Seed Saving Tips

Seed saving is a fun, frugal way to add more of your  favorite plants to your existing garden.
Seed saving is a fun, frugal way to add more of your favorite plants to your existing garden. | Source

How to Save Seeds Successfully

Saving seeds from vegetable gardens and flower gardens is a fun and frugal way to grow the produce you like best and add more of your favorite plants to the landscape.

What should you look for in the vegetable seeds and the flower seeds that you collect?


  • Seeds that will germinate.
  • Seeds that will mature into healthy, productive plants.
  • Seeds that will develop into the plants that you actually want in your garden.


To increase the likelihood that you will select seeds that have these qualities, follow the general guidelines below— basic seed-saving concepts that will help you pick the best vegetable and flower seeds from your garden, for your garden.


SAVING VEGETABLE SEEDS

How to Select the Best Vegetables for Seed Saving

Seeds from heirloom plants are more likely to germinate than seeds from hybrids.
Seeds from heirloom plants are more likely to germinate than seeds from hybrids. | Source
This tomato was delicious! But I won't be planting its seeds next year.
This tomato was delicious! But I won't be planting its seeds next year. | Source

Vegetable Seed Basics

When selecting vegetables from which to collect seeds, choose

  • heirloom plants,
  • disease-free plants,

  • plants with the qualities you want in next year's crop and

  • plants that have not cross pollinated.

VEGETABLE SEED SAVING

Heirlooms, not Hybrids


Of the 5 types of tomato plants that we grew in this year's garden, my favorite was definitely Park's Whopper. It stood up well to the summer heat; developed no diseases; incurred little or no pest damage; and produced firm, meaty fruit that was absolutely delicious—a far cry from flavorless supermarket tomatoes.

But I won't be saving Park's Whopper tomato seeds for next year's vegetable garden. Why? Because Park's Whopper is a hybrid.

Although hybrid plants are often wonderful to grow, they should never be the first, second or even third choice of savvy seed savers for two primary reasons.

First of all, seed from hybrid plants is often sterile. Therefore, collecting seeds from hybrids could easily be a waste of time.

Secondly, seed from hybrids won't reproduce "true." In other words, planting seeds saved from a hybrid plant will not result in a plant that is like the parent plant.

For these reasons, it's best to collect seeds from heirloom plants.

Heirloom Plants

Heirloom plants are open-pollinated cultivars or "species" plants. As open-pollinated cultivars, heirloom seeds are produced through natural, random pollination.

Preserved through the years by gardeners and farmers, heirlooms have been in use since before 1945. Unlike hybrids, they grow "true" to type from saved seed. In other words, when you sow heirloom seeds, you get heirloom plants—the plants that you expected to get, the plants that you wanted.

Choose seeds from heirloom plants that have the characteristics you want in next year's crop.
Choose seeds from heirloom plants that have the characteristics you want in next year's crop. | Source

VEGETABLE SEED SAVING

Harvesting the Best


When selecting seeds, go for the healthiest fruits and vegetables from the healthiest heirloom plants in your garden.

Choose the ones that have the qualities you're looking for in next year's crop. Size, flavor, productivity—consider all of the characteristics that are important to you. Then choose seeds from the best of the best.


VEGETABLE SEED SAVING

Avoiding Cross Pollination

Some open-pollinated plants cross pollinate. These include beets, broccoli, cabbage, chard, cucumber, kale, mustard greens, radish, spinach and squash.

For instance, if you grow more than one type of squash close to each other, they will more than likely cross pollinate, and the seeds that they produce will result in squash plants that have characteristics you may not want.

Like squash, cucumbers & other Cucurbits, different types of melons will cross pollinate if grown near each other.
Like squash, cucumbers & other Cucurbits, different types of melons will cross pollinate if grown near each other. | Source

So how can seed savers maintain original varieties of plants that cross pollinate?

