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Saving Seeds

by Don Janssen, UNL Extension Educator

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Whether you should save seeds from one gardening year to the next depends on what you mean by "save seeds."

If you mean keeping leftover commercially packaged seeds, the answer is yes -- do save them. Properly stored seeds of most vegetables and annual flowers will perform well the second year.

If you mean saving seeds of crops you grew this year, the answer is less clear. The key in deciding whether to save seed from your garden is knowing what variety you planted and whether it's a hybrid or an open-pollinated variety.

The seeds from a hybrid variety will not produce plants like the plant that produced the seeds. When hybrids are pollinated, desirable traits are often lost in the shuffle of genetic material. Throw in the possibility that closely related plants will cross-pollinate, and you have the potential for interesting but probably disappointing results from home-grown seeds. Open-pollinated crops, on the other hand, will breed true from home-grown seed unless crops were cross-pollinated. Unless you are preserving a rare or old-time variety that's no longer commercially available, however, there's very little reason to go to the bother of harvesting, drying, cleaning and storing home-grown seeds.

Commercially packaged seeds, particularly those of open-pollinated varieties, are really quite inexpensive, especially when you look at the large quantities of produce or blossoms a packet will produce.

There is a certain feeling of self-sufficiency inherent in producing seed one year and sowing it the next, of course. If you want to try it try open-pollinated varieties of watermelon and muskmelon, string or snap beans, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant since they are the most dependable vegetables. In the flower garden, you might want to try petunias, impatiens, cosmos, celosia, sunflowers, marigolds and zinnias.

Let both vegetables and flowers mature before you harvest them. Remove the seeds from the fruits and flower heads and dry them on paper towels in a warm, dry spot. Seeds need to be dried before being stored to reduce problems with mold. Drying also improves the likelihood that seeds will germinate.

To store either leftover commercially packaged seeds or home-grown seeds, place them in envelopes or packets in an airtight container, such as a jar, with a moisture-absorbing material. Silica gel or some other flower-drying material works well. A handy substitute is two heaping tablespoons of powdered nonfat dry milk wrapped in a few thicknesses of facial tissue. The wrapping needs to be porous enough to let moisture in but sturdy enough not to dissolve.

Place the container in a cool, dry storage place. Often the easiest way to store seeds is to place the container in the refrigerator, but any cool, dry spot will do. For best seed longevity, temperatures should be below 55 to 60 degrees F.

Some seeds -- including asparagus, geranium, delphinium and salvia -- will generally not keep from one year to the next, even under the best of storage conditions. Seeds that may be good the second year but rarely keep beyond that include sweet corn, leek, onion, parsley, parsnip, rhubarb and salsify. Moderately long-lived seeds include beans, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celery, kale, lettuce, okra, peas, pepper, radish, spinach, turnip and watermelon. These may keep for three to five years. Long-lived seeds, which may remain viable for more than five years, include beet, cucumber, eggplant, muskmelon and tomato.

This resource was added October 2008 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement


University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office

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