This is a simple way to keep garden seeds organized so you can find what you need and ensure everything is timed for best success.
For more, also see Seed Starting 101 for Beginners.
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Seed Storage & Sowing Routine
To store seeds and prevent germination, it is recommended to keep them in a cool, dry, dark place with consistent temperatures between 32-41F (0-5C) and not more than 50% humidity levels. Long-term storage (3+ years) requires lower temperatures and humidity levels if you want to ensure viability.
There are helpful things you can do with your seed organization to make it easier to find what you need and never run out of favourites. I’ll walk you through the system that works for me.
Because I have a cool basement for storage (not as cold as the recommended temperatures but fairly cool: 50-60F), and use my seeds up on a regular basis so they are quite fresh, I find this works fine. My seed starting germination rates are very good and I’ve never had mold or other problems.
I keep my seeds in paper envelopes within open (not sealed) plastic bags. The plastic bags just make it easy to keep the same types of seeds together. The bags are left open to avoid trapping any moisture inside. You could also use paper bags or file folders.
- Storage containers wide enough to accommodate the seed bags
- Large plastic freezer bags (to hold individual seed packets grouped by type)
- Smaller plastic sandwich size bags (for each seed packet)
- Cardstock to label each bag
- Master list of seed sowing dates (see free printable below)
Optional – Make a bulldog clip saying ORDER and PLANTED and USE FIRST
- Bulldog clips (also known as binder clips)
- Labels ( I use my Brother label maker but you can use any label that will stick)
Here’s a quick video of my setup. It’s several years old but basically the same setup I use now:
As you can see, it’s pretty straight forward.
- The seed basket is kept in my cool, dark, dry basement.
- Veggie and fruit seeds are sorted into alphabetical groups by type: Beans, Broccoli, ….and I sow these seeds many times a year for summer and winter growing, indoors and outdoors, as well as succession planting.
- Perennial seeds are placed in sowing groups. These are just started once a year, so it makes sense to file them according to the month they need to be started.
- Each group has its own large freezer bag.
- Each individual seed packet is placed in a small, Ziploc sandwich bag and placed in the group bag. This way any stray seeds are not lost or mixed together. One of the best parts of starting plants from seed is learning how many varieties of each plant type there are!
- If any seeds are time-sensitive, I put a USE NEXT bulldog clip on the packet. By time-sensitive I mean, the fresher / newer a seed is, the higher the germination rate, so I like to use up older seeds first before they lose their mojo (or, more likely, still germinate but at much lower success rates).
I used to keep all my seeds sorted by the month I sow them, but I sow them ongoing throughout the year, indoors and outdoors.
For best germination rates, pay attention to the soil temperature that each type of seed prefers. You can grab the free list here.
Right now, there are two main groups:
- Veggie and fruit seeds are stored alphabetically by type.
- Perennial seeds are grouped by sowing date.
To keep track of everything, I maintain a master schedule that carries me right through to outdoor planting time.
There are many free seed sowing schedules online, but, you have probably noticed that they are not universal and there is a reason for that: every growing zone has different frost dates (or none at all) so you have to adapt any schedule to fit your growing zone. This one is based on my area (zone 6). You are welcome to use it to see how to create your own.
Click the Add to Cart button to download my example. It’s a free PDF file. This should help you create your own for your seed choices and growing zone.
If you are new to downloading files or ebooks, there are easy step-by-step instructions here (plus you can grab a free ebook on creative gardening).
This example is based on a May 15 last frost date. You would change this to fit your date, of course.
Check every seed packet. Most list how many weeks before last frost you will need to get the plants started in time.
With that information, assign each seed packet to one of the following groups:
- Group 1: 12 weeks / 90 days – February 15
- Group 2: 10 weeks / 75 days – February 28
- Group 3: 8 weeks / 60 days – March 15
- Group 4: 6 weeks / 45 days – March 30
- Group 5: 4 weeks / 30 days – April 15
- Sow Direct after last frost – after May 15
With this system, every two weeks or so, I have a new group of seeds to start indoors, with the exception of the final group which prefer direct sowing outdoors.
- If you are new to sowing seeds, all my best tips are here: Indoor Seed Sowing 101.
- Also, see How to Read Seed Packets.
If you have ever gotten mixed up or lost track of what you were doing while sowing seeds, you may appreciate this system.
Select Your Seeds
- Place your seed selections in a waterproof container, so they won’t get damp or spill in the garden.
- Indoor seed sowing: Jot down notes as you go. This shows a way to keep track of seedlings without having to write plant tags.
- Outdoor seed sowing: Plan before you sow. Make a quick diagram of each garden bed to ensure the seeds will be properly spaced and receive adequate light. Also, learn about crop rotation to ensure the soil can replenish throughout the year.
Use Bulldog Clips to Sort Seed Packets
- While sowing, if a seed packet is running low, place the ORDER bulldog clip on it.
- The rest of the seeds are grouped with the PLANTED clip. This way, if you get called away or interrupted, you can see where you left off.
- These clips also prevent the packets from blowing around in the wind.
- Jot down any reminder notes needed.
- Stock up. Check the ORDER group to see if it’s time to get more seeds. I try to mail order seeds just twice a year to minimize postage costs.
- File. Seed packets are then re-filed: veggies and fruit seeds are alphabetical by type; perennials are by planting group.
- Each time I get new seeds, I read the packet and assign it to a planting group. The information is added to my Seed Sowing Schedule and the seeds are filed.
- As things grow (indoors and outdoors), I try to jot down observations whenever I can. Often time is limited so it may just be a note scrawled on my original sowing notes to record how long germination took, when fruit formed, which peas were delicious, and so on. While I’d love to keep a beautiful journal, it’s more important to simply get the information recorded so it’s available for future garden decisions. If I really did not like something, for whatever reason, I make note of it and give the seeds away.
- Once you get a system going that work, it’s a huge time saver. I love knowing that I can just follow my schedule, everything matures at the right time, I get the crops and flowers I want, and I don’t have to reinvent the system each year. I remember it was rather stressful when I was learning all of this and there’s a nice reward that comes with years of experience and better organization. For those of you who thrive on chaos: I salute you and carry on.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