Issue: April 6, 2002

Old garden seeds

Question:

I found some old seeds and wonder if I can plant them with any expectation that they will grow. They are tomato, chile, and bean seeds that I saved from my garden several years ago. Sandy

Answer:

These vegetable seeds may have survived a few years if they did not get too hot during storage. High humidity (not much of a problem here in New Mexico) and high temperatures can greatly reduce the ability of seeds to germinate. Storage at low humidity in a refrigerator is the best possible condition. You can take a few of each type of seed you have saved, roll them in moistened blotter paper or a paper towel, and store them in a sealed plastic bag. After a few days to a week or so, you can unroll and count the germinated seeds to determine the percentage of live seeds. If you have no germination under these conditions, you will probably have no success in the garden. Another consideration is whether or not the plants from which you collected the seeds were hybrid or open-pollinated varieties. Hybrid vegetable seeds are common because they tend to produce more vigorous plants and greater yields; however, there are also many open-pollinated varieties available. Seeds saved from hybrid plants will not retain the hybrid vigor of their parents and will not produce fruit of the same quality. If the original plants were hybrids, you may be disappointed with the results. If you have enough room in your garden, you may find it interesting to see what results. If the plants were open-pollinated varieties, this is not as great a concern. However, open-pollinated varieties may have been pollinated by another variety grown nearby. This could result in new plants that don't produce the expected fruit. Bell peppers grown near hot chile may have received pollen from the hotter chiles, so the fruit may not be shaped like a bell pepper and may be hotter than you expected if you grow them from these seed. So, the answer to your questions is that if the seeds are still viable, the results may not be what you expect. You can certainly plant them if you wish, but to have a more dependable yield you might want to plant new seeds from known hybrid or open-pollinated varieties.

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For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page: desertblooms@nmsu.edu.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.