The start is always simple with just a few seed packs that you can easily tuck away. However, before you even realize it, your seed supply has taken on a life of its own!
If you suddenly have a lot of seeds around your house, it can be overwhelming. You might worry about where they are and how many you have. More seeds might appear in your mailbox the next day.
A solution to the problem of unorganized seeds is not to stop ordering them, but to be more organized.
How We Store & Organize Seeds
Here’s a step-by-step look at the system we’re using.
Take a Seed Inventory
The first step in organizing your seeds is taking inventory of which seeds you have. Knowing how many of each type you have will help you when you’re planning your seed orders or garden.
Get a glass of wine and find a large space to start working!
Collect all your seed packets in a big pile. Then go through them one at a time, sorting them into groups of similar types. For example, put together all the cherry tomato seeds, all the leaf lettuce seeds, and so on.
Tally up how many seed packs you have of each type. You can break it down even further into seed varieties if you want.
The next step is to group your seeds together. This will make it much easier to plan and plant your garden.
How you organize your seeds will depend on how you plan and plant your garden. Try to find a method that is most efficient for you. Start by thinking about how you plan and plant your garden and try to organize your seeds accordingly.
Here are some efficient ways to group your seeds: – by type (e.g. annuals, perennials, vegetables, fruit, etc.) – by color – by when they need to be planted (e.g. spring, summer, fall, winter) – by how long they take to germinate – by how long they take to mature More than likely, you will probably want to use a combination of these ideas to create your perfect seed organization system!
Group by type
One way to organize your seeds is by grouping them by type. You would put all of the seeds that are alike together.
The amount of detail you want to go into when sorting your seeds depends on how many you have and how specific you want to be. For example, you might just want to group all of your squash together, or you might want to separate your summer squash, your cucumbers, your winter squash, and your pumpkins.
Group by season
A good way to organize your seeds is to group them together by the season in which they grow. For example, you can put all of your cool weather crops together and all of your hot weather crops together. This way, you’ll be able to find the seeds you need more easily.
Group by planting date
A popular way to group seeds is by their planting dates. This makes it easy to know which seeds need to be planted each month. For example, in February, eggplants, tomatoes, and pepper plants are usually started indoors. But some cold crops, like peas, can also be started outdoors. By grouping the seeds together, it is easy to keep track of which ones need to be planted when.
Group by planting method
Some plants need to be started from seed indoors, some can be sown directly outdoors, and some need to be planted in the fall and overwintered.
Group by planting bed
An additional method is to sort the seeds according to which ones will be planted together. This can be done with regularly accompanying plants, for example tomatoes and alyssum or borage. Or, they can be organized together based on a particular planting theme. For instance, if you are intending to plant a salsa garden, you would want all your salsa ingredient plants (tomato, onion, peppers, cilantro, etc.) together in one area.
Group oldest to newest
If you have a lot of seeds, it is a good idea to organize them by the date they were packed. The date is usually listed on the seed packet. Seeds are usually most viable when they are new, but if they are stored correctly, they can be used for many years. However, the best germination rates are usually within the first few years. Organizing your seeds by the packing date will make it easier to use your older seeds first.
Gather Your Supplies
- Container – large enough to hold all the seeds you found, plus any you know you’ll order/collect this season. Plastic, metal, or tempered glass works well.
- Envelopes or paper bags for individual seeds – avoid plastic as it could trap moisture.
- Dividers – cardboard or paperboard cut to fit in your container
- Pen or marker
- Desiccant (optional)
Do You Need Desiccant?
A desiccant can help improve the shelf life of many types of seeds, especially when stored in humid conditions where they are more likely to decay. By absorbing moisture from the air, a desiccant can keep seeds dry until they are ready to be planted.
Sort & Clean
Now you will begin grouping items together based on similarity. Place items such as kale, lettuce, and peppers together.
Now that the school season is over, remove the seed heads or chaff from last season. The kids brought home cobs of dried corn from school, a red variety called ‘Bloody Butcher.’ Even though the name is a little dark, it’s still beautiful, and we’ll plant it this year. The kids already shelled it for me.
Choose Method of Filing
After you’ve tidied up and sorted your seeds, it’s time to decide how to file them. We grouped ours by botanical plant family. If you’re just starting out and don’t have many different kinds of seeds, it’s easiest to go alphabetically.
You could also file seeds according to the timeframe that you’ll plant them — spring, summer, and fall. My friend organizes her seeds down to the week that she’s going to plant. (I love the idea of this, but my tendency would be to go into a lot of detail…and with a busy life and young kids, things don’t always go according to plan. I could see myself getting frustrated that I’m behind with seeds in the wrong list.)
