If you’re an avid gardener, you undoubtedly have a ton of seed packets lying around. Seeds can stay viable for years if stored correctly, but can go sterile in the wrong conditions. Read on to learn how to keep your treasured flower, heirloom vegetable, and herb seeds safe to use next season.
You planted your garden, and now you have seeds left over that you don’t know what to do with. Although seeds can appear dry and lifeless, each pod contains the embryo of a plant. They’re easy to collect from your garden at the end of the planting season for future replanting. Those you didn’t sow can also be stored for next season. How long your seeds last, however, depends on the type of vegetable and whether it was properly stored.
Storing seed packets the correct way, no matter the type of plant, is vital for germination and overall health. In this article, we’ll show you how long common seeds last and how to store seed packets correctly for future use. Use the following tips to store packets properly, and you can expect to grow your favorite plants again next year.
Make Sure the Seeds are the Correct Varieties
If you want to grow the same plants year after year, saving the seeds can make the process much easier. However, you must make sure the seeds you plant are all open-pollinated varieties. Unlike hybrid plants, these varieties will grow back true to form and fruit the same as the parent plant. Make sure they’re options you enjoy as well: there’s no point in growing acres of kale if you can’t stand the stuff.
Dry the Seeds Before Storing Your Seed Packets
Allow seeds to reach their full ripeness before collecting them from your garden. Then, you can gather them and allow them to completely air dry on a sheet of newspaper or paper towels for a week. They should feel brittle when they’re ready to be packed away. Write the type of seed directly onto the paper, so you don’t mix them up, and don’t worry about them blowing away in the breeze. They should stick to the paper.
In addition, the paper helps to absorb extra moisture. For this reason, many people also store their seeds directly in the rolled-up paper. When you’re ready to plant, all you do is tear off pieces of the paper towel and plant both the seed and paper directly into the soil. You can plant the seeds as needed and allow the rest to remain dry and protected in their little blankets.
Keep the Seeds Dry
Seed packets must remain dry the entire time they’re in storage. Pack the air-dried seeds in small paper packets, envelopes, or food storage plastic bags. You can also use airtight containers like glass canisters with tight-fitting or gasket lids.
Track the Seed Packets
Group seed packets by the type of plant and keep those together that will expire at the same time. Label each envelope with the plant name, date collected and stored, the number of years the seeds are viable, and any other vital information. You should be able to find the seed packets you’re looking for at a glance and know exactly when each option expires before planting.
Offer Further Protection with Airtight Containers
Pests like rodents and insects adore feasting on seeds, so you need keep yours protected. If you keep running into issues with critters eating your stored seeds, try keeping them in glass Mason jars. Make sure to keep your seeds in a spot that’s well out of reach, too. A storage location that you can keep a close eye on is ideal.
For the best results, many gardeners opt to wrap their seeds in paper products, pop them into a paper envelope, and then place the envelope in an airtight jar. Store the seeds in the following airtight containers to further protect them from pest invasion:
- Metal containers
- Glass jars
- Wire mesh
Try Using Powdered Milk for Extra Preservation
Dry storage is essential for seed packets, but there are other ways you can further preserve them. These ingredients soak up any further moisture from the seed’s environment. However, you need to replace the wrap every six months or so.
Keep the seeds extra dry by adding two tablespoons of powdered milk onto four layers of tissue paper, wrapping the milk packet up, and placing it inside your storage container along with the seeds. Alternatively, placing a packet of silica gel or raw rice kernels in a glass container with your seeds works equally well.
Store the Seed Packets in a Dry, Cool Location
Warmth, as well as humidity, is detrimental to your seed packet’s shelf life. The best place to store seeds is in a dry, cool location such as the refrigerator. If you use the fridge, you can place the seeds in an open storage container, such as a paper bag or envelope. Some gardeners also opt to use a mesh bag as well, and the paper is supposed to keep the seeds safe from moisture.
An open storage method like this helps the seed’s natural moisture and heat escape, which is ideal if you haven’t taken enough care to properly dry the seeds out completely before storage. It also helps offer protection against pests.
