One thing gardeners have in common is seeds. We buy them, share them, and need to figure out the best way to store them. I’ve used different storage methods over the years, depending on my situation and the amount of seeds I have. It’s important to find a seed storage & organization system that works for you.
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Having an effective system for storing and using seeds saves you money. If you know what seeds you have, you can make a plan to use them rather than buying duplicate seeds or forgetting about previously-purchased seeds.
An organized seed-saving system also saves you time. Garden planning is much easier when you know which seeds to purchase. Planting-time goes smoother when you have the needed seeds on hand.
5 Tips for Seed Storage & Organization
1. Provide the optimal conditions for seed storage
Before you decide HOW to store your seeds, there are important considerations if you want your seeds to last as long as possible.
The key to making seeds in storage last longer is to avoid moisture, air, light, and warmth. The combination of moisture and warmth can bring seeds out of dormancy or encourage bacteria or fungi growth.
The drier the seed, the better it maintains its viability. If a seed feels clammy, it will probably become moldy. Avoid humid areas and do not store seeds until they are completely dry.
Optimal temperature range is 32°F – 50°F (0°-10°C). Keep temperature cool and constant as much as possible, rather than shifting quickly. Keep seeds at an even temperature. If you get in and out of your seeds often, keeping them indoors is better than taking them in and out of the refrigerator. Avoid hot areas like attics and garages in the summer.
The less air contact the better. If a seed can breathe (contact with air), it will deteriorate quicker. Choose containers that can be tightly closed.
Seeds last longer when kept someplace dark. Inside a closet, a drawer, under a bed, or another dark place is best.
Protect seeds from insects and rodents. Cardboard boxes, wooden crates, and plastic bags do not provide enough protection.
2. Understand the life expectancy of different types of seeds
- For saved seeds, a fully-ripened seed will last longer in storage than a seed that did not fully develop.
- Older, less viable seeds may germinate, but still produce a plant with reduced vigor and more pest and disease susceptibility.
- Fully-ripened seeds that have been stored correctly tend to germinate and grow more vigorously.
The germination rate (the percentage of seeds that actually sprout and grow) of stored seeds declines over time. Some seeds deteriorate more quickly than others.
This table gives general guidelines for the life expectancy of seeds:
|Very sensitive (use right away or within a few months)||Short life expectancy |
|Medium life expectancy |
|Long life expectancy (over 5 years)|
|Chives||Carrot||Bean||Cole crops (broccoli, cabbage, etc)|
|Garlic||Celery (short to medium)||Corn Salad||Cucumber|
|Leek||Corn (short to medium)||Endive||Eggplant|
|Onion (very sensitive to short)||Florence fennel||Lettuce||Melon|
|Parsnip||Spinach, New Zealand Spinach (short to medium)||Pea||Orache|
|Turnip||Pepper (medium – long life)||Squash, Pumpkin|
|Swiss Chard, Beet (medium – long life)|
by Andrea Heistinger
3. Find a seed storage & organization method that works for you
To be effective, a seed storage and organization system needs to be simple and functional. Because I garden throughout the year, I have to be able to access my seeds easily. If you only need to access your seeds once in the spring, your system might be different.
A seed organization system should be easy to maintain. If it is too time consuming or expensive, you may not do it. Be patient with yourself as you develop the habit of seed organization. Perfection isn’t required, but persistence is encouraged.
Here is the seed storage system that works for me:
There is a small container for each type of seed. This helps keep the air away from the seeds.
The containers are all stored in a large drawer. Keeping the seeds in a drawer keeps them dark and cool, and allows for easy access to the seeds when I need them.
The small containers can also be stored in this large storage container. Store in a cool, dark place.
There is a separate holding area for seeds that I will plant soon and for seed packets that need to be put back into their containers.
4. Label seeds for easy identification and planting
Label your seeds with whatever information is helpful for you to know. Taking time when you are getting things organized will save you time in the long run. It will make it easier to know when to plant your seeds.
The information that I like to include:
- Seed name
- Planting dates
- Indoor seed starting dates
You can also include:
- Botanical name
- Germination time
- Preferred soil temperature
- Days to harvest
- Preferred sun exposure
5. Create a system for using and rotating your seeds each season
It’s tempting to buy more seeds than you need, especially if you aren’t aware of what you already have on hand. Using an effective seed organization system keeps unnecessary purchases down because you know what you already have on hand.
Here are a few tips you may want to incorporate into your system:
- Put the oldest seeds in the front, and put the newest seeds in the back. This helps encourage you to use the oldest seeds first.
- Have a separate area to hold seeds you are planting soon. This makes it simple when it’s time to plan your garden.
- Have a designated spot to put seeds that need to be put back into the containers if you can’t put them back right away.
- Divide the seeds into categories that work for you. I divide my seeds into vegetables, flowers, and herbs. You could also divide into categories by planting seasons, such as cool-season crops and warm-season crops.
- Keep a notebook nearby to jot down seeds that you run out of or would like to order.