How to Tell if a Cannabis Seed is Good
Got a cannabis seed, but you’re not sure if it’s any good? No worries. By the end of this article you’ll know everything you need to get started.
The legality of growing cannabis varies depending on where you live in the world. Know your laws.
What to Look for in a Healthy Cannabis Seed:
You can tell a lot about a seed’s health just by looking at it. Here are a few different things you should look for when deciding if a cannabis seed is good or not.
- Darkened Color – Good cannabis seeds will be brown, black, and/or gray. White or green seeds are immature and unlikely to sprout. Your seed should also have stripes or spots all the way around.
- Waxy Coating – A healthy seed will have a thin waxy coating around it. This coating should appear to have a slight sheen to it.
- Hard Shell – You should be able to lightly squeeze a seed without it crushing. If a seed crushes easily between your fingers then the seed is likely dead or weak and will not grow well.
- No Cracks – Inspect the entire seed to make sure there aren’t any small crack or holes. This will most likely cause the seed not to sprout.
Ways To Test Cannabis Seeds
Now that I’ve gone over a basic guide for what to look for I’ll give you a couple of ways that you can test your seeds.
Test Method #1: Floating Seeds in Water
This is a great test that works for many different seeds – not just cannabis. Take your seeds and drop them in a cup full of warm (not too hot) water then wait a couple of hours. If they sink then they’re probably good to go. If they won’t sink then they are probably dead and won’t grow.
Note: Only do this if you’re ready to germinate your plants. Otherwise, it could harm your seed. I cover germination in a later section.
Test Method #2: Just Go Ahead and Try to Germinate the Seed
I know this seems obvious, but it really is the best information I really could give. If you really want to know if a cannabis seed is able to germinate then go ahead and try germinating it – what do you really have to lose? Not quite sure how to germinate a seed? No worries. Here’s a quick guide:
How to Germinate a Cannabis Seed
Germinating a seed simply means getting the plant to sprout from the seed. It’s the first step in your cannabis seed’s journey to a full grown plant. There are several ways to go about this.
One way is to simply plant it in your soil and see if a plant pops up. It’s old school, but no one can deny its simplicity. Plant the seed about 1/4″ deep and wait.
Another way is to put the seeds on a damp paper towel. Make sure the paper towel is damp, but not soaking wet. If it dries out you can add a few drops of water to the paper towel. Leave the paper towel in a dark place. The amount of time is going to vary among strains. Some may take only 2 days while others could take longer. Continue to check them once a day.
How to Tell if a Cannabis Seed is Male or Female
Unfortunately, there is no way to know if a cannabis seed is going to be male or female simply by looking at it or doing a simple test. This is a bummer since most people don’t want male cannabis plants in their garden.
If you want feminized seeds then you’ll have to buy them from a reputable seed bank. Make sure they say feminized – if they don’t say it then they probably aren’t.
If all you’ve got is a bag seed then the only way to find out if it’s going to be male or female is to grow it.
Can My Cannabis Seed Go Bad / Expire?
The short answer is yes, but if you store your seeds properly they can stay viable for years and years. Moisture, UV degradation, and extreme temperatures could all affect the quality of your seeds.
If you plan to store your seeds for a long period of time make sure to keep them in an airtight container in a dark area. Ideally, seeds should be stored in a climate controlled area (like inside your house instead of in a shed or garage. One study showed laboratory-sealed cannabis seeds were still viable after 19 years.
It’s nice to know what to look for, but in the end the best test is just to put it in soil. If you’re using bag seeds then you never really know what you’re getting anyways. If you’ve bought your seeds from a legitimate seed bank then you shouldn’t have to worry about it.
Floating Seeds in Water – Is This a Good Seed Viability Test?
How do you know if your seeds are still viable? Simple, do a seed germination test. Place the seeds in some water. The ones that sink are still viable – the ones that float are dead.
This advice is all over the internet so it must work? But how reliable is it?
Floating Seeds in Water – Is this a Good Seed Viability Test?; source: Pens & Pencils
Do the Floating Seed Test Properly
If you check out a number of sites that describe this test you soon realize that there are several different ways to do it. Some people add soap to the water to reduce it’s surface tension. Others put the seed in a jar and give it a good shake or they might soak the seed for 24 hours before doing the test.
There is no agreement on how to do the test properly. That means the test results reported on social media are not very reliable since they rarely include the details of the method used.
