we set up our "official" test in the office, a few of us brought home some Fraser Fir seeds to test at home with our kids.  The principles for testing germination rates are largely the same, no matter what kind of seed you are using.  However, seeds will sprout at different rates and in different ways.  In this kind of test, it's probably better to use flower or vegetable seeds, because they germinate faster and the sprout is easily identified.  Tree seeds take longer and the sprout is small and looks more like the seed is bloated.

Basically, you are constructing a mini greenhouse. Seeds need light, moisture, and heat to sprout. But not too much light, moisture, or heat or the seeds will mold.

Step 1: Gather your materials

Below is a list of the easiest materials to use, although you can be creative and use a variety of materials (pyrex dish, tupperware, etc.).

  • Paper towel
  • Plastic sandwich or snack bag
  • Spray bottle with water
  • Permanent marker
  • Ten seeds

Step 2: Set up the Test

  • Fold the paper towel so it will fit easily inside the plastic bag.
  • Mist the paper towel with the spray bottle until damp, but not soaked.
  • Lay the ten seeds out on the paper towel with at least ½ inch to 1 inch between seeds and a border around the edge.
  • Grab another paper towel.  If the paper towel is 2 ply, remove one layer.  Mist the paper towel so it is damp, but not soaked and cover the seeds.
  • Insert the paper towel "sandwich" into the plastic bag. Do not seal the bag; air needs to circulate or the seeds will mold and rot.
  • Label the bag with the type of seed and the date.
  • Set the bag in a warm spot (top of the refrigerator is classic) or close to a window.  Be careful about direct sunlight.  Too much heat can stress the seeds.

STEP 3: Keep an Eye on It

Keep an eye on the seeds to make sure the bag is not too warm or too wet.  If the paper towel dries out, mist it a little more.  Most flower and vegetable seeds will sprout within 3 to 10 days.  

STEP 4: Determine the Germination Rate

High quality seed will have more seeds sprout.  Determine the germination rate by multiplying the number of seeds that sprouted by 10.  For example, if 6 seeds out of 10 sprouted, the germination rate is 60% (6 x 10).  If you are planting trays of seeds, now you know how many seeds to plant per cell to get as close to 100% germination as possible.