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In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.

~Margaret Atwood~

Collecting Seeds

One of he fun things we like to do in our garden is collecting seeds. If one does an internet search, there is lots of info available about collecting and storing seeds. From the very basic to the most scientific and complex.

If you have been a subscriber, you know that we like to keep gardening simple and fun. Here in our zone 7, many early bloomers are already setting their seeds and we will soon start collecting 2008 seeds.

You may already be collecting your seeds for trades and to to grow more of your favorites in different locations. If you haven't, this might be an additional activity for you to try. That crisper drawer in your fridge is just waiting to be filled!

Seed Basics

Don't waste your time collecting seeds from most hybrid plants. These seeds will not come true, they are either sterile (won't germinate at all) or they will revert back to the species. What this means is that seeds collected from, for instance your fancy coneflowers, will grow up to be purple coneflowers.
Do collect seeds from hybrid daylilies, iris and brugmansia. While these seeds never come true either, the seedlings can range from super ugly to a beautiful new plant that is worthy of naming and registering. There's a lot of fun to be had to watch the babies develop and hoping for that rare color or shape that hybridizers all over the world are striving for.

How to Collect

The easiest way is to wait for Mother Nature to let you know when seeds are ready. You may loose a few seeds to natural dispersion, but most plants will make a plentiful supply. Check for the seedpods to turn yellow or brown and start to open. Once they do, gather you supplies and take a collecting tour of your garden. The best time to collect is the early evening when plants have had a chance to dry in the sun. Collecting seeds after a rain or in the early morning when it's damp increases the chances of your seeds turning moldy and mushy.
Here's what you'll need:

  • a paper bag (one of those brown lunch sacks works well)
  • scissors to snip seed heads
  • an old newspaper
  • containers to store your collected seeds (we use small glass jars, the tiny jelly jars from the canning section at your local store are a great size)
  • a permanent marker to label your bags and jars
  • clothespins and a string

Getting started

You will need to let your plants go to seed! This may be obvious to some, but if you have been snipping spend flowers to prolong the bloom season or to tidy your garden, stop and allow some flowers to mature and produce seeds.

There is a great website showing details of seeds and sedlings for over 600 plants. Click here to open in a new window.
It really helps to know what you should be looking for, I have had friends proudly display their seed collection to notice that they had collected mostly the chaff.

  • label your paper bags with the name of the plant
  • snip off the seedheads with your scissors and catch them in the bag
  • or
  • strip or flick the seedheads with your fingers and catch the seeds that fall into your bag. Warning: some seedheads are sticky, others have sharp spines, you'll soon know which are which!
  • close the top of the bag and shake well
  • pour out your collection onto a large piece of newspaper and remove the chaff and debris.
  • put seeds back into the paper bag and hang them with clothespins from a line strung in a dry and cool area
  • repeat above as often as desired until either all your seeds have been collected or you have as many as you think you'll want
  • give your bags a final shake and remove any remaining chaff. At this point, I use two empty and cleaned yogurt containers and take the seeds outside on a windy day to pour them back and forth between the two container and let the wind blow away the chaff. I do this in a location where I would like some of the seeds to grow because a few will take flight during the process.
  • place collected seeds in glass containers (properly labeled) and store them in the crisper drawer of your fridge until ready to use

Seeds with Special Considerations

  • Vegetables such as tomatoes - Squeeze the seeds from a mature fruit (starts to shrivel on the vine) onto a paper towel and let thoroughly dry
  • Hellebore - seeds need to be planted immediately or stored moistened
  • Stratification - many perennials require a cold period prior to germination, storing your seeds in the fridge (not the freezer) takes care of this.

Plant or trade and enjoy!


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