Will Old Seeds still grow? The general answer for this question is yes, assuming the seeds are less than 5 years old.
I’m a part of many online gardening groups and I often see people commenting about throwing year old seeds away. I’m writing this quick little article to answer some questions that I have seen floating around wondering “will old seeds still grow”?
This week I filmed a quick video to help answer this question.
What is the date on my seed package all about?
Every seed package you buy will have a date stamped on it. That date will read “packaged for 2019”, or something to that effect. The USDA says that seed companies can’t sell seeds that are older than one year. That is the reason for the date on the package.
You will notice at any nursery some time towards the end of the year all the current years’ seeds will be cleared out or just removed from the shelves and those seed packages will be replaced sometime after the first of the year. Many folks take the date on the package and the fact that seed companies start over every year to mean that seeds are only good for one year. They may think that the seeds “expire” at the end of the year stamped on the package. But that simply isn’t the case!
Will Old Seeds Still Grow?
Most seeds if stored even moderately well will last for at least 3-5 years. Of course the older the seeds get the lower the overall germination rate will be. But I have found that after 5 years I will still get 3 out of 4 seeds to germinate. As a package of seeds gets a little older I will plant a few extra seeds to make up for the fact that some might not grow. But if seeds are under 3 years old then you shouldn’t have any germination issues. You should feel free to plant them normally.
There are a few exceptions to this 5-year rule. Parsnip seeds only last 1 year. Leeks, Onions, okra, parsley and sweet corn only last around 2 years. So if you are planning on buying seeds for those crops be sure to buy packages that are small and will only last you a couple of seasons. To learn more about how long seeds will last read this post.
Storage Conditions are Important
Storage conditions will really affect how long your seeds last. Heat and moisture are both the enemy of seeds. So at a bare minimum, you should keep your seeds someplace cool, dry, and dark. Think a basement closet, or if you don’t have a basement then a closet on the inside of your house that stays cool. Even better, if you have room, store your seeds in an airtight container in a refrigerator.
The one thing you should not do is store your seeds in a hot garage or garden shed. And never store them long term outdoors on your potting bench. Germination rates can be dramatically less if you leave a seed packet out on hot direct sun. Even for a few days.
If you would like to learn more about where and how to store your seeds I would suggest you take a look at this article I wrote last year. It gives you some instructions on how best to store your seeds and better recommendations on how long each different type of seed can last. It includes a list of most of the popular garden vegetables and how long the seeds will last for each seed.
Testing Old Seeds for Germination
A simple way to tell if your older seeds are still viable is to test germinate 10 seeds.
- Place 10 seeds on a wet paper towel
- Roll up the seeds in the towel and place the towel in a Ziploc bag (location and light do NOT matter)
- Let the seeds sit for 3-5 days
- After 5 days check to see how many seeds have germinated
This test will let you know how viable your seeds still are. Whatever percentage of the seeds germinate in the test will let you know how they are going to do in the garden. If the germination rate is below 50% it’s probably time to throw out the seeds and buy a new package.
Will old seeds still grow? Yes! Please don’t throw away your seed packages every year and buy new ones. Keep those seeds stored someplace cool and you should easily be able to keep them long enough to use up every seed in that package!!