Save the Seed!

Published: October 24, 2009

If you didn’t use up all of the garden seed you bought this year, much of it can be stored for use in next year’s garden, depending on the plant species. Seeds of some plants, such as corn, parsley, onion, viola (pansies), verbena, phlox, and salvia, are not very long lived, lasting only one or two years at best. Other seeds, including beans, carrots, lettuce, peas, radishes, snapdragon, cosmos, sweet William, and zinnia will remain viable (capable of germinating) for three to five years.

Seeds need to be kept cool, dark, and dry so that they retain stored carbohydrates and minimize fungal infection. You can keep the seeds in their original packets to preserve their labeling information. If you transfer the seeds to another container, be sure to label them with at least the plant name and the year the seed was purchased. Either way, be sure the seed is as dry as possible before placing in storage.

One of the more practical methods for storing small quantities is to place leftover seed in sealed jars or other airtight containers and store in a cool, dark area such as the refrigerator (not the freezer). A layer of powdered milk or uncooked rice at the bottom of the container will absorb excess moisture. Use a paper towel to separate the seed from the absorptive material.

These days, many seed packets only contain a few seeds so the germination test may be a moot point! On the other hand, many seeds are pricey, so saving even a few seeds can make a big impact on next year’s gardening budget.

The following chart listing storage life for common garden species will help you decide which seeds are worth the trouble. However, the conditions in which the seeds are stored dramatically affects how well they will germinate next year, as much or more so than their species.

Vegetables*

Plant Expected Storage Life (Years) Under Favorable Conditions
Bean 3
Beet 4
Carrot 3
Corn, sweet 2
Cucumber 5
Kohlrabi 3
Lettuce 6
Muskmelon 5
Okra 2
Onion 1
Parsnip 1
Pea 3
Pepper 2
Pumpkin 4
Radish 5
Spinach 3
Squash 4
Tomato 4
Turnip 4
Watermelon 4

* Knott’s Handbook for Vegetable Growers

Annual Flowers**

Plant Expected Storage Life (Years) Under Favorable Conditions
Ageratum 4
Alyssum 4
Aster 1
Calendula 5
Celosia 4
Coleus 2
Cosmos 3
Dahlia 2
Dianthus 4
Geranium 1
Hibiscus 3
Hollyhock 2
Impatiens 2
Lobelia 3
Marigold 2
Nasturtium 5
Nicotiana 3
Pansy 1
Petunia 2
Phlox 1
Poppy 4
Salvia 1
Verbena 1
Vinca 1
Zinnia 5

** Hill Gardens of Maine,
hillgardens.com/seed_longevity.htm