By Sam Burbach, Education & Programming Coordinator – 09/3/2020

As summer winds down and comes to a close, it’s a great time to look at your garden and landscape and think about what you liked, what you didn’t like, and what you might like to do next year. If there were flowering plants that you really liked, it’s a great idea to try seed saving so you can have those plants again next year or add them to new places in your garden.

To get started, let’s talk about what types of seeds can be saved. This week we are going to stick to talking about saving flower seed, which are dry-fruited crops.*

It is important to note that only seeds saved from heirloom or open-pollinated plants will produce a flower true to the parent plant.

Let’s look at the different types of seed:

  • Open-pollinated: This occurs when a plant is naturally pollinated (by insect, wind, human, etc.) without any intentional cross-pollination. Seed collected from an open-pollinated plant will continue to produce plants that are true to the parent plant year after year as long as the flowers were not cross-pollinated by a different plant variety of the same species.
  • Heirloom: Heirloom plants are open-pollinated plants that have a long history of the seeds being saved and passed down. Generally, an open-pollinated plant that has been saved for over 50 years is then considered an heirloom variety.
  • Hybrid: Hybrid plants are created through deliberate cross-pollination of two different varieties or species to gain desirable qualities of both parent plants. If cross-pollination is successful, the plant that will grow from the seed collected from that cross-pollinated flower/fruit will exhibit characteristics of both parents. Any seeds then collected from the hybrid plant are considered unstable and may not produce plants that are true to the parent. This means that seeds from hybrid varieties are not good candidates for seed saving. Although, hybrid seeds can become open-pollinated seeds after many years of growing the saved seeds, selecting for the desired hybrid traits, and saving the seed from those flowers/fruits, which essentially stabilizes the hybrid.

Another consideration is whether you save seeds from annuals or perennials. Saving seed from annual flowers is great because they would not otherwise come back next year (unless they self-seeded in the garden). Saving seed from perennial flowers is nice for when you want to add more of that perennial to different areas of your garden. And both are great for when you want to share with fellow gardeners!

Saving seed from annual flowers:

Annual flowers produce abundant quantities of seeds to ensure survival into the next year. If you initially grew your annuals from a seed packet, it is easy to know whether it is a hybrid or not. If you purchased your annuals from a garden center and no longer have the plant tag, you may not know whether it is a hybrid or not. If you end up saving seed from a hybrid plant, just know that the plant that grows from that seed may not have the same characteristics as the plant you collected the seed from.

 

Some annual flowers that are easy to save seed from:

  • Zinnias
  • Snapdragons
  • Poppies
  • Bachelor’s Buttons
  • Marigolds
  • Cosmos
  • Cleome
  • Calendula
  • Sunflowers
  • Nasturtium

Saving seed from perennial flowers:

Perennial plants will come back year after year so long as they are healthy, so seed saving is not as necessary for a gardener unless you want more of those plants or want to share them with other gardeners. Many perennials today are cultivated varieties so the seed will not produce true-to-type, which is why many perennials are divided rather than propagated by seed. However, some perennials do not like dividing and will not recover from root disturbance, so they must be propagated by seed. Many native plants are propagated by seed so as not to disturb the parent plant. Please note, some perennials grown from seed will not flower the first year.

 

Some perennial flowers that are easy to save seed from:

  • Coneflower (straight species, not hybrids or cultivars)
  • Liatris
  • Milkweed
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Scabiosa
  • Blackberry lily
  • Meadow rue

How to save seed from flowers:

It is important to collect seed from healthy plants and desirable flowers so there is the greatest chance of having seeds that will produce healthy plants and the nicest flowers next year. For a gardener who likes to keep a tidy garden, one of the hardest parts of seed collecting is allowing the flower to mature and brown on the plant before removing it. If the flower or seed pod is removed too early, the seeds will not mature properly resulting in poor germination when you try to sow the seeds.

Once the flower and stem under the flower (pedicle) turn brown, the seeds should have reached maturity. Remove the flower head/seed pod and gently break it apart to expose the seeds. Seeds should be cleaned away from the rest of the flower parts and dried entirely before storing them to prevent any mold from forming. Once dried, the seeds can be stored in airtight containers or paper envelopes and kept in a cool, dry location until ready to use. If stored properly, seeds may remain viable for a number of years, although germination rates will be highest in the first year after collecting. Happy seed collecting!

*Note: If you are interested in learning about saving fruit and vegetable seeds, join us for our Zoom presentation by Craig LeHoullier who is an expert at tomato growing, hybridizing, and seed saving. For more information about this presentation on September 14th, please click here.

For additional information about collecting and saving seeds, visit Seed Savers Exchange for a vast educational library: https://www.seedsavers.org/learn