  • One option is to isolate the plants from each other by large distances, growing yellow squash in one vegetable patch, for instance, and green squash in another garden at least half a mile away. (Cucurbits need a lot of space!) But the isolation method is not very practical for most home gardeners.
  • Another option is to grow cultivars that bloom at different times. That way they can't cross pollinate.
  • You could also use row covers to isolate cultivars from each other, covering one variety at a time, allowing each adequate exposure for pollination amongst its own kind.
  • The easiest option? Only grow one type of heirloom cross pollinator at a time to assure that the seed you collect is the seed you want.

Easy Vegetables for Seed Saving

Vegetable
Fertility
Difficulty Level
Seed-Saving Tips
beans
Self pollinator
Very easy
Allow pods to dry on vines. Pick pods when they rattle & remove seeds.
cucumber
Cross pollinator within 1/2 mile of other cucumber cultivars
Easy (if cross pollination does not occur)
Allow to ripen on vine until mushy. Cut in half, scrape away seeds, rinse off gelatinous coating in seive, soak in water 1-2 days & then dry.
eggplant
Self pollinator
Easy
Allow eggplant to over-ripen on vine until hard & dull in color. Cut it in two & pull seeds from flesh.
peas
Self pollinator
Very easy
Allow pods to dry on vines. Pick pods when they rattle & remove seeds.
peppers
Usually self pollinates, but may cross pollinate if cultivars grown close together.
Somewhat easy
Cut open mature pepper & scrape out seeds. Dry on paper plate or towel away from sun. Seeds are ready to be stored when break rather than bend.
squash
Cross pollinator within 1/2 mile of other squash cultivars
Easy (if cross pollination does not occur)
Select ripe squash with skin that dents easily. Cut in half, scrape seeds into seive, & wash & dry them.
tomatoes
Usually self pollinates, but may cross pollinate if cultivars grown close together.
Somewhat Easy
Squeeze seeds from ripe tomato into bowl of water & allow to ferment at room temp until mold forms. Scrape away mold, stir & add more water. Repeat process until only clean seed remains, then strain, rinse & dry at room temperature.
watermelon
Cross pollinator within 1/2 mile of other melon cultivars
Easy (if cross pollination does not occur)
Remove seeds from ripe fruit. Wash in seive, adding a few drops of mild detergent to remove sugars. Rinse & dry.
If you want seeds to grow "true," harvest them from non-hybrid vegetables only.
Allow legume seeds to dry on the vine.
Allow legume seeds to dry on the vine. | Source

VEGETABLE SEED SAVING

When to Collect Vegetable Seeds

Wait until almost the end of the growing season to collect seed from your garden. At that point, when you're no longer harvesting much for the table anyway, allow it to "go to seed."

Doing so will discourage your vegetable plants from setting new fruit, effectively signalling the end of their life cycle.

To that end, allow fruiting vegetables like tomatoes and squash to ripen beyond edibility. Let legumes dry on their vines and Brassicas, like broccoli and kale, flower and fade.

Catching Seeds

Seeds pods often release seeds as they dry. To avoid losing seeds this way, break off a section of the plant (you could even pull it up completely) and store it upside down in a paper bag until the pods are thoroughly dry.

When collecting seeds from fruiting vegetables such as cucumber, eggplant, melon, squash and tomatoes, be sure to select fruits that are fully mature and overly ripe. (Immature seeds are unlikely to germinate.)

Once you've chosen overly ripe produce for seed collection, you will have to remove the seed from the fruit, clean it and dry it before storing it. To prep tomato seed and melons seed for storage, some seed collectors recommend a period of fermentation.

Seeds from legumes such as beans and peas should remain on the vine until the pods that contain them "rattle dry." At that point, the pods may be picked and the seeds removed.

Seeds from other vegetables that "go to seed" (like broccoli) should also be allowed to dry on the plant.

