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Using Old Seeds: How Long Do Seeds Last in Packets?

How long do seeds last in packets? Longer than you may think! Old seeds can still produce plenty of life if you’re willing to give them a chance. Here’s what you need to know about using old seeds in your garden.

how long do seeds last in packets

Once you’ve got the gardening itch, you’ll find yourself with more seeds than you know what to do with. A pack here, a pack there, and suddenly, you’ve got more plant varieties than you could possibly squeeze into your garden.

It’s just part of being a gardener!

Often, these packets come with plenty of seeds, and you won’t need to use all of them in one year, so you save them for the next!

Seeds can lose their quality over time, and you may wonder if you can still use them.

People frequently ask me how long do seeds last in packets, so I’ll give you the lowdown on what to expect from your old seeds.

coriander seeds spread out on a wooden surface

How Long Do Seeds Last in Packets?

Most seed packets will have an expiration date. And much like our food’s expiration date, the seeds are often better for much longer than they say.

Seed companies use expiration dates to guarantee germination rates and success. As long as the seeds are within that range, you’re likely to see strong germination rates (germination rates + the percentage of seeds that will actually sprout).

The seeds won’t go bad or produce lesser-quality food or flowers. When the seed is bad, it just means that it won’t germinate.

Your seeds can last a long time. You may just see lower germination rates the older the seeds are. So don’t toss the seeds just because they’re past their expiration date! Even if 2 out of 10 germinate, they’re still worth holding onto in my opinion.

If you’re having trouble germinating seeds, read my tips here.

how long do seeds last in packets
You can make your own seed envelopes, like these Valentine’s-themed ones.

Seed Viability

Seed viability is a common gardening term that indicates how likely a seed is to germinate under optimal conditions. New seeds have great seed viability, while older seeds are less likely to sprout.

Once the seeds leave the seed company and make their way to your home, the company can no longer guarantee how well they are being stored. You could have them in a hot garden shed, a seed library, or tucked away in a closet.

To guarantee their seed viability, seed companies will usually list expiration dates as well as germination rates on their package. This manages people’s expectations, no matter how well they store the seeds.

seed viability in seed library
Seed libraries are great for sharing, but only for seeds to be used that season.

How to Properly Store Seeds

To ensure you have the best seed viability possible, you should be storing your seeds in a cool, dark, and dry place.

Keep moisture away from the seeds by placing them in an airtight container or Ziplock bag as soon as you purchase them.

Keep them away from all heat sources, including sunlight.

You want to ensure that the seeds are not spoiled before you’re ready to use them. Properly storing your seeds will increase the chances of your seeds germinating next gardening season.

Various seeds collected from the garden and placed in separate containers
I save many seeds, separating them first before storing them for the winter.

How to Test Old Seeds for Germination

If you have some old seeds or some mystery seeds with an unknown age, you can try a germination test to see how likely it is that the seeds will sprout.

In the germination test, you can try out ten seeds. See how many germinate, and apply that as a percentage. For example, if 6 out of 10 seeds germinate, your seeds have a 60% germination rate…which is really good for old seeds!

Follow my steps for how to perform a germination test here.

how to germinate seeds in a paper towel
This easy germination test uses a paper towel and a Ziplock bag.

FAQ About Old Seeds

How long do seeds last in a freezer?

It’s best to avoid putting your seeds in the fridge or the freezer. The fridge, while cool, can have quite a bit of humidity. Freezing seeds can kill some varieties, so I just avoid it altogether.

How do I save seeds for next year?

For most plants, you wait until the seeds have ripened on the plant. First, you will need to identify the seed and wait for it to darken and dry out. When you’re ready to harvest the seeds, you’ll seal them in airtight packaging and label them.

For more seed-saving instructions and tips for specific plants, check out this post.

More Tips for Growing Seeds

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