Seed Packet Question: Do You Plant The Whole Thing?

variety of 5 seed packets

Having a handful of seed packets can produce both a satisfying rattle and big dreams of your future garden. It’s exciting to get outside and start sowing seeds, cramming all the seeds from the packet into one or two rows in your garden bed.

But don’t get carried away, as those seed packets probably contain a lot more seeds than you actually need.

In general, you should not plant the whole seed packet. The packet probably contains many more seeds than you need for the space available, even if you sow extra seeds to ensure enough germinate. Instead, save the extra seeds for next season.

Once you’re sure you don’t need all the seeds in the packet, make sure you store them well with a few tips below.

Do you use all the seeds in a packet?

Don’t plant all the seeds in a packet when it’s likely to contain more seeds than you need. For example, if you are planting a six-square-foot area with zinnias, using around 12 seeds will be plenty.

Even if you plant a few extras to hedge your bets against poor germination, slugs eating the new sprouts, or birds grabbing the seeds, you still only need 24 seeds to plant two seeds per hole, and there’s probably more than two dozen seeds in the packet.

4 seed packets showing seed quantity
Seed companies may choose to give a specific quantity of seeds, or list the weight. Either way, make sure it isn’t more than you need to plant.

To avoid wasting seed by overplanting, follow these general guidelines for cut flower spacing:

  • Most cut flowers, such as zinnias, snapdragon, basil, foxgloves, and scabiosa can be planted nine inches apart.
  • Large and heavily branched flowers such as dahlias, cosmos, and branching sunflowers can be spaced 12-18 inches apart.
  • Smaller or single stem, one-and-done flowers such as single stem sunflowers, feverfew, and larkspur can be spaced just six inches apart.

To learn more about how to optimize spacing when growing cut flowers, check out this post, How To Space Annuals For Cut Flower Production. You’ll get even more spacing recommendations for common cut flower varieties.

Vegetable spacing can vary a bit more, depending on the variety:

  • Radishes, beets, and carrots can be sown just 2-3 inches apart.
  • Kale, chard, and head lettuces do well 12 inches apart.
  • Large, sprawling plants like zucchini and tomatoes need at least two feet between plants.

Unless you have a very large garden, even with with measured spacing you will most likely have leftover seeds. To figure out how many seeds you’re starting with, you’ll have to reference your specific packet to find out.

How many seeds are in a seed packet?

There is no standard amount of seeds in a packet, so it will depend on the seed company and even what seed variety. One packet of cosmos seeds might have only 5 seeds, while another cosmos packet from the same company has 25.

The number of seeds will vary depending on factors such as if the variety is new, which usually means getting fewer seeds. If the variety has been around for a long time, you’ll probably get more seeds in the packet.

A company that caters to small and commercial farmers will usually sell packets with higher seed counts since their target customer needs those larger amounts. On the other hand, companies that only sell to home gardeners or in garden centers tend to have lower seed counts since the average flower gardener doesn’t need 200 sunflower seeds.

You can determine how many seeds are in the packet by reading the information on it or by referencing the seed catalog. All reputable seed companies will have the information listed. Some will give you an exact seed count, which is the most helpful.

These seed packets from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Baker Creek Heirloom seeds have different locations for their seed quantities. Check the front of the packet as well as the back flap to find the information.

Other seed packets will list the weight of seeds included, and you have to look at their website or catalog to figure out how many seeds are in that weight. It’s not the most convenient, I know.

How do I store the leftover seeds?

The best practice for storing leftover seeds is to leave them in their packet and put them in a dark, cool place. Keeping the seeds away from light and high temperatures will help last longer. This way you can use those leftover seeds next year without having to buy more.

I like to store my seeds in a mason jar with a screw-top lid, then put the jar in a closet or the laundry room cupboard. They’re out of the way and the temperatures stay relatively constant and mason jars are available at any grocery store.

seed packets in Ball mason jar
Mason jars make handy storage containers.

It’s easy to toss your leftover seed packets in a box and leave them with the rest of your garden tools in the shed, but try to make the effort to bring your seeds in. When you leave them in the shed or garage it exposes the seeds to swings of temperature and humidity that can decrease the shelf life of your seeds.

No judgement, though. I’ve definitely left seed packets out in the garden on accident, only to find them after they’ve been rained on. I still hang on to them to try germinating later, but save yourself the grief and money and store your seeds inside.

How long will the seed packet last?

Flower seeds will last between 1-3 years, depending on how the seeds are stored and the type of seed. Seeds like sweet peas will last longer than seeds from a marigold because the sweet pea seeds are drier and harder than marigold seeds.

Vegetables can last even longer, especially hard seeds like corn and beans.

Extension offices from authorities such as Oregon State Univerity and Colorado State Univerity have in-depth resources about seed storage and viability if you’d like to learn more.

It’s often worth trying to spout a packet of old seeds because sometimes they might surprise you. I and other gardeners I know have all sown seeds that we figured would be too old to perform, but lo and behold, the seeds germinated.

If you find some packets that have seeds that are past their prime, you can do a quick germination test to decide if you should keep the packet any longer.

  • Scatter 10 seeds on a damp paper towel.
  • Place the paper towel inside a sealed ziploc bag to hold in humidity.
  • Monitor the bag to see if and when the seeds germinate. If at least 50%, or five of the 10 seeds, sprout, consider using the seeds in the garden. Be sure to sow extra seeds to account for the ones that you know won’t germinate.

If you’re looking to start most of your cut flowers from seeds, why not try some easy ones first and stack the deck in your favor? For the best varieries to start with, reference this post, 10 Easy Cut Flowers To Grow From Seed: With Seed Photos to get started.

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