Whether you’d like to save money or you enjoy following a plant through the entire growing process, collecting seeds from flowers in your garden is rewarding. And you can even share with friends! Here are a few tips for success:
Which flower seeds to collect
Many vegetables, herbs and flowers produce seeds that can be collected and stored for future seasons. However, you’ll want to know whether you have hybrids. Often listed as F1 hybrid on plant tags and packets, they don’t produce seeds that come true, or grow plants that look like the parents. Species and open-pollinated plants, ones pollinated by wind, insects or self-pollination, will produce seeds that come true.
Keep in mind, however, that even if they’re open-pollinated, the same species of plants growing close together will likely cross-pollinate, then not come true after all. So to be sure next year’s plants look exactly like this year’s, only grow one variety of a species.
12 flowers whose seeds are simple to collect
- Blackberry lily Iris domestica
- Cilantro Coriandrum sativum
- Coneflower Echinacea purpurea
- Dill Anethum graveolens
- Four o’clock Mirabilis jalapa
- Larkspur Consolida ajacis
- Love-in-a-mist Nigella damascena
- Marigold Tagetes patula
- Poppy Papaver spp.
- Sunflower Helianthus annuus
- Sweet pea Lathyrus odoratus
- Zinnia Zinnia elegans
How to identify flower seeds
Where seeds form on the flower can vary between species. Some plants, such as sweet pea, larkspur and love-in-a-mist, form seed pods. Sometimes the seeds are all that’s left, such as on the dying stems of blackberry lily you see above or cilantro. And on others, such as zinnia and marigold, you’ll need to remove parts to find the hidden seeds that form just below the bloom.
How to know flower seeds are ready to collect
When you’re collecting seeds, choose the healthiest plants. Because seed formation is the last phase in a plant’s life cycle, you may have to wait until late in the growing season to harvest. Be patient and vigilant. Remove them too soon and the seeds will not have fully matured and won’t be viable. But wait too long, and you may miss out on being able to collect them if seedheads crack open and seeds blow away or drop to the ground.
Although seeds come in a variety of shapes and sizes, there are some characteristics to look for so you know they’re mature and ready to be collected. Scroll on to find out what to look for.
Shriveled and brown seeds
To start, the flowers will shrivel and turn brown. But seeds still may take time to ripen. For example, the marigold flower heads in the photo above are all on the same plant on the same day, but only the one that is entirely brown and spent is ready for harvest.
Flower seed harvesting tip
Use scissors or garden snips to make the cleanest and quickest cuts of seed heads from large flowers, such as marigolds, then pop them into a plastic storage bag or other small container to transport indoors for cleaning.
Papery seed pods
If the seed pods are papery, like the love-in-a-mist in the photo above, or you hear rattling when you shake the pod, it’s likely that seeds are ready.
In addition, look for husks or sheaths to break open and reveal brown-black seeds like those of the blackberry lily here. Leave those that are still pliable and white to ripen a little longer. Once you know the seeds are ready, you can collect them.
How to collect flower seeds from the garden
Since every flower's seeds develop differently on the stem, it only makes sense that the best method of collection is different for each one.
Brush seeds into a bag or bowl
Sometimes the seeds are loose and scatter easily. The love-in-a-mist in would probably make a mess if you took the pods indoors, so it’s easiest to collect the seeds into a bowl while you’re in the garden. Other times you’ll strip the seeds from the stems.
Snip off the seedheads
If seeds are neatly packaged in a sheath, you may be able to simply snip the spent flowerheads to take indoors.
Protect the flower seed harvest
You may need to protect your seeds from hungry birds, squirrels and other critters before you harvest. Sunflowers seem to be a favorite, as you can see in the photo above. To prevent loss, cover the head with a brown paper sack, wrapping it gently around the stem and stapling it shut like you see below, where the seeds will ripen safely. The paper allows air to circulate so they dry and don’t rot.
After a week or two, open the bag to see if the seeds are mature; some of them may have fallen inside. When they’re ready, cut the head off the stem and carefully remove the bag so you don’t lose any seeds. Then lay it on a tray and use your fingers to scrape the seeds away from the head.
Storing flower seeds
Once you've successfully collected the seeds, read about how to store seeds you've collected from your garden to ensure they're ready to sprout next year.