SAVING FLOWER SEEDS

How to Select the Best Flower Seeds for Saving


Select seeds from the plants you love best. Pictured: Sunflowers.
Select seeds from the plants you love best. Pictured: Sunflowers. | Source

Annuals, Biennials & Perennials

Most gardeners save seed from annual and biennial plants. Annual plants live for only one growing season, while biennial plants live for two. At the end of their life cycle, before they die, annuals produce seeds. Biennials produce seeds after flowering at the end of their second growing season.

While annuals and biennials are easy to grow from seed, perennials, which live year after year and do not die after flowering, are easier to propogate asexually, i.e. through cuttings, layering and division.

Many of the same precepts for saving vegetable seeds hold true for flower seeds.

Healthy Plants

Choose only healthy, disease-free flowers from which to collect seeds. You don't want to pass a virus or some other health issue onto the next generation.

The Best of the Best

Vivid coloring, large blossoms, sturdy stems—what do you want next year's flowers to be like? Think about what your preferences are as you select the seeds from the best flowers on the best plants in your garden. What you pick is what you'll get—next year.

Heirlooms

If you want to grow flowers that are like their parent plants, save seeds from heirlooms only. Like the seeds of hybrid vegetables, hybrid flower seeds won't produce plants that are just like the parent plant. But ... you might not care about that too much in your flower garden.

SAVING FLOWER SEEDS

Other Things to Consider

Collecting seeds from native wildflowers is a fun, frugal way to fill your garden at little or no cost. Pictured: Thistle.
Collecting seeds from native wildflowers is a fun, frugal way to fill your garden at little or no cost. Pictured: Thistle. | Source

When choosing flowers to collect seeds from, also consider the lifespan of the plants as well as their usefulness in your garden and their care requirements.

Annuals & Biennials

Although some annual and biennial plants will reseed themselves, not all do. So if you want to make sure that those cheery zinnias and marigolds grow in your garden again next year, sow them yourself in late winter or early spring (depending upon your climate).

Of course, you could also buy the seed, but ... saving it from your own garden is a lot more fun. And besides, the seed is out there, just waiting to be collected.

Native Plants

Harvesting seed from native wildflowers and other native plants is an effective way to add diversity to a home landscape. Not only are native plants generally easier to care for, but they also tend to attract local wildlife, including the pollinators gardeners love, such as bees and butterflies.

Many seed pods, like that of butterfly weed, have attractive shapes.
Many seed pods, like that of butterfly weed, have attractive shapes. | Source

SAVING FLOWER SEEDS

When to Harvest Flower Seeds

If you're an active gardener, you probably deadhead the flowering plants in your landscape to encourage more blooms, knowing that once their flowers go to seed, they will produce fewer and fewer blossoms.

This is especially true for biennials in their second growing season and annual flowers, which not only produce fewer blooms when their flowerheads go to seed, but also die at the end of the season.

For this reason, to extend the time you can enjoy flowering annuals and biennials in your garden, continue to deadhead them until the end of the growing season. Then, after they've put on a good show, allow the flowers to dry on their stalks.

But don't wait too long to collect seed! If you dawdle, birds and other animals will eat the seed before you have a chance to gather it.

Some gardeners tag their favorite flowers, tying twine to their stems or marking them in some other manner so that they're sure to collect seed from the best spent blooms.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Allow seed pods to dry on the plant before harvesting. Pictured: Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis) seed pods at Elms Environmental Education Center, Dameron, MD.The seed head of this purple coneflower will dry more thoroughly once the chaff is removed.
Allow seed pods to dry on the plant before harvesting. Pictured: Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis) seed pods at Elms Environmental Education Center, Dameron, MD.
Allow seed pods to dry on the plant before harvesting. Pictured: Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis) seed pods at Elms Environmental Education Center, Dameron, MD. | Source
The seed head of this purple coneflower will dry more thoroughly once the chaff is removed.
The seed head of this purple coneflower will dry more thoroughly once the chaff is removed. | Source

How Flowers Look When Ready to Harvest

Flower seeds are ready to harvest when the flowers that are left on the plant dry up and change color, fading to beige or some other shade of brown. Sometimes their tops appear puffy.

