I recently added some seed collection packets designed for me by my friend Beth to the collection as it’s something I’ve been wanting to do myself for ages and I’m finally doing it this year. I’m saving seed from the flowers I’ve grown to give to people as Christmas gifts.
It gives something back to the planet by encouraging more people to plant seeds and it’s much less wasteful than buying more and more new seeds.
I have created a simple Seed Saving Guide here for anyone who would like to have a go.
Saving seeds is an easy and economical way to expand your garden, and it’s a fun thing to do with kids too.
Here are some basic tips on how to collect and save flower, herb and veg seeds to grow next year or to share with friends and family.
Seeds ripen after the flower has faded and lost its petals, so in order to collect seeds, you’ll need to leave a few dead blooms on the plant rather than deadheading flowers immediately. As a rough guide, seed is ready to collect about two months after flowering.
When to harvest: Make sure you harvest your seeds on a dry and sunny day as damp seeds will go mouldy. As the flowers fade, seeds form either in seed heads or pods, and eventually the pod bursts open to spread seeds or they come loose and drop so the wind and birds can do the work.
If you harvest too soon, the seeds won’t be mature enough but if you harvest too late, the seeds will already be gone.
Once seedpods have changed from green to brown and can be easily split, you can begin collecting flower seeds. If you run your finger over a seed head and the seeds don’t fall out, or the seeds are still a bit green, leave them a bit longer.
The easiest time to gather seeds is while you’re deadheading plants in the garden.
Some people deadhead throughout the season, so they can collect seeds gradually and others (me included) stop deadheading in late summer, and harvest the seeds all at once at the end of summer.
Ways To Harvest
There are a couple of ways to harvest seeds. One is to use sharp, clean scissors to snip the entire blossom into a bowl or jar and separate it later. This is a great way to capture seeds that tend to scatter easily. Or you can harvest seeds right off the plant, by shaking the seed heads into a paper bag or using your fingers to brush them off and separate them into a container.
Use separate containers for each colour, variety, or type of flower, and label them as you go as it’s easy to forget what’s what!
Dry the seeds
Spread your seeds in a thin layer on a flat surface for a week or two to dry out. It could be an old baking tray, a shallow box, or a piece of newspaper – whatever you have that is dry and flat. You can put that on your greenhouse bench, a warm windowsill or airing cupboard
Separate the seeds
After they’re fully dry, separate any seeds that are still attached to the seed head. Rub seed heads between your hands to release the seeds or shake pods directly into a storage container.
You can also run handfuls of seeds through a sieve or colander to separate out the chaff. Separating them means they dry evenly.
Pack up the seeds
Seeds need to be kept dry and ventilated. Brown paper bags, paper envelopes or seed saving envelopes are perfect, and you can write directly on them. Write the seed type, harvest and planting dates on the envelopes so you can use the seed that is oldest first so it doesn’t go to waste and you know what to sow when next year.
I find the easiest way to separate and store seed is into 2 groups – seeds which are sown indoors first and then planted out, and seed that is direct sown outdoors.
Store the Seeds
Put your seed envelopes in old shoe boxes or Tupperware boxes and store them in a cool, dry, dark spot. A garage or garden shed is great as long as it doesn’t get freezing. Indoors works too, as long as it isn’t near a heat source. Never let the seeds get wet.
Easiest Flowers to harvest seed from:
Not all plants will grow from seed, and some are easier than others. And some, like calendula, will drop their seeds on the ground and come back next year, with no help from you, but I still collect their seeds to give to friends and family.
Some easy to grow and lovely annual flowers that you can save seed from are: Cosmos (shown in picture), Sunflowers, Calendula, Marigold and Zinnia. And some perennial flowers that are great to save seed from are Echinacea, Lupin and Poppy.
Easiest Herbs to save seed from:
Dill, coriander and basil are all annual herbs that are easy to grow and to save seed from.
With Basil, don’t harvest leaves from the plant you want to grow for seed. The plant will flower in spikes and the flowers will start to die off. The seeds are ready to collect when the spikes turn brown and dry out. Don’t worry about the seeds dropping out – they are well attached, and need quite a lot of rubbing to free them from the dead flower heads.
With Coriander & Dill, to get the best seed for sowing, pull up and discard the earliest plants to bolt (this is when they spike up and flower), and only save seed from the plants that produce plenty of leaves and flower late. Harvest the seed as soon as it is brown and dry, as it tends to drop from the seed heads. Rub the heads together in your hands over a container or paper bag to free the seed. Dill seed usually comes cleanly away from the seed heads. Coriander seed tends to contain more chaff, but you can get rid of that by sieving it.
Easiest Vegetables to save seed from:
Only save seed from the strongest plants with the best fruit. Make sure you only save seed from open-pollinated varieties and not F1 commercially produced hybrids. Fruits and vegetables have various rules for each different type, but I’ve just shared the easiest 4 veg plants to try below:
Tomatoes: Allow them to fully ripen on the plant and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Place those in a jar of water and leave for a few days, swirling them in the water daily. After a few days, the seeds should have come free from the pulp and sunk to the bottom. Pour the liquid away and rinse the seeds. Leave them to dry on a paper towel and, when they’re fully dry, store them in an envelope in a cool, dry place.
Pepper seeds: Harvest seeds from peppers after the fruit has fully ripened on the plant and started to wrinkle. Remove the seeds and spread them out on paper towels to dry. When fully dry, store as above.
Peas and Beans: Allow the pods to ripen on the plant until they are dry and start to turn brown. Remove the pods from the plant and spread them out on a tray indoors to dry. Leave them for at least two weeks before shelling the pods or wait until you’re ready to sow the seeds the following spring.