Improve your garden with proper seed storage and planning

Now is the perfect time to make sure leftover seeds are properly stored, take a seed inventory and make notes to look for possible production improvements for next year’s garden.

It’s never too early to start planning for next year’s vegetable garden. Although winter’s fury is upon us and gardens may already be buried beneath snow and ice, the memories of the past gardening season are vivid. Picture what went well and make note of what didn’t. Now is the perfect time to make sure leftover seeds are properly stored. Take a seed inventory and make notes to look for possible production improvements for next year’s garden. Smart Gardening involves ongoing reflection and proper planning. Winter allows us time for this!

If you are like many gardeners, you do not like to throw out leftover seeds from a packet, so you are often left with many unused seeds. Take time now to organize, test for germination and properly store seeds for the winter. If properly stored, old seeds will still germinate. Check out University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension’s resource on “Vegetable Garden Seed Storage and Germination Requirements” to see how many years some seeds will last. Seed packages must have the year the seed was produced, so this will allow you to determine its age.

If your seeds are older or have not been stored in a cool, dry area, you will want to test some of the seeds by placing them between two moist paper towels and putting the paper towels inside a plastic zip lock bag in a dark place for the recommended days until germination. If less than 50 percent of the seeds germinate, you know you will have to plant at least double the amount of seeds to get the number of plants you want. Make a note of this on the seed packet before you file it away.

Store your seeds in jars with lids and place them in a cool, dry environment. Storing seeds in a refrigerator is an option. Make a note of the amount of seeds you have for each crop. Check out Michigan State University Extension’s vegetable production chart to see how many seeds you will need. Organize your seeds into categories that make sense for how you plan and plant your garden. Use a box or a bin, place dividers and label by headings. You might organize by crop name and, for example, place tomatoes together; you might try to organize by the date you need to sow them; or you could arrange by garden theme, for example, by organizing all herbs together.

Use this time to analyze last year’s crops and determine whether or not the variety or cultivar you used was successful. Was it prone to disease or insect problems? If so, are there other varieties or cultivars available that are resistant to these diseases or insects? Consider using some of the restistant varieties. This will reduce the amount of money you might spend on pesticides. Perhaps you were wishing for a better tasting variety or one that will produce more fruit. Maybe you would like to save your own seeds next year, so research possible heirloom varieties. Check out MSU Extension’s plant and grow tips for vegetables for some of the recommended varieties for Michigan.

For more information on a wide variety of Smart Gardening topics, visit the Gardening in Michigan website at or contact MSU Extension’s toll-free garden hotline at 1-888-678-3464.

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