Do you have a passion for gardening? If so, you might be wondering how long vegetable seeds last.
When growing your food, you want to get a good head start by using the best possible seeds. You also want to make sure the roots are fresh and viable. This is an important question to answer, as the cost of sources can add up quickly.
Fortunately, we’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll explore the factors that affect seed viability, how to store seeds properly, and how to test seed viability before planting.
Do Seeds Really Expire?
Seeds do not have an expiration date, so there’s usually no way to tell if they’re still viable. They only have a “best buy” or “use by” date, which you’ll usually see on the packaging. This is because seeds don’t go wrong. After all, they spoil over time. What goes bad is their ability to produce a plant when planted in good conditions, so gardeners and farmers need to know when their seeds are no longer reliable for planting.
Now that you know that most seeds don’t expire like food would let’s talk about how long they actually last.
How Long Do Seeds Last?
When starting a garden, it’s easy to see the seeds as the most crucial part of the process. Though they’re certainly essential, they’re only the beginning. Gardening is an exercise in patience, with many long hours caring for your plants and waiting for them to grow.
Seed longevity is a tricky subject when it comes to growing vegetables. Different kinds of seeds last for different amounts of time, and the length of time your roots will be viable can vary based on storage conditions.
Of course, you don’t want that patient to go to waste—so it’s essential to ask yourself whether those seeds will germinate before you plant them. Seeds can last for different periods depending on what kind of plant they belong to and when they were collected—but once a source has lost its viability, there’s no getting it back. The best way to find out whether you’ll be able to use your seeds is by placing them in water or moist soil and observing their reaction: if they float, they’ve probably lost the ability to grow. However, if they sink, you’ll likely have success if you plant them right away.
It’s also important to consider how well you’ve stored your seeds over time. Always keep your seeds in a cool, dry place (the refrigerator can be ideal). Also, make sure that whatever container you’re using is airtight so that moisture can’t get in and ruin your seeds.
What Affects Seed Viability?
Vegetables are notorious for having a short lifespan. Many vegetables, such as broccoli and mustard greens, fail when their seeds have been exposed to too much moisture for too long a period of time. Seeds that lie dormant for the wrong amount of time can degrade and become infertile.
This is what happens:
- Temperature: The ideal temperature for germination is about 70 degrees Fahrenheit—a higher or lower temperature can adversely affect the viability of seeds in an unheated basement or garage.
- Moisture: Like many living organisms, seeds need water to survive and thrive. However, if water saturates the soil around a vegetable’s roots beyond its capacity, it will drown them and prevent them from germinating. * Light: Too little light prevents growth entirely; not enough exposure to light stunts plant growth (this is why seedlings die once they’re planted). * Oxygen: Vegetable seeds need oxygen just like you do. Seeds encased in plastic bags without adequate room to breathe lose their ability to germinate at all.
How to Store Seeds
Even if you’re a seasoned gardener and know the ins and outs of growing plants, it can be difficult to properly store your seeds for maximum life expectancy. The key to storing seeds is just as the name suggests: keeping them dry and cool. Once you have those two things covered, you’ll be able to maximize your harvest from year to year.
First, ensure that your seeds are completely dry. Any moisture can cause molding or other unsavory issues down the road. Once they’re nice and dry, it’s time to put them in an airtight container like a glass mason jar with a tight seal. Make sure not to let any moisture get in there! From there, place them somewhere cool and dark—basements work great! Don’t store right near a heat source like an oven or light bulbs either.
If you want to take it one step further, try putting them in some kind of vacuum-sealed bag or another protective barrier between their container and their storage location. If you don’t feel like getting out all the science equipment, this won’t do too much for extending their shelf life but will help keep dust off of them for easy clean-up later on. It’s always good to keep things tidy!
If you have vegetable seeds that have been stored properly, they may still be viable.
While it’s impossible to determine the exact shelf life of any particular seed, there are some general guidelines you can follow to determine how long your seeds will last. There are two main factors that affect a seed’s longevity: its method of storage and its physical traits.
Seeds stored in cool, dry places have the longest lifespan. Some hardy varieties, like those from tomatoes or other cucurbit family members, can remain viable for upwards of five years if stored properly (dry and cool is the key). In contrast, seeds from lettuce or peas would generally only be good for one year; these more delicate species require more careful handling to stay viable for longer periods of time.
The physical characteristics of the seed can also indicate its quality. Seeds with visible signs of mold or rot are much less likely to germinate than seeds that haven’t been exposed to such damage. Similarly, small cracks or deformities may mean that a seed has begun to deteriorate on a cellular level; this type of damage probably won’t affect viability as long as they aren’t extreme, but don’t count on them germinating either way. Take note if your seeds have any signs similar to these or follow up with experts at companies like Thompson & Morgan if you’re unsure how best to handle your specific crop.