Did you know that Mother Nature provides you with hundreds of free plants in the form of seeds? Many of the annual and perennial flowers as well as herbs and edible plants in your garden are a little seed-production factories just bursting with bounty. Most people let these go to waste, but smart gardeners know seeds are the best way to grow!
Why go to the bother of collecting all those tiny seeds? The first reason is thriftiness. No need for anything in your garden to go to waste. Compost, recycle, and re-use. The second reason is frugality. Why buy new plants every year when you can grow your own for free? Even further, why buy unproven plants or seeds when you know the ones you are collecting from did well and obviously flourished in your yard.
Another reason to collect seeds is to ensure the propagation of heirloom varieties and rare, native plants that are not available through other means. Commercial growers and catalogs will often only carry the most popular plants and seeds. By collecting seeds from particular flowers and edibles, you are safe-guarding the future of these species. You are guaranteeing we will have a wide variety of genetic diversity in our future and not just the current “top growers.”
The final reason to collect seeds is to trade them. You may have 100s of Cleome seeds and another gardener has 100s of Poppy seeds. Why not trade a few hundred with each other? Again, you are getting new plants for free or close to it. Seed trading is a whole world unto itself. There are online groups, pen pal lists, and clubs for seed swapping.
This winter, DC-area gardeners will have the opportunity to meet up and swap seeds in person. Washington Gardener magazine is holdings its annual Seed Exchange on . The Seed Exchange will include seed swapping, door prizes, planting tips, and gardening workshops by local garden experts. Details and registration links are online at:at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, MD and at GreenSpring Gardens in Fairfax County, VA
Seed collecting is easy. Just wait until the end of the growing season when your current flowers form seedpods. Check on them every few days. They are ready when the pods are dry, brittle, and just ready to open. Don’t wait too late or they’ll break open on their own and cast their seeds to the wind. Pick a day with little breeze and no rain. Go out in mid-morning, after the sun has dried out the air and dewdrops from the leaves. Take a piece of paper and put it under the seed heads then shake them gently. Be sure the seeds are thoroughly dry before you put them in tightly closed jars or zipper-closed baggies. Label them right away and store them in a cool, dark, and dry place.
That last step is the most important. Label them with the date and variety. Be specific as possible. Next spring you’ll be very glad you did – as many seeds look alike. The date is important as you will want to use up your seeds the next growing season or two.
A side note on seed collecting: not all plants can be propagated from seed. Many plants that you buy are hybrids or sterile. If you have hybrid flowers and vegetables, they may produce seeds. However, the seeds will often not produce offspring that is “true” to the parent plants. In other words, the seeds from hybrids are often a different variety than the plant you originally purchased and they are often inferior in quality.
A simple way to get started is to collect seeds from your common annual flowers that open-pollinate: zinnias, marigolds, forget-me-nots, four-o-clocks, cosmos, cleome, and sunflowers. Then, as your gardening skills grow, move on to perennials and biennials.
Photographs by Kathy Jentz
Kathy Jentz is Editor of Washington Gardener Magazine. Washington Gardener magazine is the only gardening publication published specifically for the local metro area — zones 6-7 — Washington DC and its suburbs. The magazine is written entirely by local area gardeners. They have real-world knowledge and practical advice with the same problems you experience in your own gardens. They share their thoughts on what to plant in deep shade, how to cover bare spots, which annuals work best throughout the humid DC summers, and much more. If you are a DC area gardener, you’ll love Washington Gardener magazine! Kathy is currently labeling and packing up seeds from her hollyhocks which came to her garden from her grandmother’s seed collecting. For more information on subscriptions, go to www.WashingtonGardener.com