Why buy new seeds every season when your favorites are already waiting for you right outside in your garden?
Collecting and saving or planting flower seeds is a satisfying way to appreciate the full life cycle of plants grown in our gardens. It’s economical and helps ensure a beautiful garden full of your favorite flowers next season.
There are so many advantages to using seeds that you collect yourself to keep your flower garden going year after year.
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In addition to saving a lot of money, by choosing seeds from the healthiest, most beautiful plants each season, you have the opportunity to continually improve the quality of the flowers in your garden.
Once you learn it, you can even choose to grow your own strains and hybrids, and make seed saving a new hobby.
Best of all, you have a ready supply of goodies to share with friends and family!
Read on to learn how and when to harvest flower seeds for planting next season.
Are your flowers heirlooms or hybrids?
All plants, including trees, shrubs, annual vegetables and flowers, and perennials, have seeds that can be saved and replanted by a knowledgeable gardener.
Some types require more knowledge and processing than others to produce results when you plant them.
If you’re just starting out, both annual and perennial flowers are a great place to start.
Collecting seeds from these is usually very straightforward, and they often require no special treatment.
The key thing is to know whether the parent plant is an heirloom or a hybrid.
It is important to make sure you are starting with plants that are open pollinated, otherwise you may be surprised to find that what grows the next season is nothing like the original plant.
When you’re shopping for seeds, look for packets labeled heritage seeds, better known as heirlooms.
Heirlooms are varieties that are often passed down through families for generations, and are pollinated by birds, wind or insects.
Heirloom seeds can be saved and replanted over and over again with the same resulting plant each time—provided they are isolated from other varieties to avoid cross-pollination.
If cross-pollination occurs, you can create your own unique hybrids.
You can find them easily at libraries and seed saver clubs, or from companies that specialize in heirloom varieties.
Eden Brothers has a large selection of open-pollinated heirlooms available for purchase, including choices suitable for growing in every zone, in a variety of colors and sizes.
On the other hand, hybrids are created through the cross pollination of two different plant varieties.
While hybridization can occur naturally through open pollination, commercial hybrids, often labeled F1, are unstable and unsuitable for saving.
Commercial hybrids may produce offspring completely different from the parent plant, or are often sterile.
Avoid buying hybrids if you plan to save seeds – unless you want to experiment with viable varieties and potentially create new hybrids of your own.
when to harvest
For best results, pick from the healthiest, most vigorous flowers in the bunch.
Keep track of your plants during the growing season, identifying the plants with the most abundant blooms and making notes in your gardening journal.
Keep an eye out for those fading buds as the season progresses!
The time to harvest is when the flowers die back, and the pods or seeds turn brown and can split open easily.
Since different plants bloom at different times, this can happen at any time of the season. But late summer and fall are peak times for gathering from most annual varieties.
Some types of flowers — such as cleome, four o’clocks, and sweet alyssum — will self-sow very quickly, so you’ll want to pick them just before they start to spread naturally around the garden.
In cases like this, it may be easier to collect the flower heads before they are completely dry, and continue to allow the seeds to dry off the plant.
The important thing in any case is to wait until the pods have reached mature size and are dry.
They should look plump and full. If you remove them from the plant too soon, they will not be able to fully develop.
how to collect seeds
On a dry, sunny day, use a sharp, clean scissor to cut the pods or seed heads off the plant while they are drying.
Collect them in baskets or paper bags, as plastic can lock in moisture and spoil them.
Don’t forget to label each bag to remember which are which, and when you cut them!
Next, clean and separate them from the husk or pod. For those that are hard to separate, you can also choose to leave them in the pods to dry and separate them later.
For flowers that have spiky flowers like Echinacea or motherwort, I recommend placing the ends in a paper bag and leaving them there until the seeds fall out on their own.
If you decide to separate them by hand, wear gloves to avoid getting pricked by any sharp seeds or plant parts.
For soiled seeds with feathery husks, you can break the husks apart, a process of dropping them from a height of a few feet onto a tarpaulin-like collection area.
Be sure to do this on a day when there is a light breeze so that the straw will blow away. You can also use the fan on a low setting.
Be aware that some flowers, such as sunflowers and daisies, produce lots of unviable seeds.
As a general rule, it’s a good idea to collect and plant more than you think you’ll need.
seed saving techniques
Once you have separated the seeds from the husk, it is important to dry them immediately to prevent them from moulding.
Ideally, find a dark, dry spot in your home and spread them out on a screen or newspaper for about a week.
A dry, clean pizza box, another type of shallow cardboard box, or a paper plate all work well.
Spread them out in a thin layer so that air can flow between each one.
When they are completely dry, in about a week to a few weeks, you can sieve them using a fine-mesh kitchen sieve or a seed-cleaning frame to remove any husks.
Transfer them to small envelopes, brown paper bags, or lidded jars for storage.
Store in a cool, dark place. Around 40°F is the ideal temperature for storage.
I store mine in the back of the refrigerator in a glass jar with a lid. Don’t forget to label the jar with the name of the plant and the date.
Most importantly, they should always be stored dry and in a way that prevents them from being crushed, damaged or overheated in any way.
Even under ideal storage conditions, the viability of saved seeds can vary from plant to plant.
Some, such as those collected from hellebore, will need to be sown immediately.
Delphiniums and phlox, for example, are best planted within a year, and those saved from bachelor’s buttons should remain viable for three years.
As a general rule of thumb, seeds that dry on the plant should remain viable for between one and three years.
the circle of life
There’s something special about collecting seeds from your favorite flowers to plant next season as your precious flower fades.
It’s a great way to introduce new flowers to the garden while also saving some from your friends’ yards!
With a minimum of time and a little effort, you can fully experience the entire life cycle of your favorite plants, and be rewarded with vibrant flowers year after year.
Have you ever saved and replanted flower seeds? Share your stories in the comments below!
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© Ask the Experts, LLC. All rights reserved. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu and Claire Groom.