Cleome grown from seed and a prolific reseeder

One of my fascinations with gardening is growing plants from seed. Like most gardeners I’ve grown many annuals, vegetables, and perennials from commercial seed sources. Some are easy, some are difficult, but at least the seed comes sorted, cleaned and ready to grow. Some of these seed-grown plants can’t be stopped from reseeding—my Cleome (grown from seed three years ago) has gone wild, and I’m pulling plants out like weeds after flowering and before seeds set. Despite this dangers, growing plants from collected seed can be an enjoyable challenge.

Parsley gone to seed. I’m sure I’ll have parsley all over the vegetable garden next year.

There is one thing to know about seed. Each is an individual plant, and like children, they are not perfect replicas of their parents. There are no guarantees you will end up with a desirable plant. Although the new plant may look like the parent, it is different. The plants that may develop can vary in size, hardiness, color, in bloom and maturing time, or any number of other ways. You do not want to collect seed from hybrid plants. The plants that develop from the seeds seldom show the characteristics of the parent plant. If you want to propagate exactly the same plant you started with, you must use vegetative propagation methods such as division, offsets, cuttings, or grafts.

In general, seeds develop about one month after the plant blooms. You need to watch the plants carefully to see when the seed ripens. Collect ripened seed on a dry sunny afternoon, as moisture is less of a problem. Some seeds drop easily from the seed head with a gentle shake, such as poppies or sunflowers. My poppies have provided seed for breads and hot dog buns, so there are practical reasons to gather seed, too.

Echinacea seed will reseed in the garden, but also provide finches feed through the winter.

Other seeds are contained in protective growths like cones or fleshy fruits, and these must be removed before the see is stored. Cones and pods placed in paper bags will often release seeds as they dry.

Make sure no debris or chaff (seed husks, flower bracts or other parts) is stored with the seed. Separate the chaff from the seed by rolling the collected seeds and material on a piece of paper. Heavier seed separates out, or may roll more easily leaving the chaff behind. Blowing gently on the chaff usually removes most of it, but don’t sneeze or you’ll waste all your efforts.

Store seeds in paper bags or envelopes, label the outsides with pertinent information like contents and date, and leave in a dry place for a few weeks. Paper allows moisture to escape and the seed may need to dry more, even if it appears completely dry. Store the paper containers in plastic and place in the refrigerator over winter. Next spring the seeds should be ready to plant.