How Long Do Seeds Last?

Maynard, MA

I still have veggie seeds left over that I bought in 2010, 2011, and 2012. How likely are they to germinate compared to newly purchased/packed seeds?


Madison, AL(Zone 7b)

It depends on the seed. In general, small seeds don't keep long (like lettuce) and big seeds keep for decades (like beans). For seeds from 2010 -- almost everything should germinate. However, the conditions they were stored in matters a lot.

This is a very conservative chart:

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

The way the seed is stored is more important than the type of seed. You must also define acceptable viability. Are you okay with 50% viability after five years? That would not due if you are crop planting but if you have a half packet of eggplant seed and need a few plants it might be fine. In general, seed saving rules state the opposite of what Nicole posted. Small seeds last longer than large. This is my experience as well. Turnips, mustards, collards, & chard last longer than larger seeded okra, beans or peppers. Cantaloupes, which are large seeded, are supposed to have a long life but I've not tested old seed. I have used a chart from Nancy Bubel's Seed Savers Handbook for many years but now also compare it to several on line. I have been a seed saver for many years and what I would do is throw some 2012 seed in with the 2010. Save the progeny and then discard the oldest seed. There is no way to know your germination rates even with knowing how your seed is stored because then your propagation conditions would also need to be known. Using some new seed would be advised.

Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

Before my mom died, she was an avid gardener in her younger years. I found a pack of her corn seeds in some of the things I received after her death. The seed packet said 1979. I planted them in 2011 or 2012, can't remember, but they came up. Also, in 2006 I saved some flower seeds from my flower garden, planted them last fall, and they're showing signs of life now. I had put all the seeds in a brown paper bag and in a box on top of the refrigerator (not the best place to keep them- should be cool and dry, I think) and forgot about them being in the box. Many many of them came up last fall, and there are several starting to green up already. That's 7 years for the hollyhocks (guestimating) and 34 years for my mom's corn.

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

I've had the same experience that Nichole posted. I can see no reason to waste money on buying new seed unless you have done a germination test. I wouldn't even consider the seed old if I bought it in 2010. Lol. I have many started now.

To test them I would put them on a damp paper towel or coffee filter place them in a zip lock bag, with some air, and set them in a warm spot like on top of the fridge. Depending on the type of seed you should see some germination with in a week.

Remember the newly package seed is newly packaged,that doesn't mean it's from last season.

If it was me I WOULDN'T mix the seeds from different years together, if you do you'll have no way of knowing if the seeds are still good. My advice might be different if the seeds were 5+ years but from your post the oldest would be 3 years. You should be fine. Sometimes even with newly purchased seeds you don't even get 100% germination.

What kind of seeds do you have?

Solace, Im glad you found your mom's seeds and were able to grow them. : )

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

Seed viability and seed vigor are related to the age of the seed. Old seed can be viable yet take a long time to germinate. Three year old pepper seed can take up to a month to germinate. Chances of maintaining optimal moisture and temperature without growing mold for that amount of time is reduced. Old bean and pea seed can rot before it sprouts on wet towels but will eventually sprout in ground because of the wet to dry conditions. I label seed according to date harvested but plant new seed with old when caught short to increase the odds of more vigorous plants. This allows for holding back some of the newest seed in case of crop failure. Since most of what we grow is from seed collected or swapped there is an assurance of age and storage conditions. There was a time when I ordered hundreds of dollars worth of new seed every year until I began to save more seed. I now especially try to maintain certain varieties, of beans, tomatoes and peppers by growing out at least a few plants, or a short row, every three years. I have germinated the peppers and tomatoes for this year and have discarded all duplicate seed prior to 2010. Two to three years worth of saved seed is more than enough stash for me to grow or share.

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Ya a lot of things CAN happen but I have 3 yr old pepper seeds that sprouted right along with all the others. Seeds I bought last year won't germinate. The "what ifs" are endless. So is it the age of the seed or the way it's stored that effects it most?
Seed packets might have a date on them but doesn't mean the seeds are that age, they could be older.

If you want to throw out 3 yr old seed that's great but I wouldn't recommend that everybody do it just bc you choose to. I don't like to waste things. Buying new seed when what you have is still good is waste of money and a waste of good seed.

All Shayna has to do is look at Nichole's link and she'll be good to go.

Madison, AL(Zone 7b)

Quote from 1lisac :
I wouldn't even consider the seed old if I bought it in 2010.

