Saving pepper seeds to grow new pepper plants is more than just a way to save money, it is sustainable and can teach you a lot about cultivating peppers. Peppers are one of the best plants for seed-saving because of the ease with which you can collect the seeds. The question how long do pepper seeds last is usually expressed using the term viable or viability. So, another way to ask the question is: How long will pepper seeds remain viable? Just like many pepper gardening questions, there’s the simple answer, and, of course, the more advanced one. Let’s take a look at pepper seed viability and what can affect it.
Table of Contents
- How long do pepper seeds last?
- Why do pepper seeds lose viability?
- Can you make pepper seeds last longer?
- How to test if pepper seeds are still viable
How long do pepper seeds last?
You don’t have to buy fresh pepper seeds every year if you get seeds from your harvest. As long as you store them properly, you can plant from the same set of seeds for several years. Of course, you will need to make sure that you are starting with mature seeds, since immature seeds will not germinate. As long as you get your seeds from fully ripened peppers that have developed their full color, the ripeness of the seeds shouldn’t be an issue.
With perfect drying and storage methods — such as those used in labs — it’s possible to store seeds for as long as 25 years; in more normal circumstances, pepper seeds can be viable for up to five years but even that lifespan will depend on a few factors. You can expect the viability to go down over time.
–> Learn More: Saving Pepper Seeds – What You Need To Know
Why do pepper seeds lose viability?
Temperature is just one of the factors that can make your pepper seeds less viable. If you want to keep seeds viable for a long time, avoid a storage location with dramatic temperature swings. Don’t keep your seeds in outdoor sheds and garages if you want them to last.
Another factor that can ruin pepper seeds quickly is humidity. In a humid environment, pepper seeds can start to germinate instead of staying dormant.
Pepper seed viability is also impacted by mold. If you keep those seeds in a damp location, they can quickly develop mold and lose viability in the process.
Small resealable mylar bags like these make for excellent seed storage. They keep the seeds away from moisture while maintaining a small enough profile to tuck the seeds away without bulky airtight containers. These mylar bags are heat sealable as well, which is an option if you're looking to store your seeds for prolonged periods.
Can you make pepper seeds last longer?
You can extend the viability of your pepper seeds by mitigating the factors that affect their lifespan.
The first thing to manage is the temperature at which you store your seeds. To ensure that your pepper seeds remain viable for as long as possible, store them at very low temperatures. The freezer will be your best option, with the refrigerator being your second-best storage location. Stable temperatures in the 35- to 50-degree range are ideal for keeping pepper seeds viable.
Along with high temperatures, you will want to keep your seeds away from any moisture while they are in storage. The drier the environment, the better for keeping pepper seeds viable. Even though pepper seeds don’t contain much moisture even when fresh, you will still need to dry them further to store them safely.
After removing your pepper seeds from the fruit, dry them for between five days and two weeks. Dry them by laying them out on a pepper towel or coffee filter. Flip the seeds every couple of days to make sure that the underside is dry. Test dryness by breaking one of the seeds in half. If it is completely dry, it will be brittle and break cleanly. Once the seeds are dried, store them in a moisture-free environment.
One way to protect your seeds from exposure to humidity is to keep them in a container made from a non-porous material that has a tight-fitting lid. To get an even greater degree of protection, place a packet of silica gel or a cup or two of rice in the container with the seeds. Silica gel or rice will help draw moisture away from the seeds. You can combine the methods for protecting the seeds from moisture and high temperatures by keeping the container with the seeds and silica gel or rice in the freezer.
Proper preparation and re-storage
When you are ready to use the seeds, you shouldn’t simply remove them from the freezer or fridge and start planting them right away. When you open the container after taking the seeds from the freezer, the cold seeds will draw moisture from the warm air. The seeds must be brought up to room temperature before you open the container to remove them. And, if they have taken in moisture, you may not be able to put them back into storage and keep them viable for future plantings.
How to test if pepper seeds are still viable
Check the date on prepackaged seeds
If you have purchased prepackaged pepper seeds, they should have a date on the package that tells you how fresh they are. If you package seeds from your garden, you should label your packages with the date you obtained them. Knowing how fresh the seeds are is a big part of evaluating their viability.
Simply sow and monitor
The simplest way to test your pepper seeds’ viability is to sow the seeds and see how many of them come up. The downside of this is that seeds sown outdoors in the ground are subject to various factors that can prevent or slow germination and that have nothing to do with how viable the seeds are. For example, the weather may prevent otherwise viable seeds from germinating on time. The safest way is to test the seeds’ viability before you sow them in the ground.
If you do decide to test pepper seeds that have been stored in the refrigerator or freezer by sowing them outdoors, sow only when the weather is consistently warm. If you are starting the seeds indoors, make sure to keep their environment above 80 degrees Fahrenheit but less than 90 degrees. The seed starting medium should stay moist, but not too wet. Be aware that pepper seeds can take a relatively long time to sprout compared to other vegetables. Don’t be surprised if your peppers take up to 21 days to germinate; a few varieties can take as long as 40 days or even a little longer.
The soaking method
Soaking is often recommended as a way to jumpstart the germination process. Soak the seeds by dropping them into a cup of water for about 48 hours. If any seeds are floating on the surface, discard them; the seeds that sink have the highest chance of being viable. Some experts recommend soaking pepper seeds in hydrogen peroxide for 10 minutes beforehand. A 10-minute soak won’t harm the seeds but is enough to kill bacteria on the seed coat that can reduce viability.
Place the pre-soaked pepper seeds on a moist paper towel. Fold the paper towel over and place it in a resealable plastic bag. If you are testing multiple varieties of pepper seeds, bag them separately and label each bag with the variety. Close the bag and store it in a warm place, making sure to moisten the paper towel with a misting bottle every few days. Within two weeks, at least some of the seeds should have germinated.