Life Expectancy of Vegetable Seeds

Have you run out of garden space and found yourself holding half-full packages of vegetable seeds? If you have extra seed, don't throw it away. There are some vegetables that will still be viable.

If you have seed from previous years, examine them. For example, if the seeds are normally round in shape, but now have divots and indentations, the seed may no longer be viable. If you are still unsure of the seed quality, a germination test can be done. Simply take twenty seeds of the vegetable variety. Moisten a paper towel and place the seeds on it. Roll up the towel and place it in a germination chamber at 70 to 80 degrees Farenheight. What? You don't have a germination chamber? A plastic bag with a label of the vegetable variety will work just fine for your purposes. Check the seeds after 2 or 3 days, then every day for a week or two. Divide the number of seeds germinated by the number of seeds tested. This will give you the germination percentage. If handled with care, germinated seeds may be planted in the garden if the danger of frost has past. Another alternative is to plant the seedlings in flats, pots or trays until they can be transplanted outdoors.

To help you in deciding if your vegetable seeds are viable, a chart with approximate life expectancies is provided below. Unused seeds should be stored in a cool, dry location.

Approximate life expectancy of vegetable seeds stored under favorable conditions.

Vegetable Years Vegetable Years
Asparagus 3 Kohlrabi 3
Bean 3 Leek 2
Beet 4 Lettuce 6
Broccoli 3 Muskmelon 5
Brussels sprouts 4 Mustard 4
Cabbage 4 New Zealand spinach 3
Carrot 3 Okra 2
Celeriac 3 Onion 1
Cauliflower 4 Parsley 1
Celery 3 Parsnip 1
Chard, Swiss 4 Pea 3
Chicory 4 Pepper 2
Chinese cabbage 3 Pumpkin 4
Collards 5 Radish 5
Corn, sweet 2 Rutabaga 4
Cucumber 5 Salsify 1
Eggplant 4 Spinach 3
Endive 5 Squash 4
Fennel 4 Tomato 4
Kale 4 Turnip 4
Watermelon 4

Table modified from D. N. Maynard and G. J. Hochmuth, Knott's Handbook for Vegetable Growers , fourth edition (1997)

This article originally appeared in the April 2, 1999 issue, p. 33.


Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Yard and Garden, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on April 2, 1999. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.