How to Save and Clean Your Own Seeds and Save Money on Your Favorite Varieties Year After Year

How to Save and Clean Your Own Seeds and Save Money on Your Favorite Varieties Year After Year

One great way to ensure you can get your hands on your favorite seed each year is to save your own. It’s a beautiful and sustainable way to keep growing the best flowers year after year. In this article I’ll show you some basics about seed saving so you can give it a shot yourself.

First off, here are a few tips about seed harvesting. Certainly this varies from plant to plant but here are some general guidelines to follow:

  1. Research the plant to see if it even propagates by seed! (sorry, fans of chocolate cosmos!) You may be surprised by which plants can’t be propagated this way.
  2. Also, some seeds need cold stratification which generally means they spend a winter outside before they are ready to grow. These you can often trick by keeping them in the freezer for a few weeks.
  3. Look for flower heads with no petals, dried out, brown or black, crunchy or papery. The key is timing – let the flower age as much as possible but not so much that all the seeds fall out or fly away before harvesting. If you harvest too early, the seeds haven’t developed enough and won’t perform. Let mother nature work her magic.
  4. Cut off the seed heads and let them finish drying out completely for at least a few days. Don’t put them in a sealed container yet – we don’t want to trap any moisture at this point. Just spread them out on a tray or plate where they won’t be disturbed.

Once they’re totally dry, it’s time to clean up the seed. This is when you might put on some music, have a whiskey cocktail, and get in the groove. You will be here for a while.

There are so many kinds of seeds out there and sometimes it’s hard to even know which part you’re looking for. I’m going to go through a few examples of some of my favorites.

  1. Red Spider Zinnia
  2. Scabiosa
  3. Chocolate Laceflower
  4. Flamingo Feather Celosia
  5. Coral Fountain Amaranth

Once you have all of your seeds cleaned, bag, and label them. Trust me, you may think you know what you have harvested but you WILL forget – labeling is essential. Plain seed packets are a great option for consistent size as well as breathability. I have also used snack-size zipper bags before, too. Just make sure whatever you use can seal up well so you do not lose all of your work! Do not forget to add the date so you know how old your seeds are when you decide to pull them out again.

After your seeds are sealed and labeled you need to store them in a cool, dry spot and use them the following season. If any seeds need cold stratification you can also pop them into the freezer.

These are just a few examples and guidelines that I hope will be helpful to you. I would love to hear any tips and tricks you’ve come up with to make the process easier, too!

1. Red Spider Zinnia

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Red Spider Zinnia

The Red Spider Zinnia is one of my favorite plants because it is so airy, delicate, intense in color, and simply not your “typical” zinnia at all. The Red Spider Zinnia branches a lot, so when it is planted with other things it winds its way through and around many different spots. Sneaky!

The following steps will walk you through the process of extracting seeds from the Red Spider Zinnia. Generally the same process for harvesting seeds from a Red Spider Zinnia holds true for “regular,” larger zinnias as well. Sometimes the larger zinnias are slower to lose their petals, but as long as the petals are dry and browned, they should be ready to harvest.

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1. These are what the seed heads look like. (Generally speaking, this will be the same for most daisy-like blooms).

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2. This is how the “pinch-and-roll” method works. Gently pinch and roll the head back and forth to squeeze the seeds and chaff out.

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3. You can see a lot of light colored chaff on the plate and the darker seeds in my hand.

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4. These are the zinnia seeds up close. Other zinnia seeds may be larger. Zinnia seeds are dark, flattened, and shaped like mailbox flags. Again, most daisy-like blooms will have similar shaped seeds.

2. Scabiosa

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Scabiosa

I love scabiosa because it’s gorgeous at all stages, easy to grow, and a prolific bloomer. When it’s just a colored bud it adds interest and texture (and can be used in small work like flower jewelry); when it’s in bloom it really has a shape like no other – like a cute rounded muffin top with a tutu on. And once the petals have fallen and the seedheads form, they give a completely different textural look. Plus, they dry well for everlasting arrangements!

