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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.

Laidback Gardener

Welcome to Larry Hodgson’s world

How long can you store flower seeds?

Are Last Year’s Seeds Still Good?

Most gardeners store their leftover garden seeds for another year… or two years. Or three. But how many years can you store seeds and still get good germination?

In fact, under perfect conditions, for hundreds of years! There are seed banks, such as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, whose goal is to preserve crop genetic diversity, that store seeds at between -16 and -30˚C… and they estimate that at least some seeds will still be viable in 7,000 years!

Under average home conditions, however, seed viability is much, much shorter. So, supposing you kept last year’s seeds under the cool, dry conditions they prefer, how long can you expect to keep them?

Sorry, there’s no easy answer. Just how long you can store any given seed varies according to the species.

Here therefore are three charts — vegetables, herbs and flowers — that gives you the number of years seeds are still likely to be viable if stored under “average” home conditions.

Vegetables

  1. Arugula – 4 years
  2. Asparagus – 4 years
  3. Beet – 6 years
  4. Broad bean – 5 years
  5. Broccoli – 5 years
  6. Brussels sprout – 5 years
  7. Cabbage – 5 years
  8. Carrot – 4 years
  9. Cauliflower – 5 years
  10. Celeriac- 6 years
  11. Celery – 6 years
  12. Chicory – 4 years
  13. Chinese cabbage – 5 years
  14. Common bean – 3 years
  15. Corn – 2 years
  16. Corn salad – 5 years
  17. Cucumber – 8 years
  18. Eggplant – 6 years
  19. Endive – 4 years
  20. Ground cherry – 10 years
  21. Gumbo – 2 years
  22. Kale – 5 years
  23. Kohlrabi – 5 years
  24. Leek – 3 years
  25. Lettuce – 5 years
  26. Melon – 5 years
  27. Mustard – 4 years
  28. New Zealand Spinach – 3 years
  29. Okra – 2 years
  30. Onion – 2 years
  31. Parsnip – 2 years
  32. Pea – 3 years
  33. Pepper – 4 years
  34. Pumpkin – 6 years
  35. Quinoa – 7 years+
  36. Radish – 5 years
  37. Rutabaga – 5 years
  38. Sorrel – 2 years
  39. Spinach – 4 years
  40. Squash – 6 years
  41. Strawberry – 6 years
  42. Swiss chard- 6 years old
  43. Tomatillo – 3 years
  44. Tomato – 4 years
  45. Turnip – 5 years
  46. Water cress – 5 years
  47. Watermelon – 5 years
  48. Zucchini – 6 years

Herbs

  1. Angelica – 3 months
  2. Basil – 8 years
  3. Borage – 4 years
  4. Caraway – 3 years
  5. Catnip – 3 years
  6. Chamomile – 3 years
  7. Chives- 2 years
  8. Cilantro – 5 years
  9. Coriander – 5 years
  10. Dill – 5 years
  11. Fennel – 4 years
  12. Lavender – 2 years
  13. Lemon balm – 3 years
  14. Mint – 3 years
  15. Mustard – 4 years
  16. Oregano – 1 year
  17. Parsley – 2 years
  18. Rue – 2 years
  19. Sage – 2 years
  20. Sweet marjoram – 1 year
  21. Thyme – 3 years

Flowers

  1. Ageratum – 4 years
  2. Amaranth – 5 years
  3. Aquilegia– 2 years
  4. Baby’s breath – 3 years
  5. Balloon flower – 3 years
  6. Beebalm – 7 years
  7. Black-eyed susan vine – 2 years
  8. Browallia – 3 years
  9. Calendula – 6 years
  10. California poppy – 3 years
  11. California sunflower – 2 years
  12. Canna – 3 years
  13. Carnation – 2 years
  14. Celosia – 4 years
  15. Chinese forget-me-not – 3 years
  16. Chrysanthemum – 5 years
  17. Clarkia – 3 years
  18. Cockscomb – 4 years
  19. Coleus – 2 years
  20. Coreopsis – 2 years
  21. Cosmos – 4 years
  22. Dahlia – 3 years
  23. Datura – 4 years
  24. Delphinium – 1 year
  25. Dusty Miller – 4 years
  26. Evening primrose – 2 years
  27. Flax – 2 years
  28. Flowering tobacco – 5 years
  29. Forget-me-not – 2 years
  30. Four o’clock – 3 years
  31. Foxglove – 2 years
  32. Garden balsam – 6 years
  33. Geranium (annual) – 2 years
  34. Geranium (perennial) – 2 years
  35. Gerbera – 1 year
  36. Globe amaranth – 3 years
  37. Godetia – 3 years
  38. Heliotrope – 2 years
  39. Hollyhock– 3 years
  40. Hyacinth bean – 2 years
  41. Impatiens – 2 years
  42. Joseph’s coat – 5 years
  43. Kochia – 1 year
  44. Larkspur – 2 years
  45. Lavatera – 5 years
  46. Lobelia – 4 years
  47. Love-in-a-mist – 2 years
  48. Love-lies-bleeding– 5 years
  49. Lupin – 2 years
  50. Madagascar periwinkle – 2 years
  51. Marigold – 3 years
  52. Mignonette – 4 years
  53. Monarda – 7 years
  54. Morning glory – 3 years
  55. Moroccan toadflax – 3 years
  56. Nasturtium – 7 years
  57. Nemesia – 3 years
  58. Nicotiana – 5 years
  59. Nigella – 2 years
  60. Pansy – 2 years
  61. Pelargonium – 2 years
  62. Petunia – 3 years
  63. Phacelia – 2 years
  64. Phlox – 2 years
  65. Pink – 2 years
  66. Poppy – 5 years
  67. Portulaca – 3 years
  68. Salpiglossis – 7 years
  69. Salvia – 1 year
  70. Snapdragon – 4 years
  71. Statice – 3 years
  72. Strawflower – 2 years
  73. Summer cypress – 1 year
  74. Sundrops – 2 years
  75. Sunflower 3 years
  76. Sweet alyssum – 4 years
  77. Sweet pea – 3 years
  78. Sweet William – 2 years
  79. Torenia – 2 years
  80. Verbena – 1 year
  81. Vinca – 2 years
  82. Wallflower – 6 years
  83. Wishbone flower – 2 years
  84. Yarrow – 4 years
  85. Zinnia – 6 years

Germination Test

Obviously, the above lists are not exhaustive. If you’re unsure of the viability of any seed, rather than wasting space in the garden on seeds that won’t be germinating, simply do a germination test before you sow. You can find out all about that here.

Posts about How long can you store flower seeds? written by Laidback Gardener