Saving Flower Seeds from the Garden

How to Save Seeds For Replanting and Sharing

September 18, 2020
Saving Seeds
Robin Sweetser

With fall’s arrival, the flowering plants are slowing down. If you have a favorite annual flower (or perennial) that bloomed beautifully, save their seeds to plant next year! Here’s how to save flower seeds.

Why Save Flower Seeds

Saving seeds can simply help us grow better plants! If you have grown a flower with desirable traits, you’ll want to plant that flower again! We also know that planting flowers can be hit or miss, so this lets you pass along a successful plant. Save seeds of any flower that has shown qualities that you admire:

  • Beauty
  • Color
  • Size
  • Vigor
  • Disease-resistance

A single flower can generate dozens or even hundreds of seeds. So you also save money (especially with pricey perennials) but seed-saving is more about sustainable and successful gardening.

Which Flower Seeds to Save

Many old-fashioned annuals grow quite well from seeds collected and stored at home. Zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos, marigolds, California poppies, impatiens, petunias, cleome, snapdragons, nigella and calendula are among the easiest seeds to harvest and re-plant in the spring. They’ll bloom as usual within the season!

Perennial seeds can also be saved. Just keep in mind that some perennials can go from seed to bloom in one season (e.g., sunflowers) but other perennials may take a couple years from seed to maturity. So, it’s not the fastest way to go, but it’s certainly more cost-effective than buying starter plants at a nursery. And why not? It’s a fun gamble! 

There are, however, a few things to consider when saving your flower seeds.

Before you start collecting, you need to know that it may not be worth saving all flower seeds from the garden. 

  • Hybrid varieties will not return as the exact same vareity. Hybrids come from plant breeders who purposely cross-pollinate different varieties to combine the positive traits of both. Seeds saved from a hybrid usually revert back to a distant ancestor that is not the same as the parent plant. It’s better to take cuttings or divisions of a hybrid plant to get an exact copy. Or, just buy fresh seed each year. You can still save and replant th eseeds, but you never know what you are going to get so be open to experimentation!
  • Cross-pollination in your garden from pollinators means that any plant can have pollen from another nearby plant and the colors of your flowers could change. If the color isn’t identical, this is why!

Which Flowers Are Best for Seed-Saving

  • With some plants such as poppies and columbine, seed collecting is as easy as waiting till the pods dry on the plants and putting them in an envelope.
  • Pansies and impatiens, on the other hand, tend to scatter their seed before you even notice it is ripe.
  • Coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, and other daisy-like flowers hold their seeds longer making them easy to collect. If the seeds you are waiting for might drop before you can collect them, try tying a small paper or cloth bag over the ripening seed pods.
  • Flowers with large seeds, like sunflowers, morning glories, cosmos, hollyhocks, calendula, and zinnias, are also easy to collect. Plants like delphiniums, cleome, nicotiana, nigella, mallows, and foxglove have small seeds that are contained in large seed pods, making them easy to harvest, too.

How to Save Seeds

Once you have chosen the plants to collect seed from, leave several fruits or seed heads on the plant to mature. For most flowers, the seeds are ready to harvest about a month after the blossoms fade, when the seed heads turn brown. 

  1. Gather ripe seeds on a dry, sunny day.
  2. Clean the seeds by removing any husks or pods. Try to separate as much debris from the seeds as possible since chaff can harbor insect eggs or fungi.
  3. Even if the seeds appear dry when you collect them, spread them out on paper to dry for about a week before storing.
  4. Place seeds in an envelope labeled with info you may need including plant name, height, color, and date them.
  5. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark, dry location. If humidity is a problem, put a little powdered milk in the bottom of the container to absorb any moisture. The fridge or freezer is a great place for seed storage because the colder the seeds are kept, the longer they will remain viable for future germination.

When to Plant Seeds

For all annuals, you can sow seeds in the spring for summer flowers!

There are some annuals that can also be sown in the fall. Specifically: Cleome, larkspur, dill, tomato, pumpkin, and many others have seeds that can survive winter temperatures.

Perennials are also stored dry, as instructed above. However, keep in mind that some perennial seeds that require natural winter conditions. Therefore, for best results, we would sow perennial seeds in autumn, treating them like volunteer annuals. When you sow seeds, just gently rake them into the soil. 

Host a Seed Swap

If you find you have extra seeds to share, consider hosting a seed exchange (or a seed drop-off) where interested parties bring seeds they have saved to trade for new varieties. It is a fun way to learn about new plants and get to try them for free! 

Learn more about Seed Saving Basics.

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser’s backyard gardening tips and tricks. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer’s Market.

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