With autumn getting underway and many plants starting to shut down for the colder months, now is a good time to try harvesting seeds from your garden. Like dividing existing plants, saving seeds is a great way to get lots of new plants for free – and it’s easier than you think. Here are some tips on how to save seeds.
Seed saving tips
Get your timing right – you need to collect seeds when they are just about to disperse, as this means they are ripe and therefore more likely to germinate. Harvest too early and they won’t be ripe; harvest too late and they’ll be gone. This is really a case of keeping an eye on the plants you’d like to take seeds from, and moving in when it looks like the seeds are about to scatter.
Watch the weather – it’s a good idea to collect seeds when the weather is dry, because you don’t really want them to come into contact with moisture before you sow them. And if you’re collecting very ‘flyaway’ seeds then don’t try to do it when it’s windy!
Have the right equipment handy – seed collection doesn’t need much in the way of equipment, but you will need some secateurs for snipping off the seedheads. You’ll also need some envelopes or paper bags to store the seeds in; don’t use plastic as this can harbour moisture. Remember to have a pen handy so you can write the contents on each bag as soon as you fill it – I’ve learned the hard way not to leave this until later!
Adapt your method to suit the seed – different plants make seeds in different ways, so you need to treat each plant according to its behaviour. Plants that make seed pods, like sweet peas, need to be harvested when the pods are dried but before they split. It’s easiest to cut off the whole pod, put it in the bag and give it a shake to release the seeds. Some plants form composite seedheads – cosmos and aquilegia are good examples of these. Each head is full of seeds which, when ready to harvest, will fall out when you rub them; snip off the whole head. For plants whose seeds form inside berries, either remove the flesh leaving the seed (a sieve can be handy for doing this), or for waxy berries just sow the whole thing.
Store your seed well – once you’ve collected your seeds, unless you’re planting them straight away you need to store them somewhere dry and cool. If you’re not sure whether they have any moisture on them, lay out the seedheads to dry for a few days before putting them back in their bags.
Plants to collect seeds from in autumn
Autumn isn’t the only time you can harvest seeds, but if you’re going to give it a go this season, here are some ideal garden plants that will be ready to harvest.
Cosmos – each flower will produce masses of decent-sized seeds, making this an easy one for kids to try harvesting. Sow your seeds next spring.
Zinnia – Like Cosmos, the flower heads produce the seeds, so rub these between your fingers to release them. Sow next spring.
Sunflower – another great one for kids to harvest, sunflower seeds are big, easy to handle, and very obvious in the centre of the flower. Each flower also produces loads of seeds, so you can leave lots for the local wildlife to enjoy too.
Astrantia – A fabulous plant for cottage garden borders, astrantia is ready to harvest when you see the seeds falling onto the outer petals of each flower. You need to sow the seeds straight away and they will need a period of cold to make them germinate, so if the weather is mild you might want to pop them in the fridge for a few weeks. This may seem a bit odd and unhygienic, but as long as you put the tray or pot in a polythene bag you can keep things nice and clean!
I hope you manage to save some seeds from your plants this season, there really is nothing like making new plants for free. Let me know what you harvest in the comments.