Originally Published Nov 29, 2021
Updated Sep 27, 2022
Do Seeds Expire?
Many people see a year written on the back of a seed packet and think this is an expiration date. While seeds do lose viability over time, they don’t have standard expiration dates like you would see on packaged food. Seeds are living things. They are able to be stored for several years if kept under the right conditions. Following this article we have included a link to our new Seed Life and Storage Resources page for advice on how to store your seeds to get the best life out of them.
How Long Do Seeds Last For?
Exactly how long you can save a seed depends on what it is. Different seeds have different storage capacities. Below are some of the most common types of seed to save:
- 1 Year - Onions, Parsnips, Parsley, and Spinach
- 2 Years - Corn, Peas, Beans, Chives, and Okra
- 3 Years - Carrots, Leeks, Asparagus, Turnips, Rutabagas
- 4 Years - Peppers, Chard, Pumpkins, Squash, Watermelons, Basil, and Artichokes
- 5 Years - Brassicas, Beets, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Cucumbers, Muskmellons, Celery, and Lettuce
These values are simply an estimation. To know if those extra seeds you have kept in a bucket are still good just do a germination test. To do this, wet a paper towel and roll up 10 or more of one type of seed. Keep this damp paper towel full of seeds in a plastic bag.
After 5-14 days you should be able to count how many have germinated. The results will help you know how well you can rely on that batch of seed. Plant at a rate you feel confident in. For example, if only 5 of 10 seeds germinated you may want to plant twice as many seeds as you want to grow to maturity since half of them likely won’t germinate.
Why is there a year stamped on my paper packet?
How seeds are stored make a big difference on how long they will stay viable for. The biggest influence is the temperature and type of container the seeds are kept in. For the best seed life store your seeds in the fridge or freezer.
Looser packaging such as paper packets tend to leave the seed more susceptible to a changing environment. For this reason paper packets are required to have a “packaged for” year. This year stamped on the packet is often confused as being an expiration date.
The reality is, this seed is just fine to use for years to come. The same seed may also come packaged in a sealed plastic or mylar bag which will better preserve your seeds from external environmental factors. To extend the storage life of your paper packet, store your packets in a plastic bag or sealed container in a cool and dark place. To prevent bugs or mice form reaching your seed collection, place your packets in a glass mason jar.
Why is there a "Packed for" year insert in my kit or seed assortment?
This means your kit or assortment was made entirely with seeds packed for the same year to ensure equal germination across varieties. In these cases, the "packed for" date is included on an insert inside of the kit/assortment and NOT on the individual paper packets themselves. This is because all the paper packets in your kit were packaged at the same time, so you can be confident all of your seeds will germinate as expected.
Each paper packet does include a lot number that allows us to identify and track the seed in our system. If one variety inside of a kit/assortment comes back with a low germination result, our system allows us to locate those packets immediately. All kits/assortments with even one low germination packet will then be opened and the packet replaced.
We don't just stick on a "packed for" date and then assume your seeds are great for that year. We regularly check the lots and update as needed, so you know we are sending fresh, high germination packets to our customers every day.
For More information check out our Seed Life and Storage Resources Page
About the Author
I'm Ashleigh Smith, a native to Northern Utah. I first gained a love of gardening with my grandmother as I helped her each summer. I decided to make a career of it and have recently graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Horticulture from Brigham Young University - Idaho. My studies have focused on plant production while I also have experience in Nursery & Garden Center Operations.
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What about vacuum sealing? Does it help keep them longer or is it detrimental?
Clint, vacuum sealing will increase the shelf life of your seeds especially when they are stored in a refrigerator. If you can’t vacuum seal them the next best option is an air tight container.
If you buy in a packet and can’t vacuum seal, should you take them out of the packet first before putting in airtight container and put THAT in the fridge for longest preservation? Is it possible for moisture from fridge to corrupt seeds if container is not absolutely air-tight? Thank you!
True Leaf Market
Hi Barbara, you don’t really have to take them out of the packet. In fact, I would recommend keeping them in the packet to prevent confusion later on regarding what type of seed it is you have. It can be helpful though to put your packet in a baggie to prevent water or moisture from affecting the seeds if you don’t have the ability to vacuum seal them. Really seeds are no where near as problematic as food for example. Seeds can last years if they are kept in a cool, dry location.
After a life long experience as a seed technologist I can tell you that storage of seed in a sealed container in a refrigerated environment including a freezer is the best way to insure the viability of the seed from year to year. Since most garden seed packets are small they take up very little room in either a refrigerator or a freezer. Just as storing food at lower temperatures extends the usable life of the item, so does storing seed in the same manner but with a much much longer life.
I would add that it’s a good idea to put your seed packets, plastic or paper, in a large glass jar. it’s the only material mice can’t chew through. It’s very disappointing to pull out your safely stored seed packets in the cool pantry and find only the hulls. Mice can chew through plastic totes. The voice of experience.
I just received my latest shipment of seeds and was wondering about how long they last and got this email and posted it to friends on FB. Thank you!
I do a lot of peppers and tomatoes. How long do the seeds for both last? Peppers are all hot and about 8 or 9 different types of tomatoes. Thank you.
I had always read that leeks would last for only 1 year just like onions. Happily surprised to learn from your blog that leek seeds would last for 3 years.
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