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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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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.

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
  1. Moisten a sheet of paper towel so that it’s uniformly damp, but not dripping wet.
  2. Place the 10 seeds in a row along the damp paper towel.
  3. Roll or fold the paper towel around the seeds so that they are covered.
  4. 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.
  5. Place the plastic bag somewhere warm, about 70 degrees Fahrenheit (a sunny windowsill or on top of the refrigerator should work).
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Check your seed packet for average germination times for your particular seed, but generally, 7–10 days should be enough time for the test.
  9. 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.

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.

All my seeds die after germination?

I’m a beginner gardener and I can’t get my seeds to grow more than an inch or two before they die. I germinate them in a bag with moist paper towels then once they start showing some roots i put them into peat pellets or miracle grow organic seed starting soil. I water them once a day with a mister. It’s just seeds like cone flowers and such. Is there something I’m missing or am I watering them too much or too little? Also, any advice you have for a beginning gardener I’d love to hear it.

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Comments (6)

calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

Consistently losing seedling at that stage is nearly always caused by ‘damping off disease’ which is a fungus that attacks the stem at soil level causing the seedling to fall over. This problem is best avoided by not keeping the soil surface wet, and warm. Take the seedlings to a cooler place with better air circulation, and more light. When water is needed water from the bottom of the pots, only enough to reach the roots. Al

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susanzone5 (NY)

Along with what Al said, start your seeds in soil, not in a paper towel. All the extra handling can add a lot of fungus and bacteria to the stems. Skip the baggie phase and don’t spray the plants with water. Also, peat pellets aren’t very good. Use potting mix with plastic cups or 6-paks.

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florauk

And by ‘soil’ people are referring not to something you dig out of your garden but a proper seed starting mix. Good luck.

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bugbite

I am in zone 9 as well. I grow seeds in trays and in the ground. Both ways are totally outside. They get the natural exposure to the elements that way. When grown outside in zone 9, I personally, from my own experience, repeat MY experience grow the seeds in the same soil that the plant will grow in..soil that is alive.
If you grow in a closed container without adequate air flow that changes everything. Lack of air flow and excess moisture can spell death.
Interesting you should mention cone flowers because in zone 9 I found perennials should be planted when the seeds normally fall to the ground, which in many cases is now. Just planted 200 Sparkler guara seeds 2 days ago.
Incidentally I tried the damp towel method a couple of times. Found that the germination rate did go up. But once they germinated I transplanted them into garden soil outside. Keep shaded until they get used to the light. When I grow outside I water when dry. I let them get wet and dry like in nature but have it more often damp then dry till it gets going. But then I am retired and can check my seedlings a few times a day.
The biggest problem with some seedling when planted outside is that you might go out one morning and they are gone. Something ate them. For me it is pill bugs. For some seedlings I keep them in raised trays protected from the bugs until they are big enough to fend the bug off. I raise the trays on bricks with duct tape around the brick (sticky side out). That catches the ground crawlers like pill bugs.
The good thing about trays is you can bring them in incase of real cold weather. The bad thing is they are exposed totally to the outside temperature, unlike seeds planted in the ground which can benefit from the ground heat. Trial and Error is the best teacher.

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rainbow_catz

Most of you say that it’s better to start the seed in soil,
But I find that many of my seeds on soil rot because of fungus or any other factor I don’t understand, maybe bitten by bugs.
It’s a dilemma for me.
I also germinate them on paper towel method , the seedlings are okay but “leggy”

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docmom_gw

I’ve been using the winter sowing method for more years than I care to count. I’ve never had damping off and I get great germination rates. It’s much less expensive than electric lights and doesn’t take up the space inside. I strongly recommend reading the wintersowing FAQ.

I'm a beginner gardener and I can't get my seeds to grow more than an inch or two before they die. I germinate them in a bag with moist paper towels then once they start showing some roots i put them into peat pellets or miracle grow organic seed starting soil. I water them once a day with a mister….