Gardening: Are seeds left over from last year still viable?

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Most seeds will germinate well and produce good plants for three years if kept in a dark, dry, and uniformly cool place.

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Helen chestnut Helen Chesnut suggests writing the date of purchase on the seed packets to keep track of how old the seeds are. Helen Chesnut suggests writing the date of purchase on the seed packets to keep track of how old the seeds are. Photo by Getty Images /PNG

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Q. As I plan my seed purchases for this year, I find that I have packets of seeds left over from last year’s sowing. How many years can seeds germinate well?

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A. That depends on the type of seed and the conditions under which it was stored. Most seeds will germinate well and produce good plants for three years if kept in a dark, dry, and uniformly cool place. Some seeds remain viable for up to twice as long. These include nasturtiums, cucumber, zinnia, pumpkin, melon, watermelon, and beets.

Seeds with short-lived viability are onions, leeks, parsley, corn, delphinium, tender geranium (pelargonium), sage, strawflower and verbena. These are best kept for only one year; that is, sow only in two consecutive years.

To know how old the seeds are, make a habit of labeling each pack with the year of purchase.

A note on pelleted seeds: A few years ago I began to notice that pellets germinated poorly or not at all in the year after they were bought. While investigating the problem, I found that the pelleting process reduced the life of the seeds. Pelleted seeds should be used within one year of purchase.

Seeds that are usually pelleted are small, like carrots and lettuce. They are covered with a layer of clay to make them larger and therefore easier to use and to save space.

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