It started with a nasturtium seed in a paper cup. Oh so many years ago, my first grade teacher instructed her classroom of 6-year olds how to plant the round nubby seeds. Within a week or 2, the first beautiful leaves broke through the soil. I have been smitten with germination ever since.
Many folks sow their are own annual seeds, but not so many give perennials a try. It is important to note that in recent years seed sown perennial selections have dwindled at garden centers. Wholesale suppliers now favor the patented sterile clones that some say boast more uniform growth. (Hey control freak gardeners, it’s time to let go of that! )
Upon becoming a beekeeper 5 years ago, I got a wake up call that seed-grown perennials provided more pollen and nectar, which in turn nourish our honey and native bees. Our plant selections now include many more seed sown strains of perennials, shrubs and even trees, and this is the trend we foresee for other small specialty growers.
This brings me back to the importance of this topic: seed collecting. Here are more reasons to encourage you to harvest your own seed.
- To be able to propagate more plants for new garden beds
- To preserve strains that you find remarkable
- To be economical (seeds are getting expensive)
- To participate in seed exchanges. One benefit of joining various plant organizations such as the Hardy Plant Society or the North American Rock Garden Society is you have access to their seed exchanges. Share your seed with other members, and get access to many varieties not found at the local garden center.
The first question many first time seed collectors ask is when should they harvest seed. This varies from plant to plant. You do need to collect seed as soon at it ripens, before the pods or capsules burst and dispense. Seed ripens at different times on different plants throughout the year so you need to pay close watch. Spring bloomers like Primrose and Vernal Sweet Pea ripen in June and early July, while on a late August day, the pods of species peonies burst to expose their bright red and blue fruit (the blue seeds are the fertile ones). Bluestar seed pods are ready to collect in early September, while it may be late October before you can harvest seeds of Compass Plant.
Our changing climate will challenge any timing rules. However, I just came across a website which may be of great help the Seed Site . It has a wealth of information on what pods and ripened seed look like on hundreds of different plant species.
Once you collect your seed, you should clean off the chaff and store in a cool dry spot in paper or glassine envelopes. Make sure there are no tiny insect pests hanging out in the capsules. Some seed, such as Arisaema (Jack in the Pulpits) and Hellebores benefit by being stored enclosed in a moist paper towel inside a baggy, and kept in the refrigerator until spring. Remember to label right away. You think you’ll remember, but…
The proper time for sowing and seed treatments differ depending on the plant. There is no one source that has complete information, but we often refer to the Jelitto Seed Website for germination tips.
I encourage you to save your own seed. Yes, there is always more to learn, but once you start you will gain confidence. Go outside now and see whether you have a windfall of seed ready for harvesting.