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How to Save Your Vegetable Seeds for Next Year

Learn to save vegetable seeds for years to come.

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The Spruce / Michelle Becker

A packet of vegetable seeds may look dry, brittle, and lifeless, but in many cases, seeds are very much alive. Inside each plant seed is the embryo of a future plant. However, seeds do not remain alive forever. How long seeds remain viable depends on the type of seed and how well it is stored.

Most Vegetable Seeds Can Stay Viable for Years

Most vegetable seeds remain good for about two to three years, but some, such as onions, deteriorate within a year and others such as lettuce, can successfully sprout after five years. The table below lists average years of viability for well-stored vegetable seeds, compiled from regional sources. There will be some variability because of the variety of seed and whether the seed was fully ripe and kept dry in storage.

Seed Storage Guidelines

Vegetable Storage Years Vegetable Storage Years
Arugula 4 Leek 2
Bean 3 Lettuce 5
Beet 4 Muskmelon 5
Broccoli 3 Mustard 4
Brussels Sprouts 4 Okra 2
Cabbage 4 Onion 1
Carrot 3 Parsley 1
Cauliflower 4 Parsnip 1
Celeriac 3 Pea 3
Celery 3 Pepper 2
Chard, Swiss 4 Pumpkin 4
Chicory 4 Radish 4
Chinese Cabbage 3 Rutabaga 4
Collards 5 Salsify 1
Corn Salad 5 Scorzonera 1
Corn, Sweet 2 Sorrel 4
Cucumber 5 Spinach 2
Eggplant 4 Squash 4
Endive 5 Tomato 4
Fennel 4 Turnip 4
Kale 4 Water Cress 5
Kohlrabi 3 Watermelon 4

How to Store Vegetable Seeds

You can’t do anything to change the life expectancy of different types of seeds. But if you save your own seed or need to store purchased seed, you can keep it fresh for the maximum amount of time by taking these steps to store it properly.

  • Be certain the seeds are completely dry, to the point of being brittle, before you pack them away.
  • Place dried seeds in a paper envelope, to absorb any moisture that might get in, and label with the name and year.
  • Keep the envelopes in an airtight container out of direct sunlight.
  • Store in a cool, dry place.

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The Spruce / Michelle Becker

How to Test Seeds for Viability

There’s an easy way to determine how viable your saved seed is and what percentage of it you can expect to germinate.

You Will Need:

  • 10 seeds
  • Paper towels
  • Water
  • Sealable plastic bag
  • Permanent marker

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The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Moisten a sheet of paper towel so that it’s uniformly damp, but not dripping wet.

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The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Place the 10 seeds in a row along the damp paper towel.

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The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Roll or fold the paper towel around the seeds so that they are covered.

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The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Place the paper towel with the seeds into the plastic bag and seal it. Write the date on the plastic bag, so there’s no guesswork involved. If you are testing more than one type of seed, also label the bag with the seed type and variety.

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The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Place the plastic bag somewhere warm, about 70 degrees Fahrenheit (a sunny windowsill or on top of the refrigerator should work).

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The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Check daily to be sure the paper towel does not dry out. It shouldn’t because it is sealed, but if it gets very warm, you may need to re-moisten the towel with a spray bottle.

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The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Start checking for germination in about five days. To do this, gently unroll the paper towel. You may even be able to see sprouting through the rolled towel. Very often the roots will grow right through it.

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The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Check your seed packet for average germination times for your particular seed, but generally, 7–10 days should be enough time for the test.

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The Spruce / Michelle Becker

After 10 days, unroll the paper towel and count how many seeds have sprouted. This will give you the percentage germination you can expect from the remaining seeds in the packet. If only three sprouted, it is a 30% germination rate. Seven would be a 70% germination rate, nine would be a 90% germination rate, and so on.

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The Spruce / Michelle Becker

What the Germination Rate Tells You

Realistically, if less than 70% of your test seed germinated, you would be better off starting with fresh seed.

If 70–90% germinated, the seed should be fine to use, but you should sow it a little thicker than you normally would.

If 100% germinated, your seed is viable and you’re ready to plant.

There is no need to waste the seeds that have germinated; they can be planted. Don’t let them dry out and handle them very carefully so that you don’t break the roots or growing tip. It’s often easiest to just cut the paper towel between seeds and plant the seed, towel and all. If the root has grown through the towel, it is almost impossible to separate them without breaking the root. The paper towel will rot quickly enough and, in the meantime, it will help hold water near the roots.

Many vegetable seeds can be viable for years if they're stored properly. Learn how long each type of seed can survive and how to store and test them.

How Long Do Seeds Last?

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How long do garden seeds last? How do you tell if your old seeds are still good? Let’s find out!

Wintertime is the season when these questions matter. The gorgeous seed catalogs arrive in the mail, tempting you with beautiful photographs.

But before you go crazy, it’s time to inventory your leftover seeds to avoid duplication and determine viability.

How Long Do Seeds Last?

Some seeds have a longer life expectancy than others. Most last for a couple of years if stored in a dry, cool place.

  • I have learned from experience that onion seeds are not much good after the first year, but tomato, cucumber, and melon seeds can last 5 years or more.
  • Brassicas and squash seeds are good for 4 to 5 years.
  • Parsley, sweet corn, leeks, parsnips, shallots, and chives require fresh seeds every year.

Seeds are living things and their viability is affected greatly by the way they are stored. Most experts agree on dark, cool, and dry conditions as being the best. We keep some of our seeds in the refrigerator, but most are in open boxes in the dining room—probably not the best location.

How to Tell If Your Seeds Are Still Good

If I have a question about the viability of some seeds—such as those beans that someone gave me back in 2012—I will test a few.

This is as easy as placing ten seeds on a damp paper towel, folding it up, and placing it in a plastic bag. Put the bag in a warm spot and check after a week or so to see if any of the seeds have sprouted.

  • If 2 out of 10 germinate, that means a germination rate of about 20%—not too good, so I would either plant more of them than usual or buy fresh seeds altogether.
  • If 8 out of 10 germinate, that means 80%—not bad at all, and I can likely get away with using them for another season.

Once you have determined what you need, you can shop with a clear plan in mind and be less likely to overbuy.

Have fun looking through this year’s seed catalogs and dreaming of your best garden ever. Summer is just a page away in a seed catalog! Speaking of which, check out our list of free garden catalogs and sites.

Are vegetable seeds from last year still good? Here's how to test your seed viability.