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Shelf Life of Seeds

February 27th, 2010

After receiving a few questions about the shelf life of various seeds I figured I’d research a bit and come up with a list for you for you. Obviously different kinds of seeds have a different shelf life. Other things come into play as well, like humidity and temperature. You want to create the best possible environment for your seeds to have optimum shelf life. The garage or garden shed wouldn’t be the best storage place, unlike all the lovely magazine photos show.

There are a few things you can do to help increase the shelf life of your seeds. Keep them in a cool place, about 50 degrees and keep the humidity lower than 50%. One way to help with the humidity is to keep some of those little silica packs from purchasing shoes/bags in your seed box/jar. Some people choose to store their seeds in the fridge or freezer. I have read that storing in the fridge can double the shelf life and storing in the freezer can extend shelf life by 4-5 times. I’m thinking of making a little seed vault with a few varieties of seeds and stashing it in my freezer in a vacuum sealed bag, more about that later.

The seeds with the shortest shelf life are: onions, beans, peas, corn, grains. The ones with the longest shelf life are:
Brassicaceae (cruciferous family) broccoli, cabbage, radish
Solanaceae (nightshade family) tomatoes, peppers, eggplant
Cucurbitaceae (melon family) zucchini, watermelon, pumpkin


I have noticed that onions seeds lose about 50% germination by the second year and peas seem to lose germination rates quickly as well. It’s a good strategy to use most of those up each year or store them in the freezer when you’re not planting. Tomato seeds seem to last forever, I’ve never had trouble with reduced germination on tomatoes even with seed older than 5 years old.

Have you ever noticed changes in seed germination from improper storage or older seeds?

18 Comments to “Shelf Life of Seeds”
  1. Joe on February 27, 2010 at 5:35 am

    Yes some things I have stored for too long haven’t germinated…

    I still have ‘Grandpa Ott’ morning glory seeds that I told I would send you but never did…I will have to get them to you! Morning glory seeds last at least 5 years so they should germinate wonderfully.
    .-= Joe´s last blog ..Approaching Rain =-.

    Reply to Joe's comment

  2. Catherine Forest on February 27, 2010 at 8:55 am

    What a great post! Thank you so much for this great table! I am bookmarking it!
    .-= Catherine Forest´s last blog ..10 simple things I love =-.

    Reply to Catherine Forest's comment

  3. Christine on February 27, 2010 at 9:28 am

    Beans for sure.

    Thanks for the useful blog posts. Not only are you entertaining, I learn something as well!
    .-= Christine´s last blog ..Broccolli =-.

    Reply to Christine's comment

  4. Kelly on February 27, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Yes, more gardeners doing their own seed banks! As you know, I’m all about this :). I love the vacuum sealed bag idea, it’s something I never thought of. Please do share when you do it :).
    .-= Kelly´s last blog ..Awe In The Everyday =-.

    Reply to Kelly's comment

    • Susy on February 27, 2010 at 3:01 pm

      Yes, I’m planning on dividing up my seed orders when I get them into a few vaults for years to come. That way I don’t lose seed through age and then I have them in case of emergency.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  5. Pampered Mom on February 27, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    The freezing part makes sense – ala the “Doomsday Vault.” We’ve been storing ours in the basement…not intentionally as it’s just where they’ve ended up. I had to chuckle when I read a few articles online bemoaning how people over buy seeds and wouldn’t it be great if there were some seed exchanges set up. Don’t get me wrong, I love the seed exchange idea, but I couldn’t help but think that the seeds could be saved and replanted another year.

    Thanks for a wonderful post on the matter!
    .-= Pampered Mom´s last blog ..How hard could it be to buy a computer? =-.

    Reply to Pampered Mom's comment

    • Susy on February 27, 2010 at 5:06 pm

      Very true. That’s what I’m planning on doing in my vault, distributing the remaining seeds in small amounts and freezing. I think I’ll end up with a few years worth of seeds, which will save me some money on seeds over the course of the next couple years.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  6. MAYBELLINE on February 27, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    Only time will tell.
    Your table is a very helpful reference.
    .-= MAYBELLINE´s last blog ..Lilacs! =-.