There are also silly claims like “this method is not 100% accurate and it only works with freshly harvested seeds of certain fruits such as melon, watermelon, cucumber, squash, peppers and tomatoes”. There are thousands of different types of seeds. Why would it only work on some vegetables and what does “not 100% reliable” mean? Maybe it only works 10% of the time?
Another site says, “the test only works for melons or cucumbers if the seeds are fresh and have not dried out.” So it doesn’t work on purchased seed. This same site went on to state that you need to ferment tomato seeds to get them to germinate, and I have already shown that this is a myth.
This gardening technique is so poorly defined that it is not possible to know how to do it correctly.
Citizen Scientists – Floating Seed Test for Viability
A number of gardeners have done tests to see how well the floating seed test works.
Pulsatilla albana ssp. armena – the Pulsatilla ‘seeds’ are actually fruits – achenes with “fluffy tails”, source: BotanyCA
I had some red pepper seeds from a store bought fruit and tried floating the seeds without drying them. Half floated and half sank. I removed the floaters and used them to try the test again. Half floated and half sank. I then tested this last group of seeds for germination. The ones that floated and then sank had 8/10 germinate, and the ones that floated twice had 3/10 germinate. So it is possible that floaters have a lower germination rate, but the floaters in this test were certainly not all dead.
I tested some Camassia seeds; 38 of 48 (79%) sinkers germinated and 12 of 16 (75%) floaters germinated, after a month in the fridge using the baggy method.
Someone from our Garden Fundamental Facebook Group tested Briza maxima (quaking grass) and found better germination with floaters.
Marijuana seed that floats will germinate on top of the water in 24 hours.
Twelve different kinds of pepper seeds were tested in this video and both floaters and sinkers had good germination.
I’ve germinated quite a few clematis seeds and most of them have fussy tails. They all float. Many seeds have this characteristic including some grasses and pulsatilla.
Both floating and sinking peppers seeds germinate, source: Daisy Dawes
The top picture in this post shows two jars. The one on the left contains black pepper seeds – they sink. You can distinguish them from papaya seeds that float, and are frequently added to spices since they look like black pepper but are much cheaper.
Science on Seed Viability Using the Water Float Test
Acorns have very low germination because many seeds don’t develop completely inside the nut and because various pests lay their egg in viable seeds which are subsequently eaten by the larvae. Floating them is a common way to eliminate many of the non-viable seeds. Even with this test, too much agitation of the water will cause viable seed to float.
Juniperus polycarpos, the Persian juniper, also produces a low number of viable seeds. Floating in water is not a reliable means of separating the good from the bad, but floating in a sugar solution does work. Sugar water has a higher density than water and this difference can be used separate seeds of various densities. The heavier viable seed sinks.
The float test “works well with hard-seeded peas in the family Fabaceae (e.g. Daviesia, Chorizema, Gastrolobium and Gompholobium) and Mimosaceae (e.g. Acacia), and has also been used on species in Hemigenia with good success. Do not attempt this test on seed of Allocasuarina. Allocasuarina seed is mucilaginous. This means it has a mucous membrane around the seed that gets very sticky on wetting.”
Arabidopsis seed forms a sticky mucilage on the outside of the seed as it absorbs water. Mutations of arabidopsis have been found that don’t produce this coating, allowing them to be separated from normal types with a float test. This is an example where within a single species, some seed floats and some does not, depending on genetics that has nothing to do with seed viability.
Arabidopsis wild seed (WT) sinks while a mutation (mum) floats. The floaters germinate in 24 hours siting on the water, source Helen M North
“Wheat was used in one set of experiments, and the average of all tests showed a germination of 68.3 per cent for the sunken seeds and 72 per cent for those that floated. In another set of experiments lentil was used, and it was found that 75.4 per cent of the sunken seeds and 86.7 per cent of those that floated germinated.”
The floating characteristic of seeds depends very much on their weight, surface coating, shape and specific gravity. Some seeds do develop a large seed coat which can be empty and these likely float. The specific gravity of a seed is controlled by the environment (moisture) and internal enzymes and hormones. Some dead seeds sink, while some spongy seeds like spinach float even if viable.
Does The Seed Float Test Work for Testing Viability?
There are cases where a float test can be used to identify viable seed, but when science reports on these they are quite specific about the type of seed and the method used.
On the other hand gardeners tend to simply lump all seeds into one category and say they all work, without specifying the method that works.
As a general rule, gardeners should assume that the float test does NOT work for testing seed viability, unless there is evidence it works in a specific case.
A Better Way to Test Seed Viability
Use my baggy method if you want to test seed germination. You will actually see the root come out of the seed and know for certain that the seed is viable.