We use botanical plant families to organize our system for a few reasons:
- We rotate annual crops in our gardens by family. If we grow the same thing on the same little piece of soil every year, it both depletes the soil and concentrates pest and disease pressure. When we rotate, we break the cycle of those pests. Organizing our seeds by family makes it easy to see at a glance which plants share a family and should thus be rotated together. For example, squash and melons are both in Curcurbitaceae, so the same bed shouldn’t be used for squash one year and melons the next.
- I enjoy learning more about how plants are related. And I like knowing that the kids and Colby are also learning every time we work in the seed system.
Let’s say you have a head of lettuce and some beautiful purple asters in your garden. Both of these plants are in the Asteraceae family, which also includes sunflowers. If you allow the lettuce to flower and produce seeds, you’ll notice that the flowers have some similar characteristics and are pollinated by some of the same insects.
Create Dividers and Start Filing
Create your dividers, and start filing your seeds.
You should create an area for unsorted or miscellaneous seeds. This is where you and your family can put seeds when you’re not sure where they go or you’re in a hurry. It keeps the system flexible, which is key for a system that works long-term.
Adding in Bulk Seeds
You may want to use large envelopes or jars to store your seeds if you collect or purchase them in bulk. Having a separate container to store these larger envelopes and jars can help keep things tidy, as well as allowing you to make notes in the main container about what is inside each one.
Store in a Cool, Dry Place
To keep your container in optimal conditions, find a cool, dry, and dark space. A closet in a naturally cooler room of your house would work well.
I’ll add a few packets of desiccant to each bin to keep the contents dry.
Should Seeds Go in the Fridge or Freezer?
If you have the space, you can store your seed bin in the fridge or freezer, but be cautious about a few things:
Seeds must be completely dry to prevent them from being damaged when frozen. If there is too much moisture inside the seed, the water will expand when frozen and break the seed coat. This could kill the seed.
Wait until containers of seeds or seed packets reach room temperature before opening them, or moisture may condense on the seeds and cause moisture-related problems later.
Some Seeds NEED Cool, Moist Conditions
# There are a few seeds stored in moist vermiculite in our fridge. Most of these are native wildflowers, like passion vine and milkweed, and they need stratification (a period of cool, moist conditions) in order to germinate. Cold storage emulates what happens to seeds over winter. If you grow lots of native plants, you’ll want to learn more about different germination requirements.
My Seed Organization + Storage System
I have tried a few different ways to store my seeds over the years and have found the system I use now to be the best. I made a few changes this year to make it even better, especially because my seed collection has gotten so large.
I love how cheaply I was able to get this system! It cost me less than $10 and I am so pleased with it. All that money I saved just means that I can buy more seeds!
Here’s how I organize and store my seeds!
For many years, I kept track of my seeds using the printable Seed Inventory Sheets available in the Homestead Management Binder. But in recent years, I’ve fallen a little behind. I think I might eventually create a spreadsheet so it’s easier to update and edit it over time.
I break my seeds down by both type and season. Here are the groupings that I currently have:
- Container 1: Squash (broken into summer and winter squash), Gourds & Pumpkins
- Container 2: Peppers (broken into hot and sweet peppers), Tomatoes (broken into cherry and slicing), Eggplants, Okra, Corn, Grains
- Container 3: Cucumbers, Melons, Beans (broken into pole and bush beans), Miscellaneous warm crops
- Beets, Broccoli, Brussels, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Kohlrabi, Onions, Peas, Parsnips, Radishes, Miscellaneous
- Head lettuce, Leaf lettuce, Asian greens, Kale, Chard, Arugula, Mustard, Spinach, Miscellaneous
Herbs & Medicinals
- Culinary: Basil, Borage, Chives, Dill, Fennel, Oregano, Parsley, Sage, Tulsi, Thyme, Miscellaneous
- Medicinal: Medicinal A-C, Medicinal D-H, Medicinal I-Z, Stratify, Scarify
- I usually buy these in bulk, so they are stored in labeled ziplock bags
Flowers by type (my most frequently used)
- Marigold, Calendula, Zinnias & Cosmos, Nasturtium, Sunflowers
Flowers by group
- Pollinator flowers, Native/Desert Flowers, Wildflowers, Miscellaneous
I’ve found that plastic storage bins from Dollar Tree work well and are the perfect size, so I’ve been buying them consistently over the years as my collection has grown. I recently added four more to accommodate all my seed-saving efforts. I like that they’re economical and always available to purchase.
Storage Bin Dividers
I have a cardboard box that I cut up and wrote on with a Sharpie that I use to store my seeds in. I have dividers in the box to separate out each seed grouping and make it easier to find the exact seeds I need.
Bags or No Bags?
I’ve been changing my mind for years over whether to store seed groups in Ziplock bags to protect them from moisture. I like the peace of mind it gives me, but it’s a pain to have to dig through the bags to find what I need, especially when they’re sorted by plant type. I also noticed that if I leave the bags outside in the sun, condensation builds up and I have to dry them out before I can seal them again. So this year I’ve decided to try it without the bags and see what happens.