The Q&A Archives: Viability of Seeds from Past Seasons

Question: A neighbor gave us a large black plastic trash bag filled with Burpee seeds in un-opened packages -every kind of vegetable and herb imaginable. He found them in a dumpster behind his place of employment. They have "packaged for 1992 season" printed on them. Does this mean that they will not come up any other year other than 1992 and are no good? Is it possible that "tampering" could occur to seeds making them unsafe for planting, in that the vegetable the plant produces may not be safe? Shouldwe plant them? Should we rely on these seeds for our garden? Kim Mead Kilgore, TX

Answer: Seeds "packaged for 1992 Season" may still grow but shouldn't be relied on. They should be safe. Some seeds are viable for only one year such as onions while others may still be good for 5 or more years such as tomatoes. You don't know what conditions they have been stored under which is very important to seed viability. If you want to play around with them, do a germination test by placing the seeds in a moist paper towel, placing it in a dark, warm room and checking the number of seeds germinated after one week. If the germination percentage is less than 70%, I'd say throw them out.

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