Inside: While it might seem like an old-fashioned practice, learning how to save flower seed is not only frugal but sensible. Read on to find out how.
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With frost behind us, it might seem like garden work is over for the season, yet several chores remain. One of those is saving seed. But first we need to make a couple of distinctions.
Heirloom Versus Hybrid
Heirloom plants are plants that were grown in an earlier era, some dating back hundreds of years, and are open-pollinated. In short, that means you can save the seed and grow these year to year and expect the plants to produce the same traits consistently. The only exception would be if you grew several different heirloom varieties of the same plant in close proximity and they crossed. While you wouldn’t see it in the developing flower, the seeds from that flower might not stay true to type. (For more information on heirloom seeds or to request a catalogue, visit Seed Savers Exchange.)
A hybrid plant is the result of a cross between at least two, sometimes more, unrelated inbred plants, to bring about desired traits, such as disease resistance. Seeds can be saved from these hybrid plants, but the offspring won’t be true to type. Instead those plants will have different characteristics from one or more of the parents. For example, years ago I planted hybrid marigolds with some lovely shades of orange, rust, yellow, and cream. The following year the volunteers came up in the usual yellow and orange shades typically found in plant stands every year.
What to Save?
After watching my flowers grow over the course of several months, I’ve already decided what I want to keep. It doesn’t matter to me whether or not they’re heirloom or hybrid. In fact, I like the little bit of mystery to growing hybrids. Plus, if I want to continue growing these hybrid seeds, if I get consistent results, I can create my own variety. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I’ve been going through my containers, emptying out the soil from spent plants, and setting aside the ones I want to clip seeds from, like the coleus, gazanias, marigolds, and zinnias. Before cutting the seed heads off flowers, they need to be bone dry. I cut the stems and put the dried flower head into a baggie and write what it is. Usually I leave the envelope open for the seeds to dry a few weeks longer, just in case. At this point I’m not concerned about the chaff. As often happens, by the time I get back to the seeds in spring, the seeds have fallen away from the chaff, anyway.
Seed Saving in It’s Simplest Form
By far the easiest seed saving I do requires so little attention on my part it’s downright lazy. I don’t collect the flower seed, nor do I store it. I let nature do that. What am I talking about? Self-sowing! Case in point: my favorite flower bed around the log. When I go out to do my end of season garden assessment, I’ll bend the stem of any stray flower back into the bed rather than the yard so the seeds do their job come spring. (Patricia Lanza talks about this in her wonderful book!) If your beds are built up and ready to face next planting season, you can also disperse the seeds yourself. After I add some layers–manure, spent hay, leaves, compost–I will probably sprinkle some of the marigold and zinnia seed over the top of it, though, honestly, it’s really not necessary to go to all that trouble. Some good choices for self-sowing annuals include cosmos, sunflower, sweet alyssum, forget-me-nots, calendula, pansy, and bachelor’s button.
I also have a window box shaped planter with moss roses that reseed themselves every year. I just store the planter until the next year and give the flowers some light fertilizer when they need it.
Go Forth and Save Seed!
So there you have it–the basics of flower seed saving. It’s really quite easy and worth the effort–or no effort, as the case may be. Now instead of mourning the end of your garden season, you can collect seed from your favorite flowers and start dreaming of spring.
Do you save seed from your garden? Tell us about it in the comments.