Life Expectancy of Vegetable Seeds

Life Expectancy of Vegetable Seeds

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. According to James Romer, horticulturist with Iowa State University, 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
Asparagus 3
Bean 3
Beet 4
Broccoli 3
Brussels Sprouts 4
Cabbage 4
Carrot 3
Cauliflower 4
Celeriac 3
Celery 3
Chinese cabbage 3
Chicory 4
Cucumber 5
Collards 5
Eggplant 4
Endive 5
Fennel 4
Kale 4
Kohlrabi 3
Lettuce 6
Watermelon 4
Leek 2
Muskmelon 5
Mustard 4
New Zealand Spinach 3
Okra 2
Onion 1
Parsley 1
Parsnip 1
Pea 3
Pepper 2
Pumpkin 4
Radish 5
Rutabaga 4
Salsify 1
Spinach 3
Squash 4
Sweet Corn 2
Swiss Chard 4
Tomato 4
Turnip 4
John Fech
John Fech
Extension Educator - Horticulture
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.

Contact John at:
Douglas/Sarpy County Extension
8015 W Center Road
Omaha, NE 68124-3175
(402) 444-7804


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