Ideas for the dormant season: Seed inventory

Posted January 9, 2014 at 11:36 am


by Marilyn Odneal, Horticulture Adviser

My New Year’s resolutions for the last 10 years have been first to lose weight and second to become more organized. Well, it is time to try again! The dormant season is a great time for gardeners to reflect on last year and plan for the new one. Some of us may have leftover seed packets that were packed for 2013 or earlier, but were not entirely used. Now is the time to do an inventory of what we have left that might still be useful. Most purchased packets have a “packed for” growing season date. By taking time to organize, we can use what was leftover and make a list of what we need to purchase or swap for with friends.

Most garden vegetable and flower seed, if stored in a cool (between 40 and 50 degrees F), dry (so they do not rot or sprout) place, will last for several years. See the following chart derived from The Colorado State University Extension Fact Sheet “Storing Vegetable and Flower Seeds.” The entire guide is available at

Relative longevity of selected vegetable seed.

Kind of seed (stored in a cool, dry place) and Shelf Life (years)

Lettuce, Onion, Parsley, 1

Sweet corn, Okra, Pepper, 2

Asparagus, Beans, Broccoli, Carrot and Pea, 3

Beets, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Swiss Chard, Eggplant, Pumpkin, Radish, Squash, Tomato and Watermelon, 4

Cucumber and Muskmelon, 5

If you collect and store quite a lot of seed, you need to organize and keep record of what you have as well as insure proper storage. If you collect your own seed, you need to make note of the collection date. If you are like me and have a few purchased packets left from last year on a shelf at room temperature, then you should better just count on one year of shelf life – so you can use the seed packed for 2013 in the 2014 growing season.

If you want to be certain of the viability of your seed, you can always do a germination test to see if they will sprout or not. Put about 10 seeds on a moist (not wet) paper towel, roll it up and place it in a plastic bag. Leave the bag in a warm area in the house for from two to five days. Check the paper towel in the bag to see how many of the seeds have germinated. If five of the 10 seeds have germinated, then you have an expected germination of 50 percent and should estimate the seeds you need to plant from that percentage.

So take stock of what you have left and then you can plan for what you need to buy or swap with others for the coming year. Organize your seed stock now and you will be ready to waste not and want not for the New Year.

Direct comments or questions concerning this column to Marilyn Odneal via email at; write to Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station, 9740 Red Spring Road, Mountain Grove, Mo. 65711; or call (417) 547-7500. Visit our website at

Seeds OFGR 2cc.tif

GERMINATION – “This leftover tomato seed, packed for 2012 as noted on the packet, was stored dry in a sealed container in a cool place. It is likely that a good percentage of the seed is still alive. The way to tell for sure is to conduct a germination test to see what percentage of the seed is viable.”