Yard and Garden: Vegetable Seeds

Selecting seeds is one of the first steps in planting a home garden – along with preparing the seedbed and deciding when to plant. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulturists share information that will guide gardeners as they select vegetable seeds. To have additional plant and garden questions answered, contact the ISU Hortline at 515-294-3108 or hortline@iastate.edu.

I have some leftover vegetable seeds from last year. Will they germinate and grow this spring? 

Most vegetable seeds will remain viable for several years when stored in a cool, dry location. If properly stored, cabbage, broccoli, cucumber, squash, watermelon, eggplant and radish seeds will remain viable for five years. Snap bean, carrot, pea, pepper, tomato, cauliflower and pumpkin seeds can be stored for three to four years.  Seeds of sweet corn and onion remain viable for only one to two years. 

What are some good sources of flower and vegetable seeds? 

Flower and vegetable seeds can be purchased at local garden centers. They’re also available from mail-order companies. Mail-order sources include Stokes Seeds, Box 548, Buffalo, NY 14240 (www.stokeseeds.com); Park Seed Company, One Parkton Avenue, Greenwood, SC 29647 (www.parkseed.com); W. Atlee Burpee, 300 Park Avenue, Warminster, PA 18974 (www.burpee.com); Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 955 Benton Avenue, Winslow, ME 04901 (www.johnnyseeds.com); Harris Seeds, Box 24966, Rochester, NY 14624 (www.harrisseeds.com); Seed Savers Exchange, 3094 North Winn Road, Decorah, IA 52101 (www.seedsavers.org); and many others. 

What are the differences between open-pollinated and hybrid vegetable seeds? 

A hybrid variety is generally the result of a controlled pollination. Hybrids are produced by crossing two different parent varieties of the same species. Plants grown from hybrid seeds are genetically identical and possess desirable traits, such as high yields, disease resistance or wider adaptability. However, hybrids do not remain true in later generations. As a result, saving seeds from hybrids grown in the vegetable garden are not worthwhile. Hybrids are oftentimes referred to as F1 or F1 hybrids (the first filial generation of seeds resulting from the crossing of different parental types).

Open-pollinated varieties are those varieties that have become stabilized in their growth characteristics from one generation to the next. Open pollinated seeds are produced by allowing wind or insects to transfer pollen between different plants of the same variety. Vegetables that are capable of cross-pollination, such as corn and vine crops, must be isolated from different varieties so they produce seed that is “true to type.” If no cross-pollination occurs, home gardeners can save the seeds from open-pollinated vegetables year after year. 

Some vegetable seeds are pink or green in color.  Why? 

Many seed companies treat their seeds with a fungicide to prevent the seeds from rotting in cold, wet soils. Seeds that have been treated with a fungicide are labeled as such and are often pink or green in color. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling treated seeds.  

Some seed companies provide their customers with seed treatment options. Gardeners can purchase treated seeds or untreated seeds (whichever they prefer). 



Gardening in the Zone: Starting Seeds Indoors from Iowa State University Extension on Vimeo.