Grow a Garden for Free
How to save and store seeds from different types of flowers.
Collecting and storing seeds from existing flowers in your garden, is the best way to add more plants to your garden for basically free. Sure, there is the initial cost of the plant you are collecting seeds from, but growing successive generations of plants from them helps to mollify that cost greatly!
Collect Those Seeds!
Collecting seeds is easy! The key is knowing how the flower naturally spreads their seeds. For instance, poppies form seeds pods and once the seeds are formed, and properly dried the pod opens up slits in its top, so that when the wind rocks the pod back and forth the seeds naturally fall out onto the ground. Harvesting poppy seeds is as simple as waiting for the plant to do all the work and then snapping off that seed pod when the slits have opened up and collecting them in a natural material pouch (more on that later). Other flowers that work this way include Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), Amaryllis, Hellebore, Peonies and Fuscia.
Here I am saving Love-in-a-Mist seeds that dried naturally in their pod on the Farm!
On the other hand, flowers like Queen Anne's Lace start forming seeds once the flower dies back. Once those seeds have dried they will drop on to the ground, but there is no dandy protective shell popping itself open to tell you when the seeds are about to start dropping. It is possible to cut the seed heads off the flower before they are done drying, but it is always best practice to let the plant do all the drying work for you. That way you know the seeds have formed properly.
I have found the most convenient way to let the plants do all the work for you and make sure you aren't losing any seeds is to use taffeta gift bags. Yes, you read that right. We've all received a piece of jewelry or a specialty chocolate in those little taffeta bags with the drawstring at the top. These are uniquely suited to seed collecting in the garden. They are breathable and see-through, so they let air flow and sunshine through. They have a drawstring that you can pull tight around the seed head so you don't lose any as they fall. They are light weight, so they are not pulling the plants down AND they work on pretty much any type of plant. It does not get much better than that! As an added bonus, you are helping the environment because you are reusing something that may have been thrown away otherwise! Once all the seeds have naturally fallen off the plant and into your fashionable taffeta bag, you can simply transfer the seeds into your long term storage.
Here is an example of using taffeta bags for seed collection. This is a Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus Carota) found in the very front part of the farm.
Bonus! When your seed collecting methods provide a resting spot for wildlife.
Now that you have collected your seeds, what do you do with them? The first step is to research your flower. Some flowers need to have their seeds planted in the fall as they require something called "cold stratification", basically this means that the seeds need to go through the winter season. The cold and wet of the winter helps to break the dormancy of these seeds, and without that they will not grow. There are ways to mimic winter indoors, you can lightly rub your seeds across some sandpaper to help thin the protective shell and then put your seeds in the freezer for a week or two. However, I have found that when nature is willing to do the job for you, you should let her. Seeds that need to be planted out in fall include Bells-of-Ireland (L. Moluccella laevis), almost all varieties of Poppy (california poppy can be planted in spring) Canterbury Bells (Campanula) and most wildflowers native to your area. For these plants, as soon as you have collected your seeds, you can plant them back in the garden where you want them.
What about seeds that need to be planted in spring? I'm glad you asked! these seeds will need to be stored in a cool, dark place until you are ready to plant them out. It is very important that the seeds are fully dried before storage, this will prevent rotting and molding. After you have collected your seeds, it is smart to lay them out thinly on a kitchen or paper towel and keep them in a cool, dark place for a few days to ensure they are dry.Make sure wherever you keep them, that there is sufficient air flow. Once you are certain your seeds are dry, the next step is collecting them into a long-term storage receptacle. This needs to be made out of a breathable material. Again, air-flow will help to stop rotting and molding of the seeds. There is a reason that seeds you buy from the store come in paper packets! DO NOT USE PLASTIC to store your seeds long term, the will rot. I use these paper packets purchased online (find them on My Favorite Things tab).
Once collected, I make sure to label the packets with all relevant information. Some things that can be useful to label with:
Date or month and year collected
This is purely your preference, but I have found all this info can come in handy 6 months to a year later when you are going to plant and can't remember quite what you collected and why (getting old is fun!)
Storing your seeds
Once you have your seeds collected and in the packets you will be storing them in it is time to choose a location for long-term storage. This needs to be a cool, dark place. If you have a basement closet, that would be ideal. However, this can also be in your garage if you are confident that the area will stay dry, an attic if that is easily accessible for you. If you do not have any of these options, store your seeds in the fridge. NOT the freezer, the fridge. Don't stick them in the way back where it tends to be colder. Put them in a container that is just for seeds and tell your family to leave them alone upon pain of death (only half joking). In the spring, before you plant them out, remove them from the fridge for a few days to allow them to become acclimated.
The key in seed storage is dark and dry so as not to start germination, cool and access to air-flow to prevent rot and mold. There is a reason that the world seed bank is in a frozen tundra!
So, get to it! Go save those seeds and start next year's garden for free! And while you are doing in, take a moment to smell the last vestiges of the roses and feel the magic in the garden.
Owner, PDX Urban Farm