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1. Let the bloom age on the plant until it gets papery, dry, almost crumbly; often all the petals fall off or a seed pod might even form. To harvest the seeds, you just cut these off from the aging plant and follow the steps I have outlined.

 

rowdy-poppy-scabiosa-seedheads

2. The seedheads look like tiny furry pineapples while the seeds themselves remind me of jellyfish with their papery capsule and legs trailing out. To separate the seeds, gently pinch-and-roll (as shown in image three under the Red Spider Zinnia section further up the page) or tap the seedhead.

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3. These are what the real seeds look like without their fancy dresses on and an example of a seed that is too immature. You do not need to remove the papery capsule from these seeds. You can sow them just as they are.

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4. You will know that all of the seeds have been harvested once you are left with only the bottlebrush skeleton from the seedhead.

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5. This is about the number of seeds you can expect to harvest from just four seedheads.

3. Chocolate Laceflower

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Chocolate Laceflower (photo courtesy of www.coloradoflowercollective.com)

Who loves chocolate laceflower as much as me? They are. Just. So. Dreamy. This plant you really want to let age a while. The beautiful umbels will curl up back into themselves (resembling when they first start blooming) like a tight fist and the teeny tiny petals will drop.

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1. This is what the Chocolate Laceflower looks like once it’s aged in the field. It kind of curls back up on itself.

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2. This is an umbel that was too young when harvested. As you can see it is still very open and has petals attached.

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3. This is an image of a ripe umbel both before and after pulling the seed. To harvest the seeds, pinch the top of the stem right at the base of the bloom and use your other hand to gently pinch the seeds and pull away. If any seeds want to stay, let them. They may not be ripe enough.

rowdy-poppy-chocolate-lace-seeds-and-chaff

4. Chocolate Laceflower seeds are fuzzy and tend to cling together. People often think the dried petals are the seed because they are so dark and tiny. Note the difference between the seeds and petals in the image.

4. Flamingo Feather Celosia

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Flamingo Feather Celosia

I like weird plants. You may have already guessed this, but I’ll shout it from my rooftop. Flamingo Feather Celosia grows upright and kind of looks like lipstick. It is one of those plants that people look at and say, “What the heck?” What I love about this one is that the flowers just get longer and longer as the season progresses. Eventually they can start to look like they belong in a Dr. Seuss book, all wavy and wonky. Not only that, but Celosia, in general, loves the heat here in Denver and it grows really well. It is not a “picky lady!”

rowdy-poppy-flamingo-celosia-seeds

1. The Flamingo Feather Celosia has teeny tiny black seeds. To harvest the seeds from the seedhead you can pinch, roll, bend and tap to get the seeds from these heads. Keep in mind the seeds closest to the the stem are the oldest so focus on those and leave any seeds near the tip.

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2. I use some “very fancy tools” to filter the seeds out. We make do with what we have, right? I took the basket out of my potato ricer to use as my first filter and then a mesh cocktail strainer for the final filter. This will get the seeds clean enough for sowing.

5. Coral Fountain Amaranth

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Coral Fountain Amaranth

Another lovely weirdo! Hanging Amaranth gives the look of dripping blooms. It makes gardens and arrangements look lush and abundantly overflowing and can add a total wow factor. My wife likes to say it reminds her of 70’s era design. Whatever, I guess I love the 70’s!

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1. This is what Hanging Amaranth looks like when it’s aged in the field. Kind of a curly dry mess.

rowdy-poppy-coral-amaranth-seeds-and-chaff

2. These are the seeds, shown circled in this image, from the Coral Amaranth. I process these seeds just like I process the Flamingo Feather Celosia (shown further up the page.)

rowdy-poppy-amaranth-seeds-and-chaff

3. As you can see these seeds are even smaller. Their tan color helps to distinguish them. However, you can see how hard it is to find the seeds in the coral colored chaff. The seeds resemble small, tan quinoa grains with a tail wrapped around the edge. This is because Quinoa and Amaranth are in the same family. Both the lime and the coral are types of Hanging Amaranth.

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