The Q&A Archives: Old Seeds

Question: Do seeds get old and you can't use them? An old friend gave me some seeds he has had for about 10 years. And when I go to the garden Centers they always say that their seeds are this year seeds. I didn't want to plant them if they are not any good.

Answer: Seed viability varies widely depending on the type of plant and the storage conditions, but ten years is a long time in seed terms. Seed corn for instance really only lasts about a year, but tomato seeds can reliably last for more than six years if well stored. Seeds for some perennials seem to last "forever" while some must be sown shortly after harvest. The germination rate will usually decrease however over time until eventually it is better to replace it than risk crop failure or such low germination that it is a poor use of space. To test your seeds you might want to pregerminate a few and see how they do. You can then use this to predict whether or not it is worth planting the rest of that type of seed. To pregerminate seeds, wrap a few on a barely moistened paper towel and enclose that in plastic wrap so it won't dry out. Place the packet in a warm bright location but away from direct sun. Check it periodically to see if there is any action -- then use that information to extrapolate.

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