The Life of a Seed: Determining the Longevity of your Garden Seeds.


“Dear Horticulture Talk Editor, what is the life expectancy for a seed? Thank you, Russ.”

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For those of you that have an interest in mummies found in non-Egyptian climates (i.e. frozen tundra — and not WI!), you have undoubtedly heard mention of researchers finding seeds that are thousands of years old. With the use of technology like carbon dating, it is possible to pinpoint the age of a seed.

The reason why seeds are able to stay viable for so long in these conditions is because they are kept cold with a suitable humidity level. While there will definitely be another posting in the future about why this is (and it will be full of details about domancy-inducing hormones, ice crystallization, and other interesting scientific tidbits), for now let’s boil it down to this: seeds can live for quite some time.

Assuming that you keep your seeds in a cool, dark place with a little bit of humidity, you can expect your seeds to last for…

VEGETABLES
Seed Type Years
Asparagus 3-4
Beans 3-6
Beets 3-4
Broccoli 4-5
Brussels Sprouts 4-5
Cabbage 4-5
Cantaloupe 6-10
Carrots 3-5
Cauliflower 4-5
Celeriac 4-5
Celery 3-5
Chicory 4-5
Collards 4-5
Corn 4-6
Cucumbers 5-7
Eggplants 3-5
Escarole/Endive 3-4
Kale 4-5
Kohlrabi 4-5
Leeks 2-4
Lettuce 3-4
Mustard 5-8
New Zealand Spinach 4-5
Okra 1-2
Onions 2-4
Parsley 3-5
Parsnips 1-3
Peas 4-6
Peppers (all) 3-5
Potatoes (real seed) 5-7
Pumpkins 3-5
Radish 3-5
Rutabaga 3-5
Salsify 3-4
Scorzonera 3-4
Spinach 3-4
Squash (all) 3-5
Strawberry 3-6
Sunflower 4-6
Swiss Chard 3-4
Tomato 4-7
Turnip 5-8
Watermelon 4-6


FLOWERS
Seed Type Years
Achillea 4
Acroclinium 3
Ageratum 4
Agrostemma 4
Alyssum 4
Amaranthus 4-5
Ammobium 1-2
Anagallis 4-5
Anemone 2
Anthemis 2
Anthirrhium 3-4
Aquilegia 2
Arabis 2-3
Arnerua 3
Aster 1-2
Aubrietia 2
Balloon Vine 3-4
Balsam Flower 5-6
Bartonia 1-2
Bellis 2-3
Bidens 2
Boltonia 5
Brachicome 3-4
Browallia (Bush Violet) 2-3
Cacalia 1-2
Calendula 5-6
Calliopsis 3-4
Campanula 3
Candytuft 2-3
Canna 3
Carnation 4-5
Celosia 4
Centaurea 1-3
Chelone 1-3
Chrysanthemum 4-5
Cineraria 3-4
Clarkia 2-3
Clianthus 1
Cober 2
Coix 2-3
Coleus 2
Collinsia 1-2
Convolvulus 4-5
Coreopsis 2
Cosmos 3-4
Cyclamen 4-5
Cynoglossum 2-3
Dalhia 2-3
Datura 3-4
Delphinium 1
Dianthus 4-5
Dicentra 1-2
Didiscus 2-3
Digitalis 2
Dimorphotheca 1
Dolichos 2
Erigeron 2
Eschscholzia 3
Euphorbia 2-3
Gaillardia 2-3
Gamolepis 2
Geranium 1-2
Gerbera 1
Geum 2
Gilia 4-5
Godetia 3
Gomphrena 2-3
Gourds 3-4
Gypsophila 2-3
Helianthus 2-3
Helichrysum 1-2
Heliotrope 1-2
Hesperis 3-4
Hibiscus 3-4
Hollyhock 2-3
Humulus 1-2
Hunnemannia 1-2
Impatiens 2
Ipomea 2-3
Kochia 1
Larkspur 1-2
Lathyrus 3-4
Lavatera 4-5
Lilium (true lilies) 1 (Note)

Linaria 2-3
Linum 1-2
Lobelia 3-4
Lunaria 1-2
Lupine 1-2
Lychnis 2-3
Marigold 2-3
Marvel of Peru 2-3
Matricaria 2-3
Mesembryanthemum 3-4
Mignonette 2-4
Myosotis 1-2
Nasturtium 5-7
Nemesia 2-3
Nemophila 2
Nepeta 2-3
Nicotiana 3-4
Nigella 1-2
Oenothera 2
Pansy 1-2
Passiflora 1
Penstemon 2
Petunia 2-3
Phacelia 2
Phlox 1-2
Physalis 1-2
Physostegia 2-3
Platycodon 2-3
Polemonium 1-2
Poppy (all) 4-5
Portulaca 2-3
Pueraria (kudzu) 3-4
Pyrethrum 1-2
Ranunculus 5-6
Rhodanthe 2-3
Salpiglossis 5-7
Salvia 1
Sanvitalia 4-5
Saponaria 1-2
Scabiosa 2-3
Schizanthus 4-5
Shasta Daisy 1-2
Smilax 1
Statice (annual) 2-3
Stocks 5-6
Stokesia 1-2
Sweet Peas 2-3
Sweet William 1-2
Thalictrum 1
Thunbergia 1-2
Tithonia 2
Torenia 1-2
Tritoma 2
Venidium 1-2
Verbena 1
Vinca 1-2
Viola 1
Virginia Stock 1-2
Wallflower 4-5
Wild Cucumber 1-2
Wisteria 2
Xeranthemum 2
Zinnia 5-6

Of course, there are always exceptions to these rules — is the seed saved? Has it been dried down properly? Is it an heirloom or a hybrid? Again, these are questions for yet another blog entry, but this will at least give you a start. =)

Thanks for asking, Russ!

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© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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