Collecting seeds from garden flowers is a simple task to get children into the garden or just for your own enjoyment.
Zinnias, marigolds, celosia, petunias, and impatiens are a few examples of easy collectables.
Before you get started, knowing which seeds are worth saving is important. Some varieties of flowers (and vegetables) are hybrids, which means they are produced by crossing two distinctive varieties.
Natural hybrids occur, but gardeners have also been intentionally hybridizing plants for hundreds of years in order to get certain desirable characteristics. Although hybrids may produce seeds, the plants that grow from those seeds rarely resemble the parent plants.
For open-pollinated varieties, however, saving seeds is a great way to preserve heirloom traits. Or sometimes varieties disappear from the garden center as new ones take their place, and you have an unusual shade of zinnia you would like to preserve. Seed saving is the way to do that.
To harvest the seeds of garden flowers, simply let them mature on the plant. For some flowers, like zinnias and marigolds, the spent blossoms are obvious. Petunias and impatiens take a closer watchful eye. Celosia may remain colorful even as the heads mature; look for tiny black seeds on the lowest part of the flower. Sunflowers and cosmos are also easy to harvest, and flowers will mature on the stem.
Clip the mature flowers and let them dry completely before storage. They can be left intact on the stem or separated, but they will dry more thoroughly when spread apart from each other. Put the seeds on newspaper or paper towels and put them in a warm, dry location.
Once the seeds are dry, transfer them to an airtight container. Add silica gel or flower-drying material to absorb moisture that could lead to mold growth on the seeds. You could also wrap a couple of tablespoons of powdered milk in facial tissue as an effective substitute for drying material.
Seed containers should be stored in a dry location below 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit. They can be kept in the refrigerator, if necessary.
Only harvest seeds from healthy plants, as diseases can be transmitted through the seed coat.
For other flower varieties, check species recommendations. Seeds can also be saved from many vegetable plants, although the process is more complicated with some. Again, check specific recommendations for each crop.
If you are already a seed-saving enthusiast or become one, there are local, regional and national organizations for seed savers.
A local group, the Kaw Valley Seeds Project, also puts on a seed exchange and fair each year on the last Saturday in February.
Leftover commercially packaged seeds can also be saved for next year, although some species may lose viability. For best results, store leftover seeds at recommended conditions for each plant variety.
Just remember, the hardest part of seed saving is finding them next spring. You probably put them somewhere you would be sure to remember.
— Jennifer Smith is the Horticulture Extension Agent for K-State Research and Extension in Douglas County and can be contacted at 843-7058.