Q: Getting ready for this year’s veggie garden, I found seed packets from prior years.
Are these still good? How long do seeds last?
• Bob from Austintown
A: Seeds are a remarkable and resilient thing. In nature, seeds can last years, even decades waiting for the right conditions: temperature, sunlight, water and scarification (the opening the seed coat) to germinate.
A 2,000-year-old date palm seed, found near the Dead Sea in Israel, was successfully germinated a few years ago. Amazing!
Your vegetable seeds won’t last quite that long. Depending on the type of vegetable, the seeds still can be viable for one to five years. Onions and spinach seeds are good for about a year. Peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and squash seeds usually last four or five years.
As seeds age, their percentage of germination goes down, until only a few, if any, will sprout and grow.
After each year, if you have leftover seeds, you can help them last longer by storing them in a cool (under 50 degrees is ideal), dark, dry place. The container and or the location you store them should be rodent proof.
If you don’t know how old the seeds you found are, you can test their viability. Don’t just give up on them.
Take a sample of seeds from the packet and put them on a moistened paper towel. You will need to make sure the seeds do not touch. Fold or roll the paper towel, keeping the seeds separated. Put the paper towel in a plastic bag and keep the plastic in a warm location. This will keep the moisture level up and humidity around the seeds.
Check the paper towel every couple of days to make sure it is staying moist. If it needs water, give the paper towel a quick spray of water.
The seed package should say how long the seeds will take to germinate. After this period, open the plastic bag and towel and see how may seeds have germinated. If most of the seeds have sprouted, the seeds should be good for this year. If few or no seeds have germinated, it’s time to order some more seeds.
You can still plant the seeds that have poor germination. But, you’ll spend a lot of time and energy to get just a few plants. Depending on the type of plant, the time you have, and the availability of seeds this year — it may be worth it. Knowing that you won’t get many plants ahead of time will make it more of a challenge than a disappointment.
For more information on how long seeds last, go to http://go.osu.edu/oldseeds.
For details on starting seeds and how long till germination, check out http://go.osu.edu/daystoemerge.
Sprague is an OSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in Mahoning County. Call 330-533-5538 to submit questions to the Plant and Pest Clinic. During the off season, questions can be submitted at any time. Spring clinic hours begin April 4. For more information, visit go.osu.edu/mahoningclinic.