Gardeners Planting Out-Of-Date Seeds
(Image credit: LuckyBusiness)

It happens to all gardeners. We tend to go a bit hog wild in the spring, buying way too many seeds. Sure, we plant a few, but then we throw the rest in a drawer and next year, or even many years later, we find them and wonder about the possibility of planting old seeds. Is it a waste of time germinating old seeds?

Can You Use Out-of-Date Seeds?

The simple answer is planting old seeds is possible and okay. No harm will come from using old seeds. The flowers or fruit that come from out-of-date seeds will be of the same quality as if they were grown from fresh seeds. Using seeds from old vegetable seed packets will produce vegetables that are just as nutritious as those from current season seeds. The question is not so much about using old seeds, but rather your chances of germinating old seeds.

How Long Will Old Seeds Stay Viable?

In order for a seed to germinate, it must be viable, or alive. All seeds are alive when they come from their mother plant. There is a baby plant in every seed and, as long as it is alive, the seed will grow even if they are technically out-of-date seeds. Three major things affect a seed's viability:

  • Age - All seeds stay viable for at least a year and most will be viable for two years. After the first year, the germination rates for out-of-date seeds will start to fall.
  • Type - The type of seed can affect how long a seed stays viable. Some seeds, like corn or peppers, will have a hard time surviving past the two year mark. Some seeds, like beans, peas, tomatoes, and carrots, can stay viable as long as four years. Seeds like cucumber or lettuce can stay viable up to six years.
  • Storage conditions - Your old vegetable seed packets and flower packets will have a much better chance of keeping their seeds viable if they are stored well. Seeds will stay viable much longer if stored in a cool, dark place. Your produce drawer in the refrigerator is a good choice for storage.

Regardless of the date on your seed packet, germinating old seeds is worth a shot. Using old seeds is a great way to make up for last year's excesses.

Heather Rhoades
Founder of Gardening Know How

Heather Rhoades founded Gardening Know How in 2007. She holds degrees from Cleveland State University and Northern Kentucky University. She is an avid gardener with a passion for community, and is a recipient of the Master Gardeners of Ohio Lifetime Achievement Award.