Seeds are an inexpensive way to keep your garden thriving year after year. You can keep favorite plants coming back, along with hard-to-find ones. Keeping your precious seeds viable from one growing season to the next isn’t hard. All you need is the right container, along with a cool, dry space.
If you’re new to growing plants from seed or are having problems with viability in the spring, here’s what you need to know about how to store seeds over the months.
How to Store Your Seeds Correctly
Imagine you wait all winter to plant your seeds, get them in the dirt, and nothing starts to sprout. Chances are, you didn’t properly store the seeds. Here’s how to seed longevity by keeping them safe and ready to go in the spring.
Dry Your Seeds Properly
If you’re harvesting seeds from plants, you need to dry them before storing them away. You can use either a newspaper or a paper towel.
Lay the seeds flat without touching, and let them air dry for seven days. It’s a good idea to write the names of the seeds on the paper, along with the date. It prevents mix-ups and ensures you know what you’re planting.
Don’t forget: Only seeds from open-pollinating plants are viable, not ones from hybrid species.
Organize and Protect Your Seeds
If you want a successful germination rate from your stored seed collection, it’s essential to properly store and organize your seed packet. Doing so can keep your seeds viable for years to come.
Use Mason Jars
Store your seeds in an airtight container. Mason jars are great options and come in a variety of sizes. However, if you don’t have any mason jars, seeds in an envelope stored in any glass jar with an airtight lid will work.
Seeds can still absorb moisture in a sealed storage container. A quick tip is to add some powdered milk to the jar. Wrap the powdered milk into facial tissue and place it in the container. If you have a silica gel packet, use that instead of powdered milk.
Quick Tip: Replace the powder or gel packs every six months if you’re storing your seeds for an extended time.
Create Card Catalogs
Growers are reusing old card catalogs for seed storage. Card catalogs offer a dark and dry place to store leftover seeds while keeping them highly organized. You can sort seeds by type, variety, date, or alphabetically.
Place your seeds in a small envelope, and jot down the name, date, and growing details on the outside of the packet. You can keep your seeds organized and easy to find the next time you’re ready to plant.
Find Storage with Suitable Conditions
Did you know heat and humidity shorten the life of your seeds? It doesn’t take long before the seeds are no longer viable
Depending on your local weather, you may be able to store the seeds in a dark closet, drawer, or cupboard. Some people even keep their seeds in the garage or garden shed.
Temperature and humidity levels frequently change, even in the winter. To ensure your seeds germinate after planting, the best place to store them is in the refrigerator. It provides the cool, dry environment seeds need to stay viable.
Germination Rates (Seed Viability)
Don’t be surprised or discouraged if all your garden seeds aren’t viable. It’s natural and a fact of life. Even when seeds are correctly harvested, dried, stored, and planted, not all are viable. It’s nature’s way of preventing plant species from getting out of control.
Not all seeds are viable for their full term. It’s why you want to keep storage containers dated. Some are only good for one or two years, and some plants naturally produce seeds with low germination rates.
Curious if your seeds are short or long-lived? Here’s a brief list of some popular varieties and their storage life.
Seeds with a Short Storage Life:
Important to note: These seeds are only viable for around 12 months.
Seeds with a Longer Storage Life:
With a storage life of three to four years, you don’t have to rush to plant them all.
What About Flower Seeds?
Flowers have the same viability as vegetable seeds. Garden seeds from flowering annuals can be stored for up to three years, while perennials can still be viable after four years. However, it’s not uncommon for some flowering seeds to germinate after five in storage.
If you’re not sure if the seeds are still viable, you can perform a simple test.
1. Lay a few seeds on a moist paper towel
2. Cover the seeds with a clear plastic bag.
3. Place the paper towel in a warm, sunny spot.
Lift the plastic covering after a week or two. If you notice small sprouts, then the seeds are still viable. You also have a head start on germination and can stick the seeds in the ground.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you still have some questions about how to store seeds, we have you covered.
What is the best way to store seeds for the long term?
Properly storing seeds in a freezer can keep your seeds viable for several years. However, the seeds must be completely dry before freezing, as exposure to humidity before freezing seeds can kill them.
How long can seeds be stored?
Different types of seeds can be viable after various lengths of time. Annuals typically last 1-3 years in cool storage. Perennials can last between 4-5 years. You should replace seeds with higher oil content annually, whereas some vegetables can last up to 5 years or longer.
Will 20-year-old seeds grow?
If kept in proper conditions, 20-year-old seeds could have the ability to germinate. However, all seeds degrade over time, and you’ll end up with more of the seeds being less viable the older they get.
Can you store seeds in Ziploc bags?
Though Ziploc bags are not the best method of storing seeds, you can use them. However, Ziploc bags are prone to excess moisture, so it’s essential to make sure the bags are completely dry and you’ve pressed all of the air out of the bag before storing them in a cool and dark environment.
Is it illegal to save seeds?
While it isn’t illegal to save most seeds, certain seeds could land farmers in some trouble. For example, plant varieties that have patents are illegal to store. Though some restrictions are lighter now to keep certain species alive, trading these seeds remains illegal.
What is the longest-lasting seed?
Radish, cucumber, and collards have a longer life span, lasting five years and more. These seeds can outlive many other plant varieties if properly stored, and you can keep them for several years.
Store Your Seeds for Years to Come
If you enjoy collecting and seed saving to try out through different seasons, or if you’re looking to build up a safe food supply, knowing how to store seeds is essential.
Keeping your seeds in a dark, dry, cool environment can allow them to stay viable for an extended period. Using a mason jar, storing seeds in the freezer, or keeping seeds free of moisture are all ways to extend the life of your seed.
By following the above tips, you’ll have seeds to plant through any season for years to come.