GARDENING WITH THE MASTERS: Last year’s vegetable seed – still viable for 2022? | Lifestyle
Flower and vegetable seed catalogs now appear in the mailbox and we receive email promotions from the various flower and vegetable seed companies. If you’re a home vegetable grower like me, you usually have leftover vegetable seeds from last year. Or you might even have several packets of leftover vegetable seeds from a few years back that you might want to sow this spring. It’s important to remember, however, that vegetable seeds have a short lifespan and are usually no longer good after a year or two.
As you look forward to the 2022 growing season, you may be wondering if those leftover seeds are still viable. The answer is “it depends”. Seed viability depends on how the seeds have been stored and handled, and what the vegetable is. So now it’s time to check the leftover vegetable seeds you may have from last year’s season. When going through your stash of leftover seed packets, be careful with the seed packets.
Rubbing the outside of the packet to find out how many seeds are inside can break down the protective seed coat and reduce germination. So the question is, are the seeds in the packs from previous years still viable – will they germinate? Seed viability varies significantly with the type of plant, whether the seeds were pretreated or pelleted, and how they were stored.
Seeds in good condition and properly stored will last at least a year and can last anywhere from two to five years, depending on the plant. Seed companies can store seeds for up to the number of years of viability before selling them. They have the right seed stores to do this while we home gardeners don’t.
To maintain high seed viability, after opening the seed packet, the remaining seeds should be sealed in airtight containers and stored in a cool, dark place. Jars with rubber seals, like baby food jars or mason jars, or tightly sealed plastic bags that are stored in jars are good choices. Be sure to label all stored seeds with the species name and original packing date. Proper seed storage will ensure maximum germination for some time.
There is a simple and quick seed germination test you can perform to determine seed viability. First, count out at least 20 randomly selected seeds (50 is better, 100 is best). Next, spread the seeds out on several layers of damp paper towels and roll them up in the paper to keep the seeds separate. Place the roll in a plastic bag and keep in a warm place – the top of the fridge is a good spot. Remember to label each roll with the seed variety. Check the seeds in two or three days and then every day for a week or two. When a root or cotyledon protrudes through the seed coat, the seed has germinated.
When a few seeds have germinated and waiting a week indicates no more will sprout, you can calculate your germination rate. First, divide the number of seeds germinated by the number of seeds tested to determine your germination percentage. Then compare the germination percentage to the germination rate (if available) on the seed packet label. When the seed germination rate is high, the seeds can be planted well. If the germination rate is below 50%, throw away the old seeds and buy fresh seeds labeled for 2022.
A quick guide to seed viability:
♦ Annual: onions, parsnips, parsley, salsify and spinach
♦ Two years: corn, peas, beans, chives, okra, dandelion
♦ Three years: carrots, leeks, asparagus, turnips, turnips
♦ Four years: peppers, chard, pumpkins, squash, watermelon, basil, artichokes and cardoon
♦ Five years: most cabbages, beets, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumber, cantaloupe, celery, celeriac, lettuce, endive, chicory
You can search the Internet for seed viability charts. The UGA Extension Bulletin 1486 – Variety Selection and Seed Saving for Organic Growers – contains a comprehensive table “Minimum Germination Required, Days to Germination, Weeks for Graft Production and Years for Seed Storage”. Go to the UGA Extension Publications site — https://extension.uga.edu/publications.html and enter 1486. You can download the PDF of this publication. Some vegetable seed catalogs also include seed viability charts. Happy gardening!