Collecting Seed For Another Season

From one year to the next.

Seed that is available in hardware stores and nurseries came from somewhere. Plants just like those that such seed grows into produced it. Someone, or many someones, collected all that seed to make it available to others. Similarly, several plants in our own gardens produce seed. Anyone who is interested in collecting seed to grow more of the same plants could make good use of it.

After bloom, most flowers deteriorate and disappear into the landscape. Some leave behind desirable developing fruits or vegetables. Many of the flashiest flowers are too extensively hybridized to produce seed. Many produce some sort of seed structure that typically gets removed, or ‘deadheaded’. This diverts resources from seed production to subsequent bloom or vegetative growth.

If not removed, such seed structures can mature to produce viable seed. Those who enjoy collecting seed often intentionally leave a few seed structures for that purpose, instead of deadheading completely. For plants with long bloom seasons, this technique should involve the latest blooms. The same applies to vegetables that normally do not mature prior to harvest, like summer squash.

Such seed or fruiting structures, including vegetables, must be completely mature before collecting ripened seed from them.

Sunflower, cosmos, calendula, marigold, campion, morning glory, columbine, hollyhock and snapdragon are some of the easiest flowers for collecting seed from. California poppy, alyssum, phlox, and several other annuals are happy to self sow their seed, although collecting seed from them is not so easy. Nasturtium and honesty (money plant) seed is easy to collect, but self sows as well.

Collecting seed is limited only by practicality. Some plants, particularly hybrids and exotics (which are not native and may lack pollinators), produce no viable seed. Extensively bred varieties are likely to produce progeny that are more similar to the basic species than the parent. Once collected, some seed need special treatment in order to germinate. All seed should be sown in season.


Oldies but not likely goodies.

31,800 years or so ago, busy arctic squirrels of northeastern Siberia stored more campion seed than they could consume. Of a store of more than 600,000 such seed, which were found deep below permafrost, three immature seed contained viable embryos. These three embryos were extracted and grown into plants that bloomed and produced new seed as they would have 31,800 years ago.

A 2,000 year old date palm seed, which was found in the palace of Herod the Great on Masada in Israel, is the oldest known intact and mature seed to germinate. It was approximately 29,800 years younger than the miraculously viable embryos of the Siberian squirrel stashed campion seed, but is ridiculously older than the oldest of the old seed in my partly neglected collection. There is hope.

Some of the seed that I saved is not dated because, at the time, I figured that they would be sown during the following season. A few of those that are dated are embarrassingly from five years ago. I know that canna seed lasts much longer than that. So do seed of some of the most aggressively invasive exotic species, such as broom and Acacia dealbata. Vegetable seed are not so fortunate.

However, I cannot discard them without giving them a chance. If they do not germinate on schedule, replacements will be sown immediately.

The two cans of seed to the left in the picture above are for two unknown varieties of pumpkin, and might have been three years old last autumn. Butternut squash seed to the upper middle is about the same age. Hyacinth bean seed to the lower middle is perhaps a year older. Blue dawn flower seed to the upper right is at least five year old. Parsley seed to the lower right was packed for 2015.

Horridculture – Soaking Seeds

P91030Hooey! It’s a bunch of hooey! Sweet pea seed that gets sown this time of year for next spring does NOT need to be soaked before sowing. In fact, unless there is some strange species of plant that has become that dependent on human intervention, NO seed need to be soaked prior to sowing. Not only is the technique completely unnecessary, but it is completely unnatural as well.

Think of it. In the wild, plants grow, bloom and produce seed. This seed does what it can to disperse and get into or onto the soil to germinate and grow into new plants to repeat the process. Some seed appeal to squirrels for burial. Some prefer to be partly digested by animals who eat their tasty fruit. Heck, some are reluctant to germinate until heated by a cleansing forest fire.

Plants employ quite a range of techniques to disperse their seed and promote germination. As strange as some of these techniques seem to us, they are all justified. They all exploit processes of the respective ecosystems they naturally inhabit. For example, seed that crave heat know that the fire that provides such heat also incinerates competing plants, leaving them vacant soil.