Flowers that have gone to seed are usually simple to remove, snapping free easily, although sometimes pruners or gardening shears may be needed.

After removing dried flowerheads from plants, also remove any "wrapping"—bits of dried petal and other chaff—and allow the seed to dry completely before being stored for next year.

If the flowering plant produces pods, these will shrivel and turn brown when ready to harvest. When you shake them, they'll rattle.

To harvest seeds in pods, snip them from the plants, pry them open to remove the seeds and discard the shells. Some seed collectors store it all away—seeds, pods and even dried stems, placing the lot in paperbags until the start of the next growing season.

Zinnias are easy to grow from saved seed.
Zinnias are easy to grow from saved seed. | Source

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The Dirt Farmer has been an active gardener for over 30 years.

She first began gardening as a child alongside her grandfather on her parents' farm.

Today, The Dirt Farmer gardens at home, volunteers at community gardens and continues to learn about gardening through the MD Master Gardener program.

© 2012 Jill

More by this Author


Comments 26 comments

The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 3 years ago from United States Author

Hi Kathy! I saved lots of seeds this fall & had a lot of fun doing it. Next year, I hope to save more vegetable seeds from heirlooms. Thanks for your comment. Hope you do use the information in the hub. Seed saving is really rewarding, not to mention cost saving! Take care, Jill


savingkathy profile image

savingkathy 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Wow what an amazing resource! This is so well done - your photos are beautiful and there is so much useful information in here. I am bookmarking and pinning this to refer to again. Thanks for sharing!


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks, grandmapearl! Just got back into town from visiting my mother's home, where we did lots of gardening. And of course, I took her some seeds! Take care, Jill


grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 4 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

Super article, lovely pictures and lots of good info in well-organized and easy-to-read format! Excellent. Voted Up, Pinned and shared, pushed lots of buttons!


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 4 years ago from United States Author

@ Kris Heeter -- Thanks for sharing the article! And good luck with your seed saving this year. (: Jill


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 4 years ago from United States Author

bridalletter -- What a great topic suggestion! I've been racking my brains for article ideas as I must write 8 this month, and yours is a really timely one. Thanks for commenting! --Jill


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 4 years ago from United States Author

@ DeborahNeyens -- Awesome! Seed saving is a lot of fun. I'm working on two other seed-saving articles right now, one about prepping seeds for storage & the other about storing seeds. Hope those will be of use to you, too. Thanks for commenting! --Jill


Kris Heeter profile image

Kris Heeter 4 years ago from Indiana

I very nicely done article! I love your pictures. Heirlooms are fantastic additions to any garden. They provide so much variety both visually and in taste. Last year was the first year I tried to start saving seeds. Successfully save an purple heirloom basil but was as successful with an heirloom cucumber (I think I took the seeds too early!)

Thanks for a great hub and I'll tweeting and sharing this one!


bridalletter profile image

bridalletter 4 years ago from Blue Springs, Missouri, USA

Always exciting to see your hubs. I have a lot to learn about gardening. It would be great if you have some tips to share about maintaining a garden when the heat is constant. My strawberry patch is gone. Some protective techniques would be awesome.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa

What perfect timing on this. My husband and I were just talking last night about how we need to start saving seeds. This information will be very useful to our new endeavor. Thanks!


