Collecting & Storing Seeds

As summer winds down, next spring is already on our radar.  We begin to think about which plants worked well and which ones would like to preserve and do a repeat on.  Some flowers and seed varieties are easily available, but some favorite plants just aren’t in the marketplace anymore.  Heritage seeds can be challenging to find.  That’s where collecting and storing seeds comes in.

When you want a repeat performance for a particular plant, get to know how they reproduce best.  Annuals produce a lot of seeds, so seed collecting is the best route.  Perennials are a little more challenging.  Some perennials reproduce best through division, and others do well with seeds.  There may be some research involved for these.

Good seed collection is about good timing.  A good rule of thumb is to stop deadheading around the middle of August.  Seeds from different plant species mature at different times and even seeds from the same species can ripen at different times.  This means that you will have to collects seeds more than once and gather them as they become ripe.  Always gather seeds from disease free flowers.

Here are indicators of whether a seed is ripe:

  • flowers fade
  • seed aril is hard – that’s the white inside of the seed under the dark coat
  • seed cover is dry
  • pods turn brown
  • seeds darken in colour – green is usually an indicator of immaturity
  • seed pods split
  • seeds spread by wind get fluffy
  • seeds harden

Equipment needed:

  • paper bags or envelopes – to place seed heads in – a different bag for each variety. Label it well with plant name & date
  • pruning sheers – for easy cutting and snipping dried flower heads
  • fine screens or small shallow boxes – to dry seeds and provide good air circulation and to keep the seeds cool & dry
Related:  Seeding: Soil & Fertilizer

Harvesting techniques:

  • depend on type of plant
    • grass-like plants – strip the seeds off the stems
    • daisy-type – collect the entire flower head and let it dry. The seeds should fall out, but you may have to pull them out.  Trim off any excess dried petal parts from the seeds.
    • petunia/ trumpet flower-types – form a ball of seeds. Let the seed ball dry and then split the ball (it will be papery) and collect the seeds
    • pod producing types – let the pod dry completely and then crack open the pod to collect the seeds
  • Some flowers reseed naturally in the yard – allow the seed heads dry and let the seeds fall.  The seeds will vernalize (have an extended cold treatment) through the winter and germinate in spring.

Cleaning the seeds:

  • Do your best to separate the seeds from the chaff – for smaller seeds, using a fine screen works well.  The seeds will sift through and the larger chaff parts won’t. For larger seeds, you may need to remove the chaff manually.

Storing seeds

Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions about seed collection and storage – we’d be happy to help!


About The Author

Sharon (Wallish) Murphy
Sharon grew up in the Wallish Greenhouse at the heels of her father, Charlie, who mentored her. Sharon’s passion is to share the love for growing and to empower others to find joy in their gardening journey, just like her dad.