Seeds or fruits of 10 weed species were collected in each of 3 years and mixed with the top 7·5 cm of sterilised soil which was confined in cylinders sunk in the ground outdoors and cultivated three times yearly. The numbers of seedlings emerging were recorded for 5 yr and the numbers of viable seeds remaining then determined. Few, if any, seedlings of Atriplex, Chenopodium or Polygonum spp. emerged in the autumn of sowing; the main emergence was consistently in March–May (A. hastata, A. patula), April–May (P. lapathifolium, P. persicaria), April–June (C. polyspermum), May–June (C. rubrum) or June–August (C. hybridum). When sown before November, some seedlings of Rumex crispus, R. obtusifolius and R. sanguineus appeared immediately. Most emerged in April in subsequent years. Seedling emergence was usually greatest in the first year; thereafter, with all species, seedling numbers decreased approximately exponentially from year to year. The mean numbers of seeds found to be viable after 5 yr ranged from 2·5% (R. sanguineus) to 16·6% (C. rubrum) of those sown.