January 29, 2011

1 - Test old seed to see if they are worth planting.

Yard and Garden - January 29, 2011


I have some vegetable seed that I have saved for several years. Can I plant them and expect them to grow? Are there any special tricks to getting them to grow?

- Al S.



Old vegetable seed may grow, or they may be a waste of your garden space. Some seeds like onions and lettuce are very unlikely to grow. Other seeds such as tomato, beans, and even corn, may grow. It would be wise to test their viability before planting them. You can do that by putting at least 10 to 20 seeds on moist paper towels in a resealable plastic bag. Do not make the paper towels soggy. Put these "test" seeds in a warm location and watch to see if they will germinate. The clear plastic bags make it easy for you to check them every day. If only a few germinate, you can increase your planting density in the garden to compensate for what you observe.

Another consideration is plant vigor. If the seeds are slow to germinate and grow weakly, you have determined that the seed have low vigor and may not produce healthy productive plants. You may choose to plant them or discard them based on your need for maximum efficiency in your garden, or your desire to experiment and see what happens.

If you are like me, you will probably choose to grow them. I even plant the seeds from the test by carefully removing them from the paper towel with tweezers and planting them in flower pots, or directly in the garden if it is late enough to plant them. If you choose to do this, remove the seed before its root (called a radical) has grown much to avoid damaging it as you pick it from the paper.

These techniques can be used to test old flower seeds as well.

2 - Apricots will blossom and ripen later in Pecos, if the flowers and young fruit don't freeze


I know that it varies according to weather patterns, the health of the trees, etc, but can you tell me when I might expect apricot trees to bloom in Pecos, N.M, and when I might expect the fruit to ripen?

- Trish G.


Apricots will probably bloom in April in Pecos. This depends on the variety, but most commonly grown varieties bloom before the last freeze. That is why the fruit fails to form - the flowers or fruit are often frozen in a cold spell during or after flowering. However, if they make it through the freezes, the fruit should ripen in July or August. This again depends on the variety. The "pueblo" varieties, those grown in the pueblos for many years may be better adapted. The seedlings produced by these "native" apricots are the offspring of those that bloomed later, and as a result produced more fruit and, therefore, more seedlings. If you have one of these varieties, your chances may be somewhat improved. Location in the landscape helps. It is often helpful to plant the apricot trees on the north side of structures so that they remain cold and dormant longer. In this manner, they may bloom after most chances for freezing has past.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email: desertblooms@nmsu.edu, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at desertblooms@nmsu.edu, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook page.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!