Vegetable Seeds: Viability Chart
(How Long Do Old Garden Seeds Last?)
A great way to cut down on costs is to avoid buying unneeded seed packets. If you still have plenty of retail seeds left over from the previous year, you might not need to buy new ones for the new growing season.
It's worth saving seed packets beyond the first year because many vegetable and flower seeds can remain viable for several years if stored properly. By saving seed packets, you can save money and ensure a more sustainable garden by avoiding the need to purchase all new seeds every year.
- The Typical Lifespan of Vegetable Seeds:
- Do Vegetable Seeds Have Expiration Dates?
- How Long Should You Expect Seeds to Last?
- How to Store Seeds for Maximum Longevity
- Why It's Worth Saving Your Own Seeds
Seed viability depends on the age of the seeds at the time of purchase. Any proper retail seed packet should have a date stamped on it. Typically, this is simply a year indicating the growing season for which those seeds are intended to be planted. For example, if a seed packet says "Packed for 2023" then this is the prime planting year. Those seeds were grown and packaged in 2022 to be ready for the market the very next season. This doesn't mean the seeds will be 'expired' after 2023. They shouldn't be sold to consumers, but that doesn't mean the seeds are necessarily useless in 2024. In general, seeds do have 'expiration dates' or periods of viability. But there's quite a lot of variability.
The longevity of seeds varies greatly depending on the species. Some cultivar seeds can last for several years while others may lose their viability within a year. The viability of seeds also depends on factors such as the quality of the seed and how the seeds are stored. The chart on this page is a handy reference that will give you a general idea of what lifespan you can expect from old seed packets. Even still, it's always a good idea to test the germination rate of older seeds before planting to ensure a good yield.
Here are some general guidelines for the viability of some popular vegetable seeds that you can store indoors:
|Vegetable Seed||Years Viable →|
William Robinson. (1888). The Vegetable Garden: Illustrations, Descriptions, and Culture of the Garden Vegetables of Cold and Temperate Climates, pp. 28.
Suzanne Ashworth. (2002). Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners, pp. 47, 53, 68, 81, 137, 173.
Edward C. Smith. (2009). The Vegetable Gardener's Bible, pp. 126, 130, 133, 136, 139, 142, 144.
Robert Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough. (2011). The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds, pp. 27, 63, 211, 241.
The viability of the seeds can be improved if they are stored under optimal conditions. To improve the longevity of seeds, it's important to store them properly. By following these tips, you can help prolong the life of your seeds and you may find that they remain viable for many years.
- Here are some tips for seed storage:
- KEEP SEEDS DRY: Moisture is the biggest threat to seed viability. Store seeds in a dry, cool place with low humidity. Airtight containers or jars with tight-fitting lids can help keep seeds dry.
- KEEP SEEDS COOL: High temperatures can also reduce seed viability. Store seeds in a cool location, such as a basement, root cellar, or refrigerator. However, make sure the seeds are completely dry before storing them in the refrigerator or they could develop mold.
- USE DESICCANTS: Silica gel packets or powdered milk can help absorb moisture from seed storage containers. Place a desiccant packet in the container with the seeds, or sprinkle powdered milk in a pouch made of cloth or paper and place it in the container.
- LABEL SEEDS CLEARLY: Label each seed packet with the date, the type of seed, and any other relevant information such as the variety or source. This can help you keep track of how long the seeds have been stored and ensure you use the oldest seeds first.
- KEEP SEEDS DARK: Light can also reduce seed viability, so store seeds in a dark location such as a closet or cabinet.
If you only buy a certain seed type every 2 or 3 years, you can save a little money. But you'll save even more money if you start harvesting your own seeds from the vegetables you've grown. Saving money is only one reason to do so.
Additionally, some varieties of plants may be difficult to find or may have been discontinued by seed companies. Saving seeds allows you to preserve and continue growing your cherished varieties.
Saving seeds from your own plants also allows you to select for desirable traits over time, such as flavor, disease resistance, or early maturity, resulting in plants that are better adapted to your specific growing conditions. This process is called "seed saving" and has been an important part of agriculture for thousands of years!