    Reply to MAYBELLINE's comment

  7. Chris Maciel on February 27, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    I also have the habit of hording seeds as I usually only use a dozen or so of any seed I want to grow.
    I test the seeds in question by germinating in a mini greenhouse first: put in moist-not wet-papertowel, fold over, zip sandwich bag closed and place in warm spot-above the fridge works well. In about seven days you can check the seed.
    This year I lost some seed in a zip locked bag that I carelessly put into an attic. A mouse found them and at the sunflower seeds.
    Now I see I have to use a metal box that’s mouse-proof.
    I love germinating seeds – always feels like witnessing a miracle.
    Thanks for sharing your photos with us.

    Reply to Chris Maciel's comment

  8. Wanda on February 28, 2010 at 1:59 am

    Thank you for the chart! I will also bookmark it!
    .-= Wanda´s last blog ..2010 Knitting Olympics =-.

    Reply to Wanda's comment

  9. Sylvie on February 28, 2010 at 11:03 am

    Absolutely, one am tell the difference in old seed and new seed for germination: how fast, how many and how healthy. I have to say that would only give 2 years to peppers and beans. On the other hand, I would rate carrots at 5 years. I am sure however that viability also vary with cultivar – besides proper storage. Basil also keeps well.
    .-= Sylvie´s last blog ..A Gross Of Tomatoes =-.

    Reply to Sylvie's comment

  10. Kim Lowe on February 28, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    thank you for doing the dirty work and pulling this info together!
    .-= Kim Lowe´s last blog ..Costa Rica =-.

    Reply to Kim Lowe's comment

  11. Tommy on March 1, 2010 at 8:16 pm

    Thanks for the email the other day. Since I’m a gardening newbie, this info really helps.
    Tommy

    Reply to Tommy's comment

  12. [...] be normal and if stored in the fridge or freezer you can save them 2-5. I wrote a post about the shelf life of seeds already, you can download this chart from my Flickr account if you’d like a copy. You’ll also [...]

    Reply to Seed Starting 101: The Needs of Seeds | Chiot’s Run's comment

  13. Sara on May 31, 2010 at 8:52 am

    Great info! I even have dessicant bags so into the fridge they go. We have a tiny garden so way more seeds than we can use in a year.
    .-= Sara´s last blog ..New Forays with Chives =-.

    Reply to Sara's comment

  14. Nice Life photos | uAre Successful on December 2, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    [...] Seed Shelf Life Image by Chiot’s Run I have been looking into the shelf life of seeds for some of my readers. I made this handy little chart. Storing the seeds in the fridge or freezer will extend shelf life. Read my blog for more info on seed storage: chiotsrun.com/2010/02/27/shelf-life-of-seeds/ [...]

    Reply to Nice Life photos | uAre Successful's comment

  15. Cassandra Johnson on August 1, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    Don’t store your seeds in the refrigerator if they are in those “garbage” plastic baggies. If you put a Banana or certain vegetables in the same refrigerator the “garbage” plastic baggies are gas permeable and the seeds will be killed in a matter of days.

    Reply to Cassandra Johnson's comment

  16. Cassandra Johnson on August 1, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    This spring I decided to open an use a seed survival package that has been stored in my freezer in Foil/Poly pouches that were hermidically sealed since 1984, There were 70 types of vegetables and 22 kinds of herbs. The germination rate was still above 85% on 95% of the seed packets. The pouches need to be at least 3.5 mils thick foil with poly laminate in order to produce these types of results.

    Never put a silicon pouch in with seeds. If your seeds were properly dried before packaging all the silicon pouch will do is dry the seed to “DEATH”.

    Reply to Cassandra Johnson's comment

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