How to store your seeds for next year.

We get a lot of questions on how to save seeds. Most of them are general seed saving questions, but most boil down to how to save seeds for the next year. Most of the seed packets have more seeds than will be used in one year, and most seeds are good for several years in proper storage conditions.

Please realize that seeds are meant to be planted, not stored! We get a chuckle from the e-bay seed sellers and survivalist stores that proclaim their seeds are nitrogen flushed, vacuum packed in tin cans or aluminum foil pouches, and are good for 5 or 10 years. That’s great, but if the seeds are tossed out in the unheated/uncooled garage for 3+ years- guess what? They’re DEAD! The temperature/humidity fluctuations are what shortens the life of the stored seeds drastically. Seeds are the plant’s mechanism for propagation and survival. They have evolved to survive for a short time- e.g. a winter or two- in the ground until the optimum conditions arrive to sprout.¬† For almost all domesticated varieties that are used for food, the optimum conditions¬† mean next spring. There definitely are seeds that will last longer, but most are non-food plants. Throughout history people would collect and save seeds for the next year or two and have kept plant varieties alive for thousands of years.

Today we have methods to stabilize temperature and humidity; we have advantages in prolonging the life of the stored seed. The best way to save seeds for future plantings are to keep the seeds in the original seed packets; that way you know where they came from, the name, planting instructions, etc. Then put them in clear Ziplock sandwich baggies with the date on the baggie. This way you know when you started storing them. Put all of the baggies in a gallon Ziplock and put it into the freezer. “But won’t that hurt the seeds?”, people ask. No. This is why the Vavilov Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia uses liquid nitrogen to freeze seeds for a long time. This is also why the “Doomsday Vault” in Svalbard, Norway is located above the Arctic Circle and dug into the side of a mountain and several hundred feet down, to keep the vault below zero if the cooling system fails. Your freezer is cold and has low humidity. You probably don’t go into the freezer several times a day like the refrigerator. Each time you open/shut the door, the outside air comes in, raises the temperature and humidity. This isn’t good for your seeds if they are in the fridge. The freezer is more stable yet. Please understand the fridge is better than the garage or basement, but the freezer is even better, and you probably have space!

When time comes for planting next spring, take out the packets you will use, take out the seeds you will plant if there are a lot left, and put the bag back into the Ziplock and into the freezer. Let the seed to be planted come to room temperature before putting into the soil. Most varieties will keep for 3+ years with no loss of germination. There are exceptions, of course. Onion seeds are good for 1 year, no more, no matter the method of keeping. Garlic only grows from the bulb or clove, freezing kills it. There are some other varieties that have a short life in storage, but don’t get too caught up in that. If you plant each year, you will be fine.

When you start to save your own seed, the same procedure applies- just be sure the seed is DRY, or else the freeze will expand any moisture in the seed and destroy it. Label the bag with the name, date harvested, date stored and freeze it. If you get into seed saving, or want a lot more information on the methods and details for each variety of vegetable, Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth is a wonderful book. It is not light reading, but if treated like a reference book or text book, you’ll do just fine. Another great title on seed starting and saving is The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds by Robert Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough. It has more photos and diagrams and is oriented toward the visual learner.

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23 Responses to How to store your seeds for next year.

  1. tony bartolomi May 1, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

    I never dreamed that seeds are stored at or below zero degrees. I will be thrilled to keep seeds from one year to the next because I hate throwing them away. I feel as though I`m discarding a living thing. I think that additionally to freezing seeds, it would be even more stable for the seeds to be vacuum packed and put in the freezer. Vacuuming would eliminate moisture(air) and light (being stored in the freezer). Thank you for this web site. It has given me a wonderful insight into green gardening. Don`t forget, we as humans came from a seed so to speak.. many thanks, Tony Bartolomi.

    • Stephen May 2, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

      Tony, glad to help further your understanding, that makes our day! Vacuum packing the seeds is unnecessary, as the process won’t remove inherent moisture that remains. It is more important to make sure that the seeds are completely dry before freezing, or they will be damaged.

  2. Lydia September 26, 2013 at 7:48 am #

    Very informative article. Thank you so much! Now I know how and where to store my seeds.

