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How long do vegetable seeds last

Often you start every spring by purchasing new seed packages. By the end of the season, you have half full packages of seeds. What to do with or throw out? How long do vegetable seeds last

Great end of the season sales you can take advantage of

There are lots of ways to save seeds “the right way”. But quite honestly I never seem to get around to doing all the things that I should do “the right way”. So the seeds that I have been saving are just kept in the original packages in a box.


The right way to save vegetable seeds

I will say that if you want to increase the likelihood of seed saving success you should follow the basic requirements of good storage:

  • Cool, dry place
  • Air tight container
  • Dark place with no chance of sunlight

Of the above list, I did keep the seeds cool and dry. They were for the most part kept in a dark place. I did not keep them air tight!

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Experiment to find out how long do vegetable seeds last

I started with three random packages of cucumbers and tomatoes. These seeds are all from different companies. The age of the seeds range for 6 years to newly purchased. I choose these two vegetables simple because I have some older cucumber and tomato seeds in my box.

How to tell if vegetable seeds are viable

The first thing you should do is float the seeds in a cup of water.

Put any seeds you want to test in a cup cool water. Wait at least 15 minutes with 30 being the maximum time you need.

Any seeds that float after that time will not grow. These are dead seeds.

The bonus is that the seeds that stay on the bottom will have a soften shell. The soft shell will help the seed germination. Plant right away. The seeds that have been in the water can not be saved for a later time.

The paper towel test for vegetable seeds

You can test your seeds with the paper towel test also.

Take a moist paper towel, spread your seeds out over the towel. Then cover the towel with a second moist paper towel.


In a few days to a week depending on the type of seeds the viable seeds will have started to sprout.

Plant the sprouted seeds right away. The others are not viable.

This method is effective but too slow for me. I like to find out right away then plant. However the paper towel method does have its advantages. Nearly 100% of the seeds that you plant from sprouted seeds will grow.

When planting older seeds

When you plant older seeds it is a good idea to put two in each hole rather than just one. The float test is helpful but not absolute. Although I do find the germination rate of old seeds that pass the the float test to be quite high.

Please view the video to see the results

As you can see there is no real germination difference in tomato seeds from 6 years ago and this year. There was a big difference in cucumber seeds from year to year.



How long will different vegetable seeds last

Iowa State University has a good basic chart of different seeds storage lengths. I have taken that basic list and expanded on it a bit.

List basic guidelines

Why is important to know how long vegetable seeds last?

The number of people that grow there own vegetables increase dramatically each year. There is no clear data on how much is spent on seeds. However according to Investopedia the average family spends $238 per year.

Many families don’t plant the whole package of seeds each year. Saving the extra for the following year just makes sense.

Indoor gardening

As an indoor gardener, I know that vegetable seeds are sometimes hard to find in November. I plant some containers of vegetables indoors all year round. It is great to have a ready supply of anything I need.

See how to set up a new indoor garden here

Best time to buy seeds

Most people have an understanding of what they need for seeds each year. People tend to replant favorites over and over again.

So why not take advantage of huge sales in the late summer and fall.

We now know that seeds will stay viable for years. It makes a lot of sense to stock up at end of the season sales. I have seen sales of 90% off seeds!

Now I would call that a good value.

For more information on seed starting please read “The best soil for starting seeds”

Its Spring!  Time to get your perfect seed starter

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