February 2018

Seed saving, storage tips

Store seed in a cool, dry place. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Store seed in a cool, dry place. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

If you didn’t use up all of the garden seed you bought this year, much of it can be stored for use in next year’s garden, depending on the plant species, says Rosie Lerner, a consumer horticulturist at Purdue University and state coordinator of Indiana Master Gardeners.

Here are her tips:

Seeds of some plants, such as corn, parsley, onion, viola, pansies, verbena, phlox and salvia, are not very long lived, lasting only one or two years at best.

Other seeds, including beans, carrots lettuce, peas, radishes, snapdragon, cosmos, sweet William and zinnia will remain viable, or capable of germinating for three to five years.

Seeds need to be kept cool, dark and dry so that they retain stored carbohydrates and to minimize fungal infection. You can keep the seeds in their original packets to preserve their labeling information. If you transfer the seeds to another container, be sure to label them with at least the plant name and the year the seed was purchased. Either way, be sure the seed is as dry as possible before placing in storage.

One of the more practical methods for storing small quantities is to place leftover seed in sealable jars or other airtight containers and store in a cool, dark area such as the refrigerator, but not the freezer. A layer of powdered milk or uncooked rice at the bottom of the container will absorb excess moisture. Use a paper towel to separate the seed from the absorptive material.

These days, many seed packets only have a few seeds to begin with so the germination test may be a moot point! On the other hand, many seeds are pretty pricey, so saving even a few seeds can make a big impact on next year’s gardening budget.

The following chart listing storage life for common garden species will help you decide which seeds are worth the trouble. However, the conditions that the seeds are stored in dramatically affects how well they will germinate next year, as much or more so than their species.

Plant               Expected Storage Life (Years) Under Favorable Conditions


  • Bean                 3
  • Beet                   4
  • Carrot               3
  • Corn, Sweet    2
  • Cucumber        5
  • Kohlrabi          3
  • Lettuce             6
  • Muskmelon    5
  • Okra                 2
  • Onion              1
  • Parsnip           1
  • Pea                   3
  • Pepper             2
  • Pumpkin         4
  • Radish             5
  • Spinach           3
  • Squash             4
  • Tomato            4
  • Turnip              4
  • Watermelon   4

Source: Knott’s Handbook for Vegetable Growers

Annual Flowers

  • Ageratum        4
  • Alyssum          4
  • Aster                 1
  • Calendula        5
  • Celosia             4
  • Coleus             2
  • Cosmos           3
  • Dahlia              2
  • Dianthus          4
  • Geranium        1
  • Hibiscus          3
  • Hollyhock        2
  • Impatiens        2
  • Lobelia            3
  • Marigold          2
  • Nasturtium      5
  • Nicotiana         3
  • Pansy               1
  • Petunia            2
  • Phlox                1
  • Poppy               4
  • Salvia               1
  • Verbena           1
  • Vinca                1
  • Zinnia              5

Source:  Hill Gardens of Maine

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