    • Stephen September 26, 2013 at 9:54 am #

      You are most welcome Lydia! I hope that this helps you save and organize your seeds for next year.

  3. Janet October 25, 2013 at 10:31 am #

    I have two packages left of Big Boy tomato seeds that I would like to keep,
    May I keep them in the freezer for next year.

    • Stephen October 28, 2013 at 9:55 am #

      Janet, if I remember correctly, Big Boy is a hybrid tomato, but should store just as well as the open-pollinated or heirloom varieties that we work with. Just be sure to label the packet with the date and give the seeds a few days to acclimate to room temperature before starting to plant them.

  4. Ashley Minnich April 19, 2014 at 7:12 pm #

    This is great! A friend of mine told me about sticking seeds in the fridge/freezer, and I’m glad I checked on it. Some of the seed packets I purchased today say they can grow up to 95 plants! Now, I’m excited to plant them, but that’s rather a lot of plants to start in one year!

    I know it says that this isn’t recommended for food seeds, but 70 beets? I don’t know what I’d do with that many at once. Will this freezer method work for vegetables that start under the ground?

    • Stephen April 29, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

      Freezing to extend the life of the seed will work for just about any seeds, so don’t worry about harming them. This is how seed banks keep seeds viable for long periods of time – veggies, herbs and flowers!

  5. Sally June 2, 2014 at 7:58 pm #

    Thank you, I have tried so many ways to save extra seeds in the past but, never the freezer.
    I bought several bags of seeds at the Mother Earth fair and of course I can not use all of them this year. I want to save them for next spring. Freezer here them come!
    Thank you for all the good info. Sally

    • Stephen June 3, 2014 at 7:32 pm #

      Glad to have been of help!

  6. Linda June 10, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

    And here all these years I’ve either been giving away extra seeds or tossing them. My garden is small so there’s no way I use all the seeds. This year, in the freezer they go. Thanks so much!

    • Stephen June 10, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

      You are welcome Linda! Enjoy and share some of your bounty.

  7. Abdirizak June 14, 2014 at 12:50 pm #

    Dear Stephen,
    It is really very useful ,because I was looking an answer for about two months,
    today i come up your page,thank you the extra explanation.one question:
    Can I save apple ,pear,cranberry and beach plum in the fruit compartment of the refrigerator ?
    thanks

    • Stephen June 18, 2014 at 1:14 pm #

      Yes, you can store the fruit seeds in a refrigerator until planting season. I wouldn’t try to store them long term, only until the conditions are right for planting.

  8. Jane Simbro August 17, 2014 at 9:07 am #

    This is useful. I did not get all of my seeds planted this year. With the cost of seed packets, it is great to be able to save until next year and then use.

    • Stephen September 4, 2014 at 10:19 am #

      Thanks Jane! Let us know how your seed germination does next year.

  9. Donna McDonald October 12, 2014 at 6:39 pm #

    Thank you for your very informative comments. I would also like to know the besy way to
    over winter a geranium plant. Is it true that one can remove all the soil from the geranium
    cut it back and hang it in the garage or basement?

    • Stephen October 16, 2014 at 9:42 am #

      I’m not sure about hanging it, but I’ve seen people transplant them into larger pots and bring them inside for the winter. I would think that hanging with bare roots and no soil or water would not be healthy for the plant, but again I’m not familiar with that approach.

  10. cookstone October 13, 2014 at 8:45 am #

    Hey Stephen,

    I bought a variety of herb & annual flower seeds (like marigolds) in April. I’ve stored the extra seeds in their open packets in a ziplock bag in a drawer since then. Is it too late to store them in the freezer for next year? What are your thoughts?

    thanks,

    David

    • Stephen October 13, 2014 at 4:22 pm #

      It isn’t too late to put them in the freezer, as long as the drawer where they are stored is fairly constant in temperature and humidity. Remember the temperature + Humidity < 100.

  11. Lisa October 16, 2014 at 8:52 pm #

    Great article. Thank you so much!

    • Stephen October 21, 2014 at 9:50 am #

      You are welcome Lisa! I hope it helps you be more successful this coming year.

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