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 4 years ago from United States Author

Hi OldRoses. I think we're a lot alike! I use paper towels, paper plates & paper bags for drying--and the latter for storage as well. I've never seen the kits. Wonder what's in them, a roll of Bounty? (: Thanks for commenting! Take care, Jill


OldRoses profile image

OldRoses 4 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

Great hub and great photos! I'm a HUGE seed saver. I laugh when I see those expensive "seed saving kits" in catalogs and online. I use whatever I have at hand to collect seeds, dry them on paper plates on top of my fridge and then store them in a drawer in my fridge. Separating seed from chaff is often difficult. I've found that my flour sifter is my best friend when dealing with tiny seed like poppies.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 4 years ago from United States Author

Hey Rachel! How cool. When you get a corn cultivar (or would it be sport?--I don't know!) that you really love, you could save it & name it after yourself! Thanks for sharing the hub with others. I appreciate it. --Jill


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 4 years ago from United States Author

Hi Radcliff! Sounds like you went on a nature walk! (: If the seeds are very ripe, you're in business. If not, head back to the park and look for some that are. A great excuse to get outdoors again, huh? To get the seeds, you may have to tweeze them out. Then dry them on paper towels. Fermenting them in water might work too, like you would tomato seeds. Have fun! --Jill


Farmer Rachel profile image

Farmer Rachel 4 years ago from Minnesota

Awesome article, Jill! I love your pictures, as always; and of course, the info you've provided is useful, easy to understand, and without holes. Voted up etc., and pinned! As a side note, I like allowing field corn to cross-pollinate. I grow it for decorative corn (and feed the excess to the hogs), so it's fun to see what I end up with!


Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 4 years ago from Hudson, FL

Good stuff! We went to the park today and I found some sea grape cuttings with seeds still attached (they grow all over the place here). Do I let the seeds dry out and then plant them?


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 4 years ago from United States Author

Hi Stacy! Glad to be of help. Be sure to ferment the tomato seeds in water. That'll get rid of all the "jelly" around the seeds as well as any diseases. Good luck to you! --Jill


Stacy Davis profile image

Stacy Davis 4 years ago

What a great hub!! I've been struggling to save tomato seeds for years, this should help!


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 4 years ago from United States Author

rbm --I've started harvesting seed, too! Because of the hot weather, it seems like everything in the garden is happening a little earlier this year. Thanks for stopping by! --Jill


rbm profile image

rbm 4 years ago

This is great information, and very timely! Lots of our veggies are going to seed, and we are getting ready to save some of those. Great hub, thanks!


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 4 years ago from United States Author

Hey chefsref! It's always fun to get a volunteer. Who knows what you'll end up with!

On a somewhat related topic, have you seen articles about "after-dinner" gardening. Apparently, people are planting seeds from the remains of vegetables that they've prepared for dinner. Unless they're buying only organic heirlooms, I guess they don't care what they get, which would be sort of fun; however, I'm not even sure how safe the results would be to eat (if there are results) as vegetables in grocery stores are ordinarily treated with chemicals to preserve their shelf life. Anyway ... thanks for commenting! Hope your sprouting corn survives the heat. (:


chefsref profile image

chefsref 4 years ago from Citra Florida

Hey Dirt Farmer

Good Hub and useful info, I didn't know that many hybrids were sterile. I have a corn cob (hybrid Serendipity) in my compost that has sprouted, I'm waiting anxiously to see if I get anything from it but usually when I get a volunteer like that the results are a big dissapointment


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 4 years ago from United States Author

Hi TravelAbout! Thanks for reading & leaving your comments. Sorry to hear about your potted plants. This summer has been a tough one! Take care, Jill


TravelAbout profile image

TravelAbout 4 years ago from United States

Dirt Farmer

Your hubs are such a wealth of information and your photos are beautiful. I'm sure they would be winners in a photo contest. My potted plants in the end did not do too well :( I think this heat made it difficult for them to thrive. I will have to read up agin on your hubs before planting next season! Even though I will probably not save seeds, I still found your hub very enjoyable and interesting reading. Thanks for sharting.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 4 years ago from United States Author

Glad you enjoyed the hub, Glimmer Twin Fan. For newbie seed collectors, harvesting flower seeds is probably the easiest, best way to start. Bet you get hooked! Thanks for sharing. --Jill


Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

Another gorgeous hub Dirt Farmer! The layout and photos are beautiful and the content is so interesting. While I love to garden, I've never collected the seeds. May have to try this this year. Had to pin this one.

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