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will 20 year old seeds grow

Can Old Vegetable and Flower Seeds Still Be Planted?

The Spruce / Lacey Johnson

Seed packets you purchase often contain more seeds than you can plant in one season, and over time you may have many partial packets of seeds without knowing just how old they really are. You might rightly wonder if they will germinate (sprout) again if you plant them. Do seeds go bad with time, or can you plant them no matter how old they are?

The answer is, yes, seeds will eventually go bad and no longer germinate, but it can take quite a long time. There is a good chance that those old seed packets will have a high percentage of seeds that will germinate just fine. Most seeds, though not all, will keep for at least three years while maintaining a decent percentage of germination. And even a group of very old seeds may have 10 or 20 percent that still sprouts.

Proper Storage

Your old seeds will stand the best chance of germinating if they have been stored correctly. All seeds will store most effectively in cool and dry conditions, so you should be wary of any seeds that are stored in opposite conditions—warm and moist. When you examine seeds, discard the entire packet if they show signs of mold or another fungus.

Many commercial seed packets may have a “use by” date printed on them. Don’t take this date too seriously—the seed manufacturers use this date to ensure that customers experience a large percentage of germination, and many seeds may remain viable for many years after the date printed on the packet. But the printed date will give you a sense of how old the seed packet is. If you are only a year or two beyond this date, there’s a good chance most of the seeds will still germinate when planted. But if the seed pack is six years old or more, expect to have a much lower percentage of germination.

Going forward, proper storage procedure is to date the seed packet when you buy it, to ensure that you’ll know exactly how old it is when you reach for it in the future. If possible, store the seeds in a sealed plastic bag containing a desiccant packet (those small packets that often come in over-the-counter medicine products), which will keep the seeds dry. If you don’t have desiccant, packets of dry rice or powdered milk will also absorb air moisture. The sealed seeds can be stored in the refrigerator or another cool place, but don’t freeze them.

Average Shelf Life of Some Common Seeds

Here are some estimated shelf life figures from Oregon State Cooperative Extension, based on research. Be aware, though, that even in seed packets much older than this, some of the seeds may still sprout.

  • Bush and pole beans: two years
  • Beets: two years
  • Broccoli:
  • Brussels sprouts: three to five years
  • Cabbage: three to five years
  • Cauliflower: three to five years
  • Carrots: three years
  • Collard: three to five years
  • Kale: three to five years
  • Kohlrabi: three to five years
  • Corn: one year
  • Cucumbers: three years
  • Leeks, onions: two to three years
  • Lettuce: three years
  • Melons: three years
  • Oriental greens: three years
  • Parsley: two years
  • Parsnips: one year
  • Peas: two years
  • Peppers: two years
  • Radishes: four years
  • Rutabagas: three years
  • Spinach: one season
  • Squashes: three to four years
  • Swiss chard: two years
  • Tomatoes: three years
  • Turnips: four years
  • Annual flowers: one to three years
  • Perennial flowers: up to four years

Is There a Way to Test Seeds for Viability?

Seeds gradually lose viability as they age, so a packet that begins with a 90 percent viability rating on the packet may, after three or four years, have a much lower viability rate. A simple seed viability test, done by placing a small group of seeds on a damp paper towel to see how many sprouts, can tell you roughly how many of the seeds in the packet will be viable when planted.

If you have a group of seeds you’re not sure about, you can still plant them, but space them with greater density than you would for fresh seeds. Even if only 30 or 40 percent of the seeds germinate, you can still have a successful planting.

Can I Save My Own Seeds From the Plants I Grow?

Saving and starting your own herb, vegetable, and flower seeds is a great way to garden for just pennies each year. Be aware, though, that seeds collected from hybrid plants may not “come true” from the seeds produced. You can still save the seeds, and those seeds will still sprout into seedlings, but it is likely that the mature plants will demonstrate different characteristics than the plants from which you took the seeds. This is because hybrid plants are created by cross-pollinating different parent varieties, and their seeds do not carry the full genetic information. This isn’t always a bad thing. You may actually find that tomatoes from saved seeds, for example, are tastier than the hybrids, although they may not look as perfect. Flowers seeds saved from hybrid plants may produce some unusual and interesting offspring.

If you save seeds from vegetables and fruit you grow yourself, store them in the same way that you save seed packets—in dry and cool conditions.

Learn how to save your seeds for future planting to save pennies in your garden, as they can last many years before losing viability.

20-40 year old seeds

UrpleMoss
Member

I was just gifted a jar full to the brim of seeds that vary in age from 20 to almost 40? years old. I guess this is going to turn into the great strain quest for me.

Do folks in general think there’s a chance I will find some gems out of these?

Will they even germinate after so long?

The story of how I came to get these is a marvelous. but will have to be saved for another time

Well-Known Member
UrpleMoss
Member

I’m wondering about the germ. rate myself. Just dropped about 10 in a wet paper towel.

I certainly wouldn’t dedicate a whole grow to the unknown seeds, but growing a few in a “time capsule” strain hunt seems fun to me.

eightgage
Member
HalfSackZach
Member

I just popped some 6 year old seeds about 3 weeks ago. I went 3/4 but then ended up pulling one that was growing slow. so 2/4.

these were kept in a freezer though and i think that definitely helps. the strain is Danny Boy. supposed to have some durban in it i think

MacGuyver4.2.0
Well-Known Member

20-40 years old? Wow. now that’s finding long lost treasure. You can resurrect some strains that probably no longer exist! The problem with a jar full- It will take you years to even test them all, and even if you did lots at once, you could have far too many plants on your hands than you’d like.

This begs the question however- Has anyone here EVER popped seeds older than that? Ever?

Tillyo
Member
rollitup
Forum Admin

A couple of years ago I found a little vial that I put some seeds in back in ’74, so they were about 35 years old. They were from “a really good bag,” which is the only thing we used to grow in the 70’s and the 80’s. So I tried to germinate them, there were about 20 seeds, and none popped.

Good luck with yours!

northstar22
Member
growone
Well-Known Member
UrpleMoss
Member

Well , I put 15 in a paper towel a week ago and none from that group cracked. I will keep trying for sure. I do not think they were stored with care though, they were in ana attic.

I agree on the comment that it could take years to try them all. I joked that it was a lifetime supply of seeds.

These were collected over a long period by an herb purveyor in North Portland Oregon. We are hoping he would have only kept seeds from the best.

UrpleMoss
Member

Anyone out there have thoughts on how to increase the liklihood of germintating them?

jujubee
Active Member

I am also trying to bring back some of my old seeds.

I can get some of them to germinate, but the first set of true leaves never comes. I may try a pre-soak.

I was just gifted a jar full to the brim of seeds that vary in age from 20 to almost 40? years old. I guess this is going to turn into the great strain…