In the Garden – Lifespan & Viability of Seeds

Lifespan & Viability of Seeds – Learn about the life expectancy of a packet of seeds and how to test germination rates.

[This post was originally penned in January 2017 and has since been updated.]

For the next few weeks, we will focus on gardening tips and pointers geared toward helping you have a successful garden season.

We’ve already talked about Ordering Seed Catalogs and how to Grow a Years Worth of Produce.  Now, let’s talk about seeds.

Growing plants from seed is the cheapest way start your garden and it can give you a greater bio-diversity than seedlings purchased from a local home and garden store.

Besides cost, there is another important reason to start your own seedlings – retail outlets often sell seedlings that contain Neonicotinoid Pesticides. These pesticides affect the central nervous systems of insects, even beneficial insects such as the honeybee and other pollinators, if this wasn’t bad enough, it’s unknown as to what the long-term effects on humans may be.

Seed Packet/Envelopes

You’ll notice every seed packet has much of the same information on it:

  • Name of the Plant (Common & often Latin).
  • Variety.
  • The number of seeds or weight of seeds.
  • Annual, Biennial or Perennial – annuals only live for one year and need to be replanted. Biennials take two years to complete their life cycle.  Perennials will come back year after year.
  • Days to Germination – how long it should take for your seed sprout to emerge.
  • Days to Maturity – the time it takes your plant to reach bearing age.  This information, along with days to harvest is particularly important for those of us with relatively short growing seasons.
  • Days to Harvest – is usually based on when the seed is direct sown or when the seedling is transplanted into the garden.
  • Planting Instructions – how to plant the seed, depth, and spacing, amount of sunlight, etc.
  • Whether it’s an Heirloom, Hybrid or an Open-Pollinated Seeds – All Heirloom seeds are Open-Pollinated (OP) but not all OP seeds are old enough (50+ years) to have a proven track record that would give them the Heirloom designation.As long as pollen is not shared between different varieties within the same species, then the seed produced by Heirlooms and OP will remain true-to-type year after year.
  • Hybrid (sometimes called FI) – Are NOT GMO related. They are created through selective breeding that can enhance their disease resistance and increase production. While this sounds great, these seeds should not be collected and saved for use next year as the plant may have different characteristics than the one produced by the original seed.
  • Packaging Date or Expiration Date – seed packets may have THIS year’s date on them, however, the seeds are already several years old.  The date stamped is just the “Packaged For” date.  As long as they have been stored properly, most are still good to use after that date.

Lifespan of a Seed

If you’re anything like me, you probably have a stack of seeds from last year or maybe even from several years ago, but are they any good? Here is a list of plants and how long their seeds a viable when stored correctly.

  • Artichoke: 5 years
  • Asparagus: 3 years
  • Beans: 3 years
  • Beets: 4 years
  • Broccoli:3-5 years
  • Brussels Sprouts: 4 years
  • Cabbage: 4-5 years
  • Carrots: 3 years
  • Cauliflower: 4-5 years
  • Celery: 5 years
  • Collards: 5 years
  • Corn: 1-2 years
  • Cucumbers: 5 years
  • Eggplant: 4-5 years
  • Garlic: 1 year
  • Kale: 5 years
  • Leeks: 1 year
  • Lettuce: 5-6 years
  • Melon: 5 years
  • Okra: 2 years
  • Onions: 1 year
  • Parsnips: 1 year
  • Peas: 3 years
  • Peppers: 2-4 years
  • Potatoes: 1 year or less
  • Pumpkin: 4 years
  • Radishes: 5
  • Rhubarb: 1 year
  • Spinach: 3-5 years
  • Squash: 4-5 years
  • Tomatoes: 4 years
  • Turnips: 5 years
  • Zucchini: 4-5 years

Testing Seed Viability

A viable seed is one which will germinate under the right conditions.

If you will be using seeds from previous years, seeds you have saved from your garden or ones others have given you, it’s a good idea to test the viability (germination rate).  

The process is quite simple only requiring a few things:

  • Seeds to be tested.
  • A spray bottle with tap water.
  • A paper towel.
  • Ziplock type plastic bag.
  • Permanent marker.
  1. Fold the paper towel in half and moisten well.
  2. Place 5 seeds on one-half of the paper towel and fold in half.
  3. Place in a marked zipper bag and
  4. place in a warm spot like on top of your refrigerator and wait until the package says the seeds should germinate

Of 5 Seeds Tested:
1 Seed Germinated = 20% Germination Rate
2-3 Seeds Germinated = 50% Germination Rate
5 Seeds Germinated = 100% Germination Rate

If the seeds are good, most of them will germinate. If they don’t, you might consider purchasing new seeds.

Don’t throw out the seed that germinated.  Carefully plant them in some soil and treat them as you would a new seedling.  We’ll talk more about that next time.

Visit our Etsy shop and pick up our DOWNLOADABLE 2018 “My Garden Journal” to help you on your gardening Journey. This amazing tool contains 30+ pages of helpful logs, planners, charts, and tips. It’s an immediate digital download and has been designed to be printed landscape (11”x8.5”), fitting nicely into a standard 3-ring binder.

We’ve thought of just about everything you would need – it even has pages that cover Individual Plant/Seed Profiles & Seed Testing!!

And it’s available, through the month of January for 25% off in our Etsy store!!

Get yours today and get your 2018 gardening season off to a great start! 

OH!!  And you’ll definitely want to check out our next post… we will be offering a FREEBIE!!  You wont want to miss it!

Do you have any tips for starting seeds or do you have questions we or one of our awesome readers can answer? Leave a comment below!

Ps. Next time we will talk about getting a jump start on your growing season by starting your seeds indoors. I hope you’ll visit us again then.

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Content and Photos by Misty Meadows Homestead and S.Lago © All Rights Reserved

2 thoughts on “In the Garden – Lifespan & Viability of Seeds

  1. Why do you think seeds are several years old when you buy them? What is your source for that statement? By law, seed companies must test germination rates every year. It doesn’t make sense to me that the seed companies would hold on to seeds and have to re-test germination rates each year.


    1. Hi Wendy, Unfortunately, once we research information or obtain the information, we rarely write down exactly where we got it. This is because we have checked SEVERAL sources and feel confident enough with the information (that is unless it’s health-related, in which case we often provide the source information linked in the blog.) That is sort of the case with this. We’ve run across it multiple times during internet searches but remember the first time we heard it. It was from a woman that came to a permaculture seminar at a college near us. She was the head of one of the largest seed saver/exchanges in our state. After her talk, we took to the internet and found other references to this. And it makes sense to us–Every fall we see a plethora of seeds packs that didn’t get sold. We asked the storekeeper what happens to them, do they toss them, and were told they get sent back to the company–it makes sense that they would resell them rather than let them go to waste and need to test the germination rates. We information we have and always encourage others to do their own research. Thanks for stopping by and we hope you will visit again!


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