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Master Gardening: Tips for collecting flower seeds

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After an effort of volunteers and businesses this spring, a large courtyard at Goode K-8 school in York became a place for children to experience nature, grow food, and learn about wildlife.
Paul Kuehnel

 

As a gardener, I have grown plants in my garden that I want to reproduce because they have performed well and have attracted many pollinators. While some plants are easier to divide with a shovel, others can be propagated by collecting and planting their seeds. Some plants I have successfully propagated by saving their seeds include: butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), New England aster (Aster novae-anglia), wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), and boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum).

When I first started collecting my own flower seeds, I was very enthusiastic. I collected too many seeds and actually felt compelled to plant all of them the following year. To be more successful, what I really needed was a plan. The plan would include knowing one’s garden space, knowing the growing conditions, knowing which seeds to collect, and where to include them in the garden for the next growing season.

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Since we are encouraged to plant for continuous blooming for pollinators, seeds can be collected throughout the growing season. Most seeds are ripe 4-6 weeks after blooming. Seed should be collected just as or before the pods turn brown and the pods open. When deciding  which seeds to collect, know that varieties of open pollinated plants will retain their unique traits year after year if they are planted with plants of the same variety. When this is done successfully, the collected seeds will be “true-to-type” provided that they do not cross-pollinate with other varieties of the same species.To prevent unwanted cross pollination between different varieties of the same species, plant the different varieties with sufficient space between them, about 150 feet.

While I like collecting seeds from my own garden, I occasionally collect seeds from a friend’s property with their permission. Collecting seeds from plants growing along the road side and common access areas is usually permissible. There are places to avoid collecting seeds. This includes nature preserves, scientific natural areas, arboretums, private lands without permission, and from rare species. If you are unsure of a location, find out who owns the property and request permission.

Collecting seeds on a dry, sunny day is recommended so that seeds do not become moldy. You can use clean and sharp garden scissors to cut the pods or seed heads from the plant. It is recommended that you take no more than 10% of the available seeds from a plant. For every 10 plants of a species, collect seeds from one plant, preferably the healthiest and most productive plant.  It is important to air dry seeds on screens or trays for 1 to 3 days before storing. Place seeds in a paper bag or envelope (never plastic) and label with the date, location, name of the plant, and the type of site (dry, mesic (moderately moist), wet, sandy, etc.). Seeds can be extracted from seed heads by shaking the seed heads vigorously inside a paper bag. Sifting seeds through a finely meshed strainer will help remove filaments, petals, and other chaff.

Seeds should be stored in a cool, dark and dry space, free of rodents. The ideal temperature for seed storage is 50 degrees F or lower, with low humidity. I have successfully stored seeds using an airtight container in the bottom of my refrigerator. Some seeds need a period of stratification to germinate. This involves placing seeds in a small container with moist (not wet) sand, peat, or vermiculite and leaving them in the refrigerator for 10 to 12 weeks.  Other seeds with hard outer coats need a process called scarification to germinate. This involves breaking, scratching or softening the seed coat so that water can enter the seed and begin germination. You can bypass storing some seeds in the refrigerator; perennial wildflowers can be sown in the fall when they would naturally disperse, germinate and over-winter in the garden. Seeds of annuals do not need any special processing.

Factors impacting the germination rate of seeds include soil preparation, viability of any remaining weed seeds, time of year, slope, viability of collected seeds, size of the seeds (small seeds perish more easily than large seeds) and environmental factors such as water, light, oxygen, and temperature.

Whether you plan to exchange seeds with friends or grow your own plants, collecting seeds is an inexpensive and fun way to multiply your most productive plants.

Krista Callear is a York County Master Gardener. Master Gardeners are volunteers for Penn State Cooperative Extension. For more information, contact the Master Gardener office at 717-840-7408 or YorkMG@psu.edu.

Article source: http://www.ydr.com/story/life/2017/10/12/master-gardening-tips-collecting-flower-seeds/741438001/