You can store all your seed packets in the same location as long as you’ve labeled and dated them accurately. Doing so will allow you to know at a glance which still have planting potential.
Keep Temperatures Stable
Keep them away from the cold of the nearby freezer as well as direct sunlight. Luckily, it’s easy to stabilize temperature and humidity levels in houses today to create the best storage conditions. If you store the seeds in your basement or cellar, use a dehumidifier to reduce the amount of moisture in the air. Basements, for example, can especially hold onto humidity.
Short-lived seeds, however, may not do well in storage. Any vegetable with a lower germination rate will last longer when stored in the freezer, as room temperatures cause the seeds to lose their viability. When using this method, place the seeds in a clear Ziplock plastic bag for added protection against the cold.
Overall, the fridge is a better storage choice than a basement or garage. However, a freezer holds more stable conditions, is better for certain types of veggies, and tend to offer more storage space. Some crops, such as onions, carrots, leeks, and parsnips, do better in the freezer.
Keep the Seed Packets that are Better for Storage
Select the seeds that are worth saving before you do anything. Some vegetables are better for seed saving, such as tomatoes, beans, peas, and peppers. The flowers they offer are self-pollinating, and the seeds often require little to no special care before you store them.
Biennial crop seeds, on the other hand, are more complicated to save. They tend to require two growing seasons for the seed to set, which takes longer. These vegetables include carrots and beets.
Also, (as previously mentioned) make sure to look for open-pollinated varieties over hybrids. These varieties are commonly called heirlooms, as they’re passed down through generations. They’re also more recent selections. The seeds produced by these types of plants will appear nearly identical to the parent plant.
Sometimes hybrid varieties are outstanding in terms of disease resistance, vigor, and productivity. Certain options, such as types of tomatoes, produce viable seeds you can replant. Hybrid seeds are more expensive to purchase and the plants won’t be identical to the parents. It’s nearly impossible to predict how hybrid seedlings will perform or how the fruit may turn out though, which is why they’re not stored.
Understand How Long Can You Store Vegetable Seeds
Many types of seed packets stay viable for around two to three years, and there’s not much you can do to change their life expectancy. Vegetable seeds deteriorate in various frequencies. They’ll also differ based on the both the vegetable’s variety, and your planting zone.
Popular vegetable seeds are stored anywhere from a year to five years. Use the following seed storage guidelines for the best results:
- Arugula – 4 years
- Beans – 3 years
- Beets – 4 years
- Broccoli – 3 years
- Brussels sprouts – 4 years
- Cabbage – 4 years
- Carrots – 3 years
- Cauliflower – 4 years
- Celery – 3 years
- Chinese Cabbage – 3 years
- Collards – 5 years
- Corn (sweet) – 2 years
- Cucumber – 5 years
- Eggplant – 4 years
- Fennel – 4 years
- Kale – 3 years
- Leeks – 2 years
- Lettuce – 5 years
- Okra – 2 years
- Onion – 1 year
- Parsley – 1 year
- Parsnip – 1 year
- Peas – 3 years
- Peppers – 2 years
- Pumpkins – 4 years
- Radishes – 4 years
- Spinach – 2 years
- Squash – 4 years
- Swiss Chard – 4 years
- Tomato – 4 years
- Turnips – 4 years
- Water Cress – 5 years
- Watermelon – 4 years
Prepare Before Planting
Rather than taking the seeds out of storage and immediately submerging them in soil, allow them to warm up. Remove the containers from the fridge or wherever you choose to store them and don’t open the containers until the seed packets have a chance to warm to room temperature. If you miss this step, your seeds may clump together and condense due to the moisture in the air.
Don’t Expect Every Seed to Survive
Even the most organized and methodical gardeners don’t have every single seed survive the storing process. Because all plants vary, some types of vegetables have lower germination rates that allow them only to survive a year or two. Onions and sweet corn, for example, are seeds that home gardeners know to use quickly. But even if you plant the seeds in time, there are no guarantees.
No matter how careful you are, some seeds just won’t germinate. And that’s okay.