Can Old Vegetable and Flower Seeds Still Be Planted?
The Spruce / Lacey Johnson
Seed packets you purchase often contain more seeds than you can plant in one season, and over time you may have many partial packets of seeds without knowing just how old they really are. You might rightly wonder if they will germinate (sprout) again if you plant them. Do seeds go bad with time, or can you plant them no matter how old they are?
The answer is, yes, seeds will eventually go bad and no longer germinate, but it can take quite a long time. There is a good chance that those old seed packets will have a high percentage of seeds that will germinate just fine. Most seeds, though not all, will keep for at least three years while maintaining a decent percentage of germination. And even a group of very old seeds may have 10 or 20 percent that still sprouts.
Your old seeds will stand the best chance of germinating if they have been stored correctly. All seeds will store most effectively in cool and dry conditions, so you should be wary of any seeds that are stored in opposite conditions—warm and moist. When you examine seeds, discard the entire packet if they show signs of mold or another fungus.
Many commercial seed packets may have a “use by” date printed on them. Don’t take this date too seriously—the seed manufacturers use this date to ensure that customers experience a large percentage of germination, and many seeds may remain viable for many years after the date printed on the packet. But the printed date will give you a sense of how old the seed packet is. If you are only a year or two beyond this date, there’s a good chance most of the seeds will still germinate when planted. But if the seed pack is six years old or more, expect to have a much lower percentage of germination.
Going forward, proper storage procedure is to date the seed packet when you buy it, to ensure that you’ll know exactly how old it is when you reach for it in the future. If possible, store the seeds in a sealed plastic bag containing a desiccant packet (those small packets that often come in over-the-counter medicine products), which will keep the seeds dry. If you don’t have desiccant, packets of dry rice or powdered milk will also absorb air moisture. The sealed seeds can be stored in the refrigerator or another cool place, but don’t freeze them.
Average Shelf Life of Some Common Seeds
Here are some estimated shelf life figures from Oregon State Cooperative Extension, based on research. Be aware, though, that even in seed packets much older than this, some of the seeds may still sprout.
- Bush and pole beans: two years
- Beets: two years
- Brussels sprouts: three to five years
- Cabbage: three to five years
- Cauliflower: three to five years
- Carrots: three years
- Collard: three to five years
- Kale: three to five years
- Kohlrabi: three to five years
- Corn: one year
- Cucumbers: three years
- Leeks, onions: two to three years
- Lettuce: three years
- Melons: three years
- Oriental greens: three years
- Parsley: two years
- Parsnips: one year
- Peas: two years
- Peppers: two years
- Radishes: four years
- Rutabagas: three years
- Spinach: one season
- Squashes: three to four years
- Swiss chard: two years
- Tomatoes: three years
- Turnips: four years
- Annual flowers: one to three years
- Perennial flowers: up to four years
Is There a Way to Test Seeds for Viability?
Seeds gradually lose viability as they age, so a packet that begins with a 90 percent viability rating on the packet may, after three or four years, have a much lower viability rate. A simple seed viability test, done by placing a small group of seeds on a damp paper towel to see how many sprouts, can tell you roughly how many of the seeds in the packet will be viable when planted.
If you have a group of seeds you’re not sure about, you can still plant them, but space them with greater density than you would for fresh seeds. Even if only 30 or 40 percent of the seeds germinate, you can still have a successful planting.
Can I Save My Own Seeds From the Plants I Grow?
Saving and starting your own herb, vegetable, and flower seeds is a great way to garden for just pennies each year. Be aware, though, that seeds collected from hybrid plants may not “come true” from the seeds produced. You can still save the seeds, and those seeds will still sprout into seedlings, but it is likely that the mature plants will demonstrate different characteristics than the plants from which you took the seeds. This is because hybrid plants are created by cross-pollinating different parent varieties, and their seeds do not carry the full genetic information. This isn’t always a bad thing. You may actually find that tomatoes from saved seeds, for example, are tastier than the hybrids, although they may not look as perfect. Flowers seeds saved from hybrid plants may produce some unusual and interesting offspring.
If you save seeds from vegetables and fruit you grow yourself, store them in the same way that you save seed packets—in dry and cool conditions.
Learn how to save your seeds for future planting to save pennies in your garden, as they can last many years before losing viability.
Will Expired Seeds Still Grow: Planting With Expired Seed Packets
Many people begin gardening not only as a means to grow healthy and nutritious fruits and vegetables, but to also save money. Growing a crop of your favorite vegetables can be an absolute delight, as can herbs and flowers for the garden. However, each season, growers with limited space may find themselves left with unused garden seeds. In many cases, these seeds are stored away for safekeeping, slowly accumulating with what many the gardening community refer to as a “seed stash.” So are old seeds still good for planting or is it better to acquire more? Read on to find out.
Understanding Seed Expiration Dates
If you look on the back of your seed packet, there should be some type of dated information, at least with most reputable sources. For example, it may have a “packed for” date, which is typically when the seeds were packed, not necessarily when they were harvested. As with many items you find at the grocery store, you may have “sell by” or “best by” date, which normally indicates the end of the year those seeds were packed.
Additionally, many seed packages include a “sow by” date, which doesn’t represent the freshness of the seeds but rather the resulting validity of a germination test previously conducted prior to packaging.
While some may wonder whether or not it is safe to plant seeds that have passed their expiration dates, we know that planting expired seeds will not impact the outcome of the final plant grown from that seed. So, will expired seeds grow? Yes. Plants grown from expired seed packets will grow to produce healthy and fruitful harvests, just as their younger counterparts. With this in mind, one may be left to wonder then, when do old seeds expire? More importantly, why do we need seed expiration dates?
Although seeds do not technically “go bad,” expiration dates are used on seed packaging as a measure of the likelihood that the seeds will be viable. Depending upon the type of seeds, environmental conditions, and the manner in which the seeds have been stored, the germination rate of older seed packets may be greatly impacted.
The best storage conditions for seed packets require a dark, dry, and cool location. For this reason, many growers choose to store plant seeds in airtight jars in places such as refrigerators or in cellars or basements. Many may also add rice grains to the jars to discourage the presence of moisture.
While proper storage conditions will help to prolong the lifespan of seeds, the viability of many types of seeds will begin to decline regardless. Some seeds will maintain high germination rates for up to five years but others, such lettuce, will lose vigor as soon as one year in storage.
Are Old Seeds Still Good?
Before planting with expired seed, there are some steps to take to check whether or not germination will be successful. When wondering, “will expired seeds grow,” gardeners can conduct a simple germination test.
To test the viability from a seed packet, simply remove about ten seeds from the packet. Moisten a paper towel and place the seeds into it. Place the damp paper towel into a zip-lock bag. Leave the bag at room temperature for ten days. After ten days, check the germination of the seed. Germination rates of at least 50% indicate a moderately viable packet of seeds.
Growers with limited space may find themselves left with unused garden seeds, stored away for safekeeping, and slowly accumulating into “seed stash.” So are old seeds still good for planting or is it better to acquire more? Click this article to find out.