As the autumn season progresses, many of our annual and perennial flowers are sporting seed heads or fruit.
If you examine the tops of spent flower spikes, you will usually see a nice seed head with lots of seeds — plenty for next year’s crop of flowers. Collecting flower seeds from your favorite plants is a fun and rewarding pastime, and growing plants from seed is not only easy, but economical.
It is not difficult to collect and save seeds from your garden. Many annuals and perennials like cockscomb, zinnias, black-eyed Susans, cleome (Spider flower) and hollyhocks can simply be harvested and dried to use next year.
You can also save seeds from vegetables like pumpkins and squash, but be sure not to save hybrid varieties, as they are often patented. Also, you may not get what you expect when and if the hybrid seeds bear fruit.
Knowing when to harvest garden seeds is the first step to saving plants for future use.
Once flowers begin to fade at the close of the season, most flower seeds are ripe for picking. Seed harvesting should be done on a dry and sunny day. Once seedpods have changed from green to brown and can be easily split, you can begin collecting flower seeds. Many people choose to gather seeds while deadheading plants in the garden bag for easy planting next year.
There are many specialty boxes and containers available for sorting and organizing your collections, but it is also very easy just to store your seeds in their paper bags in a cool, dry place for the winter. Use a closet or cabinet somewhere in your home, making sure the humidity is low.
If you have the room, another alternative is to store your seeds in the refrigerator. However, never freeze them. Many seeds will stay viable for a couple of years, even if you don’t put them in the refrigerator.
Usually, the older seeds get, the fewer will germinate, but you may still get a few plants from very old seeds. One way to check seeds’ viability is to wet a paper towel and fold seeds between layers of wet towel. In a few days, those seeds still viable will sprout and can be planted. Be sure not to let the towel dry out, but don’t keep it too wet either, or the seeds will rot.
When you get ready to clean your seeds in preparation for planting, remove them from their storage bags, being sure to handle them carefully. Sort and clean one variety at a time so you don’t mix them up.
Place them on a large sheet of paper or smooth cardboard; be sure to retrieve any seeds that may have fallen to the bottom of your bags. Gently rub seed heads between your fingers to separate the seeds from the chaff, stems and old flower heads. Clearing this debris will keep it from decaying when you sow the seeds.
Once you’ve separated your seeds from the chaff, gently tilt the paper or cardboard so the seeds will run down to one end. Collect them and store in a small envelope or plastic storage bag.
Many gardens and parks will let you harvest seeds from their gardens now as well. Simply ask a caretaker or ranger if it is okay to gather seeds, and where you might find them.
Next spring, you can sow your seeds either outdoors or indoors for a whole new crop of plants.