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The spring planting season is upon us as you read this.  What can an informed consumer do to avoid purchasing seed that doesn’t meet his or her expectations?  To begin with, when purchasing seeds for their lawns and gardens, consumers should know that all packaged seed must be labeled and that labels must also be available for seed sold in bulk.  They should also determine if the seed they are considering meets the following requirements:

All Seed Types

  • All seed labels must show the name and complete address of the person who labels the seed.
  • All seed should have a lot number.
  • All prepackaged seed must have a complete label on each package or container.

Lawn Seed

  • Lawn seed is required to have a test date.  The date represents the month and year when the seed’s germination was last tested.  It should not be more than 11 months old, excluding the month of the test.  For example, if the seed was tested in June 2004, the test will have expired on the first day of June 2005.
  • All lawn seed should have guarantees for the percentages (by weight) of pure seed, other crop seed, inert material, and weed seed.  Pure seed describes the kinds and varieties of the seed you are purchasing.  The other three items are things that could not be completely removed during harvesting and cleaning.  In lawn seed, other crop represents kinds of grass seed that differ from the type being purchased.  Inert matter may consist of empty seed hulls, broken seed pieces, or soil.  Weeds are undesirable seeds that are capable of growing once the seed is sown.  The percentage of weed seed shown on a label should never be higher than 1% - the lower, the better.
  • You should always find a percentage of germination for each kind and variety of pure seed in the product you are purchasing.  For lawn seed, this number should never be less than 60% - the higher, the better.

Flower and Vegetable Seed

  • Vegetable seed in containers of 1 pound or less and flower seed may be labeled with a percentage of germination and the month and year these percentages were determined by test, but usually, most seed packagers choose to use the optional “Packed for ____” date in which the packet shows the year for which the seed was packed for sale.  Always look for seed labeled for sale in the current year.

Chemically Treated Seed

  • Sometimes seed is treated with insecticides, fungicides or other chemicals that protect the seed from soilborne organisms and improve its chances for germination and satisfactory growth.  Seed that has been treated with pesticides or other irritating or poisonous substances must be colored or dyed in such a way that you can tell it has been treated.
  • Chemically treated seed must have the following information on its label:
    • A warning statement, large enough to be easily seen, that the seed has been treated;
    • The common name of the substance that was applied to the seed;
    • A caution statement saying “treated seed – do not use for food, feed or oil purposes.”

      If it appears seed has been treated and is not labeled with this information, do not buy it!

Seed Sold from Bulk Containers

  • Avoid purchasing bulk seed from containers that do not have complete and proper labels attached to them.
  • Make sure the seed is weighed from the container in your presence.
  • If the seed has been treated as evidenced by contrasting coloring, the dealer is required to provide you with labeling containing all of the required information for treated seed as described above.
  • Do not personally handle, or allow children to handle, any seed that appears to have been treated with a harmful substance.  If accidentally handled, wash immediately with soap and water.  If accidentally ingested, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Taking a few moments to read the seed label before making a purchase can mean the difference between establishing a satisfying lawn or garden and having a frustrating experience.