One of the easiest ways to enjoy your favorite annual flower blooms next year, while saving money, is to save the seeds from your flowers now. It is helpful to understand some basics about saving seeds before we go any further.  There are two types of plants that provide seeds: open-pollinated which include heirloom plants and hybrids.

Open-pollinated plants provide seeds as nature produced them and are pollinated by birds, butterflies and insects. The open-pollinated seed produces a duplicate or identical to the parent plant which it came from.  Heirloom open-pollinated seeds are from a plant that has been cultivated, it’s seeds subsequently replanted and then repeatedly passed down in this manner through many generations, some over 50-100 years. The hybrid plants have been developed by plant breeders to encourage unique attributes such as special color, hardiness, disease resistant or consistency. This process is done by cross pollinating two compatible types of plants to produce a hybrid plant which produces seeds that are not genetically like its parent plant. Seed from hybrid plants may be substandard to the parent plant, returning to one of the original plants cross pollinated.  To determine if the plant you want to take seeds from is a hybrid, consult with the original seed package or plant information guide provided when purchased.

Before collecting seeds, you should consider that it can be easier to propagate by other means besides collecting seeds for reasons which include length of time for germination, hard to retrieve seeds or special handling of seeds, such as stratification. Some examples are geraniums and succulents.  It is always best to research before collecting, so that you can identify the actual seed, location, care and storage needs.

Each species of flowering plant develops their seed and harvest time differently.  As a general rule of thumb, seeds are found near or at the flower including in seed pods or the flower head itself. Either way, the seed area should be finished flowering, dry and brittle with any seed pot starting to split.  Do not gather seed too soon or the seed will not be viable. Pull off and sort through the seed, removing miscellaneous fluff with a pencil eraser head. I use blank mailing envelopes I have recycled or you can purchase them cheaply at the local dollar store. You can cut the envelopes in half and seal with tape if the seeds are small or not of a large volume. Don’t forget to label, date and list any details with a permanent marker to the front of the envelope.  Keep it in a cool and dry place optimally at around 55° or lower or better yet the refrigerator.

If processed and stored properly, your seed should be good for the next five years, diminishing with each passing year. To test viability, count out 10 of the same seeds, moisten a paper towel or coffee filter and roll seeds up inside making sure seeds are not touching each other.  Check in 2-3 days and then every day afterwards for a week. Continue to moisten towel/filter with a spray water bottle.  Check with original seed package or research the internet to determine the seed’s germination time. Count how many seeds have germinated by that date or soon after and determine the germination percentage by dividing the number of seeds germinated by the number of seeds tested. If the germination rate is good, at or above 7 out of 10 seeds germinated then go ahead and use the seeds.  If it is worst, you may want to purchase a new seed packet.

Some easy annuals to grow from seeds and collect are allium, bachelor’s button, calendula, cleome, columbine, four o’clock, marigold, nasturtium, sunflowers and zinnias. Also, some flowers that reseed themselves are alyssum, clarkia, coreopsis, cleome, coneflowers, California poppy, feverfew, four o’clock, larkspurs, rudbeckia and sweet pea.

Go out and brighten up your yard with these flowers, many of which can be brought inside and used as cut flowers.  Once you are assured of being a successful seed collector, make your seed packages special handmade surprises for family and friends to brighten their day and garden. Add a picture of the flower to the front of the envelope so they know what to look forward to.  Exchange seeds with others for new types of flowers or branch out and start collecting seeds for vegetables.  

Don’t forget the Annual Fall Plant Sale at the Foresthill Heritage Community Garden on Saturday, 10/24/20 starting at 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. or as long as supplies last.  The garden is located next to the Memorial Hall on Harrison Street.  Come early for FREE Iris rhizomes and take home Foresthill Strong plants that will thrive in Foresthill.  Come learn about the NEW GARDEN CLUB that is sprouting out of the Community Garden (pun intended).  Information available at the Fall Plant Sale. Call Carol Hopper at 530-367-3157 for Club information or if you need help preparing plants for sale donations being received at the garden on 10/17/20 starting at 9 a.m.

Submitted by Marjene Streeper

Foresthill Heritage Community Garden.  

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