Ask A Master Gardener – Saving Flower Seeds

Authored by: Carol Shirk

One of the final, fun fall tasks is saving seeds.  This can range from the complicated when saving seeds from fleshy vegetable that require fermenting to the simple gathering of dried seeds.  Flower seeds are one of the easiest to save, and with a few basic pointers, you may never purchase seed to your favorite flowers again.

Prior to the advent of seed catalogs, most people gathered seeds in the fall to keep their stock of produce and flowers going from year to year.  Personally, I have not purchased seeds of some flowers for over twenty years, instead gathering the seeds every year.  Our forefathers (or maybe more accurately mothers) would have considered it downright wasteful to purchase seed when they had them readily available.

Photo Credit: C. Shirk

When gathering flower seeds, don’t bother with the hybrids that you have experimented with from the nursery or catalog.  Those seeds will not produce a flower true to the parent plant and the results will be at best unpredictable.  Instead, stick to the open-pollinated or heirloom flowers that have been around since your grandmother’s time.  Choose the flowers you enjoy the most and get started.

Some easy to collect annual flower seeds include: marigold, zinnia, cosmos, calendula, petunias, poppies, sweet peas, and coreopsis. Perennial flowers seeds can also be collected and include: lupine, coneflower, rudbeckia, penstemon, perennial sunflower, Joe Pye weed, asters, and many more.  However, the best method for preserving perennial flowers is to simply collect and immediately sow the seeds as most of these flowers self-seed.  If you want them in a different location, just collect the seed and promptly plant them in the new location.

To collect flower seeds, harvest them when they are “ripe” to increase the viability.  Seeds are either produced in seed heads or in pods.  If pods, make sure the pods are dry and brittle, but before they have burst open.  If in seed heads, they should be dry and the seed head should fall apart when you rub it between your fingers.  If the seed head is still a nice green color, it is not ripe and should be allowed to continue to dry on the plant.

Collect seeds when the plant is dry, not during wet weather.  Allow the seeds to dry further by spreading them out on a paper plate or paper towel in a warm, dry location.  Once they are completely dry, the seed should be cleaned.  If they are in pods, remove the pods.  If they are in seed heads, rub between your fingers until they are broken apart.   Remove the chaff by using a sieve, gently blowing, using tweezers, or gently shaking.

Once the seeds are cleaned, store them properly.  Paper envelopes saved from junk mail work wonderfully and make me feel like they actually have a useful purpose.  To keep moisture at bay, put all of the envelopes in a glass jar and seal tightly.  Small zip type plastic bags also work well.  Store all seeds in a cool, dry place.  Make sure to label each packet with the contents and date.   Try to keep seeds for only one year to improve germination results.

The most important part of seed collecting is to enjoy the process.  Make it a family adventure and make some memories with each generation.  Teach the younger generation about the circle of life through plants and gardening.

Carol Shirk

Master Gardener Volunteer


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