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Packed for 2000. That doesn't mean it expires then, it just means they aren't packaging old seed.

Seed Storage is Key: 18 year-old seeds? No Problem!

Well smack my fanny and call me Pearl! I just germinated tomato seeds that “expired” in 2000. What’s the secret to prolonged seed vitality and successful germination? It’s all about seed storage, baby.

The truth is seeds don’t expire. They lose viability if stored improperly. While most seed companies will tell you to replace seeds every 2-3 years, those seeds will keep for decades and will germinate when planted if kept in a cool, dark, and dry place. The germination ratio may drop, but keep planting those seeds until you run out. I have successfully planted seeds in my collection with the date stamp “1998” time and time again.

Yellow Perfection tomato
Yellow Perfection seed packet from Seeds of Change (before they started using plastic packets).
Yellow Perfection tomato expire date
Packed for 2000. That doesn’t mean it expires then, it just means they aren’t packaging old seed.

I start tomato seeds in seed trays under grow lights. No heat mat necessary, as our temperatures are in the low 60s to mid 70s these days. I use Quickroot seed starting planting mix and the equivalent of GrowEase trays (an older model called APS trays).

Yellow Perfection tomato germinating
Planted 3 seeds, 3 seeds germinated. (The third is tiny but you can see the emergence of the sprout loop)

Not only did all seeds germinate, they sprouted in 5 days. I was so excited I had to write about it. Now to share my technique for storing seeds so you can achieve the same results:

Seed Storage the Right Way

Watch this YouTube video to learn the three important factors for seed storage, and how to accomplish them in any location.

One caveat: onion, leek, and green onions seeds tend to lose viability even with this type of storage. We buy new seeds every couple of years for those. Spinach can also lose viability over time. Other than those, you’ll have great luck if you employ these techniques for seed storage. Do you have a seed you’ve kept in storage for years? Share the variety below.


This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. Deon

    I have cucumber seeds that I bought one year ago and they just don’t want to grow. Even butternut don’t grow. I put them in a wet paper lowl. They just don’t grow.
    What is the problem

    1. Christy

      Hi Deon, let’s look at how they were stored first. Were they in a cool, dark, and dry place? If they were left out in the garden for a while, or if they were stored in a hot, humid environment, they may have lost viability. It’s also a good idea to look at where you bought them. If the store had the seeds on display on a rack out in the sun, that could be contributing to the problem. If you ordered them online from the supplier, then we can probably rule that out. Some seeds lose viability more quickly than others, but cucumbers and melons are not on that list (spinach and onions are). Check the date on the back of the package. Were they “packaged for 202?” If the seeds are old, that could be another reason. If everything looks right and storage wasn’t the issue, I would contact the seed company and report the problem. You may not be the only experiencing the issue. They keep track of lot numbers and if they had a bad batch they can send you a replacement packet. All that said, I prefer to start seeds in soil, rather than paper towels. The conditions are more favorable when you start seeds in soil. Make sure not to bury them too deep, and keep the soil surface moist every single day until they germinate and see how that goes. I hope this helps.

  2. RL

    Thanks for the info on your page. I have a TON of different seed packets I was going to get rid of. Glad to see I can still use them!

  3. Jordan

    I have had seeds dated back to 2014 stored in the freezer. I will try them this year. No one mentioned freezing them, so I have nothing to go by. All seed packages were sealed airtight with my vaccuum machine. I now have a large plot for planting, so I will see how they do.

    1. Christy

      A lot of seed companies keep their seeds in cold storage, closer to freezing than regular refrigerators. Keep us posted on how it goes!

    2. Lloyd Freeman

      How did your freezer seeds germinate

  4. Mike

    I just sowed about 50 Stuttgarter Riesen onion seeds in a flat. They’re about 20 years old and were stored at room temperature. Hoping I’ll get at least one I can grow to get more seeds. I’ll let you know if they come up. Very doubtful though.

    1. Christy

      Oooh, do keep us posted, Mike. If onions that old work, it will be something to celebrate!

  5. Autumn

    I just planted a bunch of seeds dated from 2010 to around 2012… many tomatoes and such. I am giving spinach a try even though this article says they may not work, but I figured give them a try anyhow.

    1. Christy

      Might as well! Good luck and keep us posted.

  6. Linda

    Good to know. iI have seeds I found stored in the basement, guess I’ll give them a try this year.

  7. Arlean

    I have okra seed that I stored in a jar in 2009 , everyone is sold out ! I’m about to see if my old babies will germinate !

    1. Christy

      Good luck and keep us posted on how it goes!

  8. Izzie

    So, one year…. MANY years ago I went on a seed buying spree. I had them in my car to bring to my sisters house as I couldn’t have plants in my appartment and my sister was all too willing to lend me her yard for planting. Well, I never got around to it, 5 years later the seeds are still in my car. I live in Montana and our summers get HOT and our winters usually make it on the news channels. So these seeds lived in my car for five years due to forgetfulness through our winters AND summers. So this year(2020) I said “hey let’s give it a try” I didn’t expect anything to come out of it and there’s no harm in trying. So I emptied an entire package of lavender into one small pot of dirt. Now I have a bazillion lavender sprouting in this little cup. What I’m I going to do with this lavender? I have no idea. Sell it? IDK! Ha! Seed Expiration dates are nonsense.

    1. Christy

      That’s great to hear. Each plant has a different level of durability and viability. For example, spinach and onions seeds tend to loose viability after even just one season. Whereas your lavender and my tomato (18 year old seed!) will do just fine. If you pot up each seedling in its own pot, you can sell those in your neighborhood, or give them away as gifts to bring people some cheer during this crazy Covid-19 time.

  9. Krystal

    Old seeds will almost always come through if taken care of! I’ve got several types of “expired” seed that I’m working with/will be working with, because I love buying them for $.05 a packet at the liquidation store, especially the larger sized seeds! Right now, I’m germinating some spinach and some onion seed, both notorious for short shelf lives.

  10. Granville Mather

    He, where would I buy some old seeds,
    It’s a strange request but I am making a time lock box for my grand children, I would preferably like some seeds from the 1950s so I can show them seeds that I were about when I was a boy, the time box will be ready to open about 15 years from now. I know this will sound stupid but it will be apart from an illustration that I am putting together. I keep poor health now so I doubt I will be about when they get to that age and it’s quite possible they will never remember me, so if you can help me I should be so grateful to you or if you can direct me in the right direction. Perhaps you have friends you might ask.

    1. Christy

      HI Granville, that’s a great idea. There are some great seed companies out there selling seeds that date back into the 1800s, so it won’t be hard to find something from as early at 1950s. I suggest starting with Victory Seeds, and checking out Baker Creek Seed Company as well. They both specialize in heritage seeds.

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