Storing Seeds from the Garden

Preparing for next year's vegetable garden

By: Sandy Feather 2006
Penn State Extension

Q. I have seeds left over from my vegetable garden and a few annual flower seeds, too. Is there a special way I should store them?

A. Seeds should be stored in a cool, dry place. An easy way to store seeds is to place them in a jar with a tight-fitting lid, in the refrigerator. You might throw a few packets of silica gel -- those packets that come with new shoes or electronic equipment -- in the jar to draw out any excess moisture. Be aware that not all seeds are created equal. Some will last for years when properly stored, while others quickly lose viability. When stored at around 40 degrees and low humidity, vegetable seeds will last somewhere between three and 15 years. 


Q. I have saved seeds from my 'Black Knight' butterfly bush. What is the best way and when is the best time to start them?

A. It is easy to grow butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) from seed. Be aware that seed saved from a named cultivar such as 'Black Knight' will not produce identical offspring because they are the result of sports or crosses of davidii with other species of Buddleia. The only way to ensure identical offspring is to take cuttings from the parent plant. However, growing butterfly bushes from seed can result in interesting offspring. It's fun to see what you get!

When to Start Seeds

Plan to start your seeds 10 to 12 weeks before the last expected frost, which occurs mid- to late May in Allegheny County. Use a soilless seed starting planting medium that contains a mixture of vermiculite, perlite, bark and/or sand, rather than potting soil or soil out of the garden.


Best Soil Mix

Soilless mixes are light and drain well, yet hold moisture evenly. They are less likely to harbor disease-causing organisms than soil.

Moisten the mix before filling the containers. Recycled cell packs saved from purchased plants are a good place to start butterfly bush seedlings. Make sure they have been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected by rinsing them in a solution of 1 part chlorine bleach to 10 parts water.

The seedlings will have to be transplanted into larger containers as they grow. Butterfly bush seeds are very small -- about the size of a dust particle. You can mix them with sand to help distribute them more evenly.

Press the seeds gently into the surface of the seed starting mix, but do not cover them because they require light to germinate. Place them in a bright area where the temperature stays around 68 degrees. Do not allow the soilless mixture to dry out once germination has begun. Water with a spray bottle set to a fine mist, or place the cell packs in a shallow container of water and allow them to absorb water from the bottom to avoid disturbing the seeds. They should germinate in about two weeks.

After they Germinate

Once the seedlings are growing, keep them evenly moist but be careful not to overwater. If the mix feels moist, do not water. It is best to keep them in bright light (or under fluorescent lights), and to grow them in slightly cooler temperatures, around 60 degrees.

'Potters Purple' Butterfly Bush

Once the seedlings have grown to fill the cell pack, and roots are growing through the drainage holes in the bottom, transplant them into larger pots. The size of the pot should fit the size of the seedling -- perhaps 6 to 8 inches.

After they are established in larger pots, begin pinching the seedlings back to encourage branching. Otherwise, they will grow like straight sticks. Pinch back to buds midway down the main stem; they will develop into branches. Once we are past danger of frost, you can plant them out in the garden.


Seed catalogs

Aggressive Perennials

Starting garden seeds indoors


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