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How to Save Your Vegetable Seeds for Next Year

Learn to save vegetable seeds for years to come.

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The Spruce / Michelle Becker

A packet of vegetable seeds may look dry, brittle, and lifeless, but in many cases, seeds are very much alive. Inside each plant seed is the embryo of a future plant. However, seeds do not remain alive forever. How long seeds remain viable depends on the type of seed and how well it is stored.

Most Vegetable Seeds Can Stay Viable for Years

Most vegetable seeds remain good for about two to three years, but some, such as onions, deteriorate within a year and others such as lettuce, can successfully sprout after five years. The table below lists average years of viability for well-stored vegetable seeds, compiled from regional sources. There will be some variability because of the variety of seed and whether the seed was fully ripe and kept dry in storage.

Seed Storage Guidelines

Vegetable Storage Years Vegetable Storage Years
Arugula 4 Leek 2
Bean 3 Lettuce 5
Beet 4 Muskmelon 5
Broccoli 3 Mustard 4
Brussels Sprouts 4 Okra 2
Cabbage 4 Onion 1
Carrot 3 Parsley 1
Cauliflower 4 Parsnip 1
Celeriac 3 Pea 3
Celery 3 Pepper 2
Chard, Swiss 4 Pumpkin 4
Chicory 4 Radish 4
Chinese Cabbage 3 Rutabaga 4
Collards 5 Salsify 1
Corn Salad 5 Scorzonera 1
Corn, Sweet 2 Sorrel 4
Cucumber 5 Spinach 2
Eggplant 4 Squash 4
Endive 5 Tomato 4
Fennel 4 Turnip 4
Kale 4 Water Cress 5
Kohlrabi 3 Watermelon 4

How to Store Vegetable Seeds

You can’t do anything to change the life expectancy of different types of seeds. But if you save your own seed or need to store purchased seed, you can keep it fresh for the maximum amount of time by taking these steps to store it properly.

  • Be certain the seeds are completely dry, to the point of being brittle, before you pack them away.
  • Place dried seeds in a paper envelope, to absorb any moisture that might get in, and label with the name and year.
  • Keep the envelopes in an airtight container out of direct sunlight.
  • Store in a cool, dry place.

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The Spruce / Michelle Becker

How to Test Seeds for Viability

There’s an easy way to determine how viable your saved seed is and what percentage of it you can expect to germinate.

You Will Need:

  • 10 seeds
  • Paper towels
  • Water
  • Sealable plastic bag
  • Permanent marker

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The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Moisten a sheet of paper towel so that it’s uniformly damp, but not dripping wet.

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The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Place the 10 seeds in a row along the damp paper towel.

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The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Roll or fold the paper towel around the seeds so that they are covered.

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The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Place the paper towel with the seeds into the plastic bag and seal it. Write the date on the plastic bag, so there’s no guesswork involved. If you are testing more than one type of seed, also label the bag with the seed type and variety.

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The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Place the plastic bag somewhere warm, about 70 degrees Fahrenheit (a sunny windowsill or on top of the refrigerator should work).

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The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Check daily to be sure the paper towel does not dry out. It shouldn’t because it is sealed, but if it gets very warm, you may need to re-moisten the towel with a spray bottle.

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The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Start checking for germination in about five days. To do this, gently unroll the paper towel. You may even be able to see sprouting through the rolled towel. Very often the roots will grow right through it.

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The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Check your seed packet for average germination times for your particular seed, but generally, 7–10 days should be enough time for the test.

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The Spruce / Michelle Becker

After 10 days, unroll the paper towel and count how many seeds have sprouted. This will give you the percentage germination you can expect from the remaining seeds in the packet. If only three sprouted, it is a 30% germination rate. Seven would be a 70% germination rate, nine would be a 90% germination rate, and so on.

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The Spruce / Michelle Becker

What the Germination Rate Tells You

Realistically, if less than 70% of your test seed germinated, you would be better off starting with fresh seed.

If 70–90% germinated, the seed should be fine to use, but you should sow it a little thicker than you normally would.

If 100% germinated, your seed is viable and you’re ready to plant.

There is no need to waste the seeds that have germinated; they can be planted. Don’t let them dry out and handle them very carefully so that you don’t break the roots or growing tip. It’s often easiest to just cut the paper towel between seeds and plant the seed, towel and all. If the root has grown through the towel, it is almost impossible to separate them without breaking the root. The paper towel will rot quickly enough and, in the meantime, it will help hold water near the roots.

Many vegetable seeds can be viable for years if they're stored properly. Learn how long each type of seed can survive and how to store and test them.

Will Expired Seeds Still Grow: Planting With Expired Seed Packets

Many people begin gardening not only as a means to grow healthy and nutritious fruits and vegetables, but to also save money. Growing a crop of your favorite vegetables can be an absolute delight, as can herbs and flowers for the garden. However, each season, growers with limited space may find themselves left with unused garden seeds. In many cases, these seeds are stored away for safekeeping, slowly accumulating with what many the gardening community refer to as a “seed stash.” So are old seeds still good for planting or is it better to acquire more? Read on to find out.

Understanding Seed Expiration Dates

If you look on the back of your seed packet, there should be some type of dated information, at least with most reputable sources. For example, it may have a “packed for” date, which is typically when the seeds were packed, not necessarily when they were harvested. As with many items you find at the grocery store, you may have “sell by” or “best by” date, which normally indicates the end of the year those seeds were packed.

Additionally, many seed packages include a “sow by” date, which doesn’t represent the freshness of the seeds but rather the resulting validity of a germination test previously conducted prior to packaging.

While some may wonder whether or not it is safe to plant seeds that have passed their expiration dates, we know that planting expired seeds will not impact the outcome of the final plant grown from that seed. So, will expired seeds grow? Yes. Plants grown from expired seed packets will grow to produce healthy and fruitful harvests, just as their younger counterparts. With this in mind, one may be left to wonder then, when do old seeds expire? More importantly, why do we need seed expiration dates?

Although seeds do not technically “go bad,” expiration dates are used on seed packaging as a measure of the likelihood that the seeds will be viable. Depending upon the type of seeds, environmental conditions, and the manner in which the seeds have been stored, the germination rate of older seed packets may be greatly impacted.

The best storage conditions for seed packets require a dark, dry, and cool location. For this reason, many growers choose to store plant seeds in airtight jars in places such as refrigerators or in cellars or basements. Many may also add rice grains to the jars to discourage the presence of moisture.

While proper storage conditions will help to prolong the lifespan of seeds, the viability of many types of seeds will begin to decline regardless. Some seeds will maintain high germination rates for up to five years but others, such lettuce, will lose vigor as soon as one year in storage.

Are Old Seeds Still Good?

Before planting with expired seed, there are some steps to take to check whether or not germination will be successful. When wondering, “will expired seeds grow,” gardeners can conduct a simple germination test.

To test the viability from a seed packet, simply remove about ten seeds from the packet. Moisten a paper towel and place the seeds into it. Place the damp paper towel into a zip-lock bag. Leave the bag at room temperature for ten days. After ten days, check the germination of the seed. Germination rates of at least 50% indicate a moderately viable packet of seeds.

Growers with limited space may find themselves left with unused garden seeds, stored away for safekeeping, and slowly accumulating into “seed stash.” So are old seeds still good for planting or is it better to acquire more? Click this article to find out.