Save seeds now for next year’s garden flowers
If you love the flowers in your garden but don’t love the idea of spending money on new ones, why not save their seeds to plant next year?
To maximize the odds that new plants will grow true to their parent, only collect seeds from those labeled “heirloom” or “heritage.” Seeds from hybrid cultivars, which result from breeding two or more varieties, will produce plants that resemble only one of the plant’s parents, so you have no way of knowing what you’ll end up with.
Still, there are no guarantees. Accidental hybridization can occur in your garden when wind or insects transfer pollen between varieties. To help avoid this, plant only one variety of the plant from which you plan to collect seeds.
But if you don’t mind surprises, go ahead and experiment -- you might create a beautiful new plant!
As with much of gardening, timing is everything. It’s best to collect seeds on a dry, sunny day. And regardless of the seeds you’re harvesting, let them mature and dry completely on the plant. Otherwise, they might not germinate. Wait too long, however, and you could miss out.
After harvesting and separating out non-seed material like petals and husks, spread seeds on a screen or newspaper in a single layer and allow to dry for about a week.
Then place them in a paper envelope or sealed glass jar (I put the envelope in the jar) and store in a cool, dry spot. A refrigerator is ideal, as long as seeds can be kept away from fruit, which exudes ethylene gas that can affect their germination. Adding a silica gel pack for the first day or two of storage will help prevent mold growth.
Label your envelopes or jars because regardless of how sure you are that you’ll remember what they are in spring, you probably won’t.
Collected seeds can remain viable for several years when stored properly, but their overall germination rate will diminish. For the best results, plant harvested seeds the following year.
Also, be sure to leave some seedheads standing to feed birds over winter. They’ll reward you with free pest control in your garden next year.
More on collecting seeds from different kinds of plants:
Although many plants naturally drop their dry seeds, some, like California poppies, cleome, impatiens and Texas bluebonnets, produce pods that burst open when mature, spewing seeds as far as 20 feet away. Since it’s hard to know exactly when that will happen, you’ll have to keep a watchful eye on the pods and harvest when they look like they’re about to split. But be careful; many types of pods will burst open with the slightest touch, and good luck finding the scattered seeds if that happens.
Instead, tie a small paper bag or specially made mesh seed-collection bag over the pod when it’s nearly mature. If the explosion happens when your back is turned, the bag will contain the seeds.
Other plants, like Mexican sunflowers and coneflowers, produce prickly seed heads. To avoid nipping your fingers, cut the entire mature head off and drop it in a paper bag, then give it a shake to loosen and separate the seeds.
In general, seeds of daisy-like flowers like sunflowers, coneflowers and, well, daisies have relatively low germination rates. Pick the plumpest for planting or sow extra for insurance.
Some flowers, like marigolds, produce seeds attached to rod-like structures on the innermost portion of their tightly clustered petals. To expose them, remove all the dry petals and open the seed head to release the rods within. Then dry, store and plant the entire structure.
Jessica Damiano writes regular gardening columns for The Associated Press. Her Gardening Calendar was named a winner in the 2021 Garden Communicators International Media Awards. Her Weekly Dirt Newsletter won two Society of Professional Journalists PCLI 2021 Media Awards. Sign up here for weekly gardening tips and advice.
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