How Long Will Seeds Last in Storage?
I don’t know how many times someone has asked me how long will seeds last in storage. It’s a good question. I know seeds of grain have been discovered in ancient tombs and they actually germinated when planted. Isn’t that amazing? Thousand-year-old seeds are still alive?
There are many ways to store seeds, and some are better than others. If you want your seeds to last in storage the longest time possible, you definitely have to go to some effort to keep them dry. Keeping them out of the light is a good idea as well. Let’s start with how seeds work.
Anatomy of a seed
Nerd ALERT! Each seed has life inside of it. There is an embryo that is alive, an outer part and the covering or seed coat. If a seed becomes over heated, the embryo inside it dies and that causes failure to germinate. The embryo must be protected.
When a seed is moistened, the seed coat cracks or dissolves and the moisture goes inside of the seed. The outer part surrounding the embryo feeds the embryo. When moisture gets inside the seed, the embryo begins germination. After it sprouts a tiny hair like tail, it begins to absorb or “eat” the outer part. We’ll call it the embryo’s lunch box. Each seed is perfectly designed by God to have everything it needs to begin life.
Now as the sprout grows, this tiny hair like root begins to grow and anchor the plant. As it continues to grow it begins to form it’s first two leaves. Next it forms more leaves that are called true leaves and more roots. Once it gets to this point, it requires nutrients from an outside source. If moisture gets in your bag of seeds, it can make the germination process begin before you want it to or know it is. That is another way to cause seed failure. You may not even know your seeds had already germinated and died in their container.
Where is the best place to store seeds?
There are many good places to store seeds. Keep in mind that seeds freeze in nature and freezing does not harm them. If it did, there would be not vegetation on earth after winter. We know in spring, seeds come to life from all over and everywhere. God makes cool stuff and He knows how to make it all work. I’m always in awe of Him.
Seeds can be stored in the freezer and will last really well if they are. If you store them in the freezer you have to be super careful to make sure no moisture gets inside of them. I suggest putting them in glass jars to freeze. That is the most airtight container I can think of. The best tip for freezer storage is when you take them out to look at them, plant them, or check your supplies, leave them in the CLOSED jar until the whole thing comes to room temperature and is dry on the outside. If you open the lid during the process, moisture can get in.
Another good place to stores seeds is the refrigerator. I recommend again, using glass jars for the same reason. Also, remember that some produce such as apples puts off enzymes that can harm certain seeds and keep them from growing. I know apples prevent bulbs from sprouting for sure. So, make sure to keep them in separate areas of the refrigerator.
Seeds need to be kept cool and dry, so if you aren’t going to store them in the fridge or freezer, another good place is under the bed, on the floor of a closet, or other places low to the ground inside the house. Heat rises, so the floor is always cooler than any other place in your room. Low spaces at room temperature are perfectly fine places to store your seeds. I store mine under the bed in a flat tote inside of zip lock bags. I have had great luck with this method.
Keeping them out of the light is a good idea as well so if you’re not going to store them under the bed or in a closet, I would suggest a container that is not clear. Another great tip is to use those silica packs that come in new shoes, purses and other products in your seed storage area. They absorb moisture, so instead of throwing them away, drop one into your seed storage container.
How long do seeds last in storage
Each seed type has a different expected viability timeline. Some seeds such as onions last only a very short time. Other seeds such as greens can last many years. One time my neighbor found some zinnia seeds in an old shed that he put in there 15 years before. They were in the heat in regular paper seed packets. He planted them and quite a few of them actually germinated. If you are in doubt, just plant them, what’s the harm?
If you are really concerned about viability, you can check germination rates before you plant. Moisten a paper towel and wring it out until it’s just damp. Place a few seeds on the towel and set it inside a plastic bag or container so it won’t dry out, check it once every 24 hours, making sure it’s still moist, and see if any of the seeds sprout. Then you will know if they are good or not.
When I have seeds that I don’t need and weren’t able to give away, or seeds that I don’t know how old they are, I like to just plant them. We have a field next door to our garden, what’s the harm if tomatoes or broccoli grows wild over there? It gives something great for pollinators and animals to use and they look pretty. Much better than that old 8 food Johnson grass. Herbs and wildflower seeds are especially great for this. We put our old spent flower seed heads over there as well.
Seeds of the month club is an awesome way to get seeds throughout the year for a super good price. You get 8 packets the first month and 4 every month after for as long as you have your membership. My kids and I LOVE getting our seeds every month!
Here’s a chart of expected times that seeds last in storage. Of course, there are many variables that could make a difference, but these are the average.
Beans 3 years
Squash 4 years
(Winter, summer, pumpkins, etc.)
Tomatoes 4 years
Corn 2 years
Onion family 1 year
Greens and Lettuces 4-5 years
Melons and Cucumbers 4-5 years
Cole Crops 3-4 years
(Broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, etc.)
Peas 3 years
Okra 2 years
Click here to view a chart for seed storage times.
I would recommend buying good quality seeds at a reputable place. Super cheap seeds from the dollar store many times are already dead when you get them. Even if they are 3 for a dollar, save your money and get yourself some good seeds!
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