Regardless, there are NO plants that produce seed with an expectation that anyone will collect and soak them. Dry seed that need to rehydrate can and actually prefer to collect the moisture they need from the moist soil in which they grow. If the soil is too dry for them to rehydrate, they do not waste effort trying. They merely assume that they should wait for rainier weather.

Furthermore, seed that are needlessly soaked prior to sowing must be sown shortly after rehydrating. Unlike dry seed, rehydrated seed can not be returned to their original packet and stored for later.

Save Some Seed For Later

90717thumbFlowers do not last forever. Whether they last for only a day, or weeks, they all eventually finish what they were designed to do, and then whither and deteriorate. They only need to stay fresh and appealing to pollinators long enough to get pollinated. After all, that is their only job. The next priority is the development of seed and any associated fruit structures that contain the maturing seed.

After bloom, most flowers are just ignored as they deteriorate and fall. Those in big shrubbery, vines and trees are out of reach anyway. Others are either too numerous or too insignificant to worry about. Of course, fruit and fruiting vegetable plants get to produce the fruits that they are grown to produce. Then there are few flowers that need to be ‘deadheaded’ after they are done blooming.

Deadheading is simply the removal of deteriorating flowers. The remains of sterile flowers might be deadheaded because they are unappealing. Deteriorating flowers that would like to produce undesirable seed or fruit after pollination might get deadheaded for the same reason, and to conserve resources that would otherwise be consumed by the developing seed and associated fruit.

However, there are a few flowers that might be left intentionally to provide seed for later. Different flowers finish at different times, and their seed gets sown in particular seasons, but most of those allowed to produce seed should probably be deadheaded through most of their season, with the last few blooms left to go to seed. The same applies to fruiting vegetable plants like pole beans.

Many flowering plants are genetically stable enough to produce progeny that will bloom mostly like the parents. Most are likely to be more variable, or revert to a more genetically stable form, even if it takes a few generations. Sunflower, cosmos, marigold, calendula, morning glory, columbine, snapdragon, campion and hollyhock are all worth trying.

California poppy, alyssum, nasturtium, money plant (honesty) and a few annuals that do not get deadheaded are often happy to sow their own seed.

Saving Seed For Next Season

80718thumbThe gardens with the most flowers need the most deadheading. This involves the removal of deteriorating flowers and any developing fruiting structures and seed associated with them so that they do not divert resources from subsequent bloom or vegetative growth. Old flowers that do not produce seed because they are sterile or lack pollinators might get deadheaded too if unsightly.

Deadheading is not for everyone though. Flowers up in trees, big shrubbery or large vines are obviously out of reach. Many annuals, like alyssum and nasturtium, produce far too many flowers to be deadheaded. Most plants bloom and disperse seed without bothering anyone, or even getting noticed. Bougainvillea blooms too flamboyantly to miss, but then sheds neatly without any help.

Bougainvillea does not set seed anyway. The insects that naturally pollinate it within its native range in the Amazon River Basin probably do not live here. Yuccas that live far from their native range likewise lack the specific yucca moth that they rely on for pollination, although some get pollinated by accident. Big yucca stalks get deadheaded just because they are not appealing after bloom.

What is more fun than what gets deadhead is what does not get deadhead. The alyssum and nasturtium mentioned earlier naturally naturalize where they get watered. They toss so many seed around that they can replace themselves as readily as the old plants die out. California poppy, cosmos, calendula, campion, and many other annuals as well as a few perennials, can do the same.

Besides that, there are all sorts of seed that can be collected from old flowers for the following season. Each variety of flower finishes in its own season. Each variety likewise gets sown in its own season. It is not necessary to leave all fading flowers if only a few can provide enough seed for later. It is important to remember that hybridized and some overly bred cultivars do not produce viable seed, and that subsequent generations of the fancier varieties will revert to be more similar to their simpler ancestral parents.