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How long can you save seeds / bulbs for?

ClaringtonClarington Posts: 4,949

Now before I waffle on too deeply I know that scientists have managed to germinate seeds found in squirrel winter stores that were dated around 32,000 years of age but for this discussion I'm thinking more of the seeds we're likely to find in our potting sheds / pantry (or as I found this morning a pack of rocket seed in my sock drawer - no idea how it got stuffed in there but it does make me question what I might find in the potting shed boxes!)

I have left over from this year several packs of part used seeds (predominately salad type leaves, tomato plants, ornamental poppies I've collected from the garden...) some of which would have been brought in late 2012. They're all kept in little paper envelopes sealed in a plastic tub and left in a cool but frost free room.

Should I expect any of these seeds to be viable after more than a year? How long do seeds "last" if they're treated well? In fact what is the best way to store seeds?

Are there any tricks / tips for telling if a seed is past its prime?

I've also some left over garlic and onion bulbs which came in mesh bags. Do these need storing in any special way to help the bulbs last a little longer? (i.e. dark / cool).

Thank you once again for your help! I look forward to showing you the results of your patience with my questions next year!


  • Bulbs - including garlic and onion bulbs need to be planted as soon as poss really.  

    Some people swear by planting their garlic on the shortest day 21/22 Dec.  

    As for seeds, some will germinate even if they're quite old, some won't.  I think there are some types which last better than others but I'm not sure which they are.  I will always try with old seeds, but if I desperately wanted something to germinate for the coming season then I'd get some fresh seeds as well - that way probably both lots would grow!!! image

    Gardening in Central Norfolk on improved gritty moraine over chalk ... free-draining.

  • punkdocpunkdoc Posts: 14,925

    Agree with Dove. Some seeds need to be sown fresh, sometimes straight from plant, others eg. annual poppies may be viable for hundreds of years. If you have something that you consider to be "essential" then I would always buy fresh, but I find many flower seeds germinate when they are several years old.

    How can you lie there and think of England
    When you don't even know who's in the team

    S.Yorkshire/Derbyshire border
  • Forester2Forester2 Posts: 1,477

    When my FIL died we cleared out his shed and successfully germinited 10 year old seeds.  They were all vegetable seeds so I don't know how long flower seeds keep but it is always worth giving anything you find a chance.  As Punc and Dove say for anything that you can't do without,t it is always best to buy fresh seed.  You seem to be doing exactly as I would to store your seed Clarington. 

  • Here's a story for you,  I used to live near a small town in Norfolk, Swaffham.

    Howard Carter, co-finder of King Tut, lived here. Among some of the items given to the local museum were papyrus seeds found in the tomb.

    Yes, the museum managed to germinate a few of them!, Made the local paper.

  • I had some sunflower seeds that the pack said were "out of date" but they seemed to germinate ok, they were about a year or so after their best sown by date but at least half seemed to germinate of the ones I planted.

  • fidgetbonesfidgetbones Posts: 17,569

    Peas and beans will keep for ten years in a cool dry place.(rodent free)

    tomatoes, chillies, peppers, lettuce will keep for two or three years.

    Parsnips and onions will only survive a season. It is important to get fresh each year.

    Bulbs need to be planted as soon as you have got them. Whilst you will often get away with late planting, you will get the best results with the bulbs being in the ground for a long time, as they make roots long before the shoots come up. Daffs in the ground will be making roots in September. Snowdrops particularly dont like being dried out..

  • Jim MacdJim Macd Posts: 750

    As a general rule how long a seed will last depends on the conditions, ie, temperature and moisture content. The higher the temp and moisture content the less time the seed will last. Also, wide temperature variations reduces the life of a seed, so a seed stored in a shed or greenhouse will probably last less time that one stored in a warm, dry spare room or cold, dry fridge. Very dry conditions and very cold are ideal conditions failing that very dry with a stable temperature is the next best thing which is why seed from Egyptian tombs sometimes germinates after thousands of year.

    Bulbs - well you can tell by looking at it if it's a keeper. Basically if it's dry and shrivelled or soft and soggy chuck it, otherwise give it a go.


  • ClaringtonClarington Posts: 4,949

    Thanks FidgetBones that's really useful. I didn't realise bulbs were only any good for a couple of months (effectively). Looks like I'll be out in the garden tonight with my head torch on to get a few more planted up.

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