Ha, me neither! I just used up the last of my 2006 seed last fall. I am trying to get better about not ordering everything that looks pretty -- only what I'm actually going to plant. And saving seed for those varieties where I can; one or two more varieties make the cut for a permanent spot in the garden each year.

I haven't read Bubel's seed saving handbook, although their root cellar book is great. I use Susan Ashworth's "Seed to Seed."

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

I haven't read any book I just wing it. So far so

Shayna-what kind of seeds are you planning on growing?

Maynard, MA

Great discussion, everyone. Thanks!

Shayna-what kind of seeds are you planning on growing?[/quote]

-sun sugar cherry tomatoes
-still undecided on the beefsteaks--just haven't got a fave yet
-lots of spinach, and lots of different kinds of spinach
-swiss chard
-possibly rutabaga
-possibly eggplant
-possibly english peas
-possibly melons, though I have never had much success with them
-possibly haricot verts

If my choices seem to lack variety, it's because of several constraints: a) I have a chronic illness that makes it hard for me to digest fiber. Thus, I have had to wean myself from my favorite veggies--e.g. broccoli, brussels sprouts, other cabbage family members, kale, sugar snap peas, and more. b) I have a small-ish garden and there is barely any place where one nightshade or another hasn't grown in the last couple of years. This puts a damper on crop rotation. c) I have had bad luck growing melons. Last year, I got tons of flowers on my melon vines, but few fruits actually set. What's up with that? (A pollination thing??)

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

Nicole, I've had my copy of Bubel's book since it was published in the late eighties. It's pretty dog-eared. Not a year goes by when I don't go back to reference from it. She is conservative on her seed saving dates though. What I am talking about here is seed grown and saved by me and not purchased seed. What has not been passed along would be impractical to save (unless it is an edible seed such as beans) after two or three years. We're talking ounces and pounds of seed each year.

Lisa, what makes Dave's Garden special is we can share information without criticism. I did not recommend that anybody discard seed by a certain date, just stated what I do with seed I've grown and saved myself.

Shayna, you can add squashes to your list if you like them. They are easier to grow than melons in your short season. Did you get tons of female flowers as well as male? Pollination is rarely a problem unless the vines are under row covers.

Maynard, MA

Quote from MaypopLaurel :
Shayna, you can add squashes to your list if you like them. They are easier to grow than melons in your short season. Did you get tons of female flowers as well as male? Pollination is rarely a problem unless the vines are under row covers.

Gee whiz, how would I know the difference between male and female flowers? (I didn't grow them under row covers. Also, unfortunately, I only wish I liked squash, which, I've discovered, is different from liking it in fact.)

Madison, AL(Zone 7b)

-lots of spinach, and lots of different kinds of spinach
-swiss chard
-possibly rutabaga

If my choices seem to lack variety, it's because of several constraints: a) I have a chronic illness that makes it hard for me to digest fiber. Thus, I have had to wean myself from my favorite veggies--e.g. broccoli, brussels sprouts, other cabbage family members, kale, sugar snap peas, and more. [/quote]

All of the above can be pretty high in fiber -- herbs too, but you don't tend to eat enough. Also if you are okay with soluble fiber (versus insoluble) carrots could be on your list.

Have you considered sweet potatoes or irish potatoes? I'm not sure if the season is long enough where you are for sweet potatoes. The potatoes do get rotated with the other nightshades, but when you are dealing with a small area sometimes real crop rotation isn't feasible.

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

The male flowers are just and with long stems. The females look like the mature fruit in miniature because that is what they are. Male flowers come on weeks and then some before female flowers. Maybe it's Nature's way of priming the plants to get a good population of pollinators before wasting energy on fruit. When you see small squashes or melons with a flower on the tip those are female flowers. Once they are pollinated the flower shrivels and the little fruit starts to swell. If all goes well the fruit will continue to grow.

Shayna, I don't know your particular medical condition but as a R.N. and have consulted patients needing special diets. I am particularly familiar with Chrone's and other IBS conditions. Some of the food that is on your "no" list is actually okay with most folks on low fiber if eaten in reduced quantities, bok choy and cabbage among them. Also, if you freeze the vegetables before you cook them you might find them more tolerable. If you are going by an elimination diet as opposed to a prescribed diet you might want to try freezing. That said, the latest information from Mayo says there is no evidence that low fiber is beneficial to IBS, in fact they are reversing previous recommendations. Wouldn't you know?

Maynard, MA


I know just what you mean about the different kinds of flowers now that you point it out. I hadn't realized that those mini-melons with flowers on the end were female flowers; I thought they were fruit that had just set after the flowers had been pollinated. So much to learn...

Is it possible that I had tons of male flowers and only a few female flowers, as I think you were implying, and that's why I had so few melons? Is that a frequent phenomenon? If so, is there any (organic) way to increase the production of female flowers?

(BTW, I don't want to get too personal, but I have gastroparesis and other digestive issues associated with mitochondrial disease. Nicole, in truth it's more complicated than just fiber.)

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Maypop Im sorry if you took my comments as criticism. She ask how long seeds last, we all answered but we all didn't base our response on our own situations, you did. We gave her a broader answer. I realize that due to saving your own seeds you have no reason to save older ones. But, in answer, to the thread topic, others also think 3 yr old seeds are not old enough to throw away.

As I mentioned above I have older seeds that germinated fine and last yrs seeds that don't seem to want to germinate. The pepper seeds from 2009 (I saved) are fine but I'm cussing at the 2 I bought last year.

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

I've became a more knowledgeable gardener, since my education here at Dave's.

Regarding seed life, I've also stopped buying brand new seeds every year. I now have a collection of (purchased) seed packets that go back to 2006-2007, when I first started as a veggie gardener. I have no way of knowing how old those seeds really are. Like someone said, the dates on the packages are only the packaging date. No telling when they were collected.

And, since I'm on a limited gardening budget, I'm not throwing out any seeds before giving them a germination test. There are, for sure, at least SOME in the packets that will still germinate. It's just a process of elimination. I'd rather eliminate the bad ones with a test than spend more $ on brand new seeds that may still be "iffy".

Last year, I sowed a brand new packet of tomato seeds from an independent seller, TWICE. The replacement packet that was sent still didn't germinate...

Go figure...

So. Seed life is relative to how much time you've got to test them to see if they're still good.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it, LOL!

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

Shayna, it's possible because of your short season for warm growing veggies that your plants may not mature enough to produce many female flowers. The female flowers come on weeks or more later than the males in my climate. It may be even a longer gap in your zone. We stay plain hot through most of September so the plants have a long growing season. I suggested squashes because they have a shorter day to maturity factor.

I've known folks in New England who grow short okra as a background planting for flower gardens but say they really can't grow it for a vegetable because okra needs a very long, warm season. In reverse. I have the same problem with peas. I can grow peas but I've got about an eight week window when it's warm enough to plant the seed and then cool enough for the vines to mature before the heat sets. If I plant them in fall the deer think the dinner bell is ringing come December. Every few years I'll grow some type of melon but they take up a lot of space even when companion planted Trying to traipse around the vines when picking whatever else is growing is a pain. I have let melon vines run over the edge of our slopes and then picked them from the a lower garden level.

Durhamville, NY(Zone 5b)

I wouldn't consider any of you seed old unless it's been stored in a hot car or attic. As someone mentioned the packet for 2013 is just the year that the germination test was done not the year when they were harvested. That means that you newly purchased 2013 seed COULD actually be older that your 2012 seed if you bought it from a different supplier. As seed ages it can be slower to germinate but there are ways to compensate for that.

Your Tomato seed as still young I wouldn't even think about changing anything until they were 5 years old, then between there and 8 or 9 years old I'd just sow heavier. The beans I might consider presoaking. The beets and chard I'd just plant. Since the "seed" of both are actually seed pods with multiple seeds in them the germination would have to be atrocious before you'd notice it.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Two weeks ago today, I sowed a row of 2012 pea seeds. This morning they are up - right on time!

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Eggplant seed might have a somewhat shorter viable life than other seeds, based on lists I see on the Internet.

For plants that you would set out as transplants, an yway, there is an easy method that doesn't even cost seed-starting mix.

Start the suspect seed on coffee filters or paper towels in Zip-loc baggies. This also improves germination by "pre-soaking" the seed, and because the paper is more sterile than most bags of mix.

Only plant the ones that sprout in pots of seed-start-mix.

When they grow, transplant them out as usual.

If you get 70-100% germination, next year don't even bother with the paper-towel step for that pkt of seeds.

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

I posted that already Rick 5th post down. Im glad we agree. : ). I just germinated EP seeds that were labeled 2009.

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