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Master Gardener: Harvesting seeds for the future

Gwen Swenson-Hale
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Cilantro changing to coriander seeds.
Courtesy photo

Gardeners are frequently thinking ahead, and the end of the growing season is the perfect time to consider harvesting seeds to plant for next year’s enjoyment.

While buying packets of seeds is relatively inexpensive, collecting seeds from your garden — or a friend’s garden — for next year can be a great option to replicate plants you love or would like to share.

The first big caution, however, is to avoid collecting from plants labeled as “hybrid.” Seeds from these plants produce a mixture of plant types, most of which are inferior to the parent.



If you aren’t sure whether the plant is a hybrid, and you are feeling lucky, you can try saving some seeds to plant the following spring and see what happens. If you like the result, do it in earnest the next year.

Harvesting seed

For vegetables, such as tomatoes and peppers, extract seed from fruit after it ripens and before it rots. For flowers and herbs, like cosmos and dill, typically the seeds will darken and become hard as they ripen. The ideal time to harvest them is right before they begin to drop from the plant.

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If you harvest seeds before they are ripe, they will not produce plants. For many flowers and herbs, the easiest way to collect the seeds is to put a small paper bag over the seed head, twist it shut at the stem, cut the stem, then shake or strip the seeds into the bag, tossing the stem.

Dill seeds beginning to ripen.
Courtesy photo

Hand-sowing seed

If you are looking to replicate nature by helping seeds “self-sow” in your landscape, you may scatter the seeds at the very end of fall right before the snow begins in earnest or wait until spring once the snow has completely melted. If the soil is lightly tilled, and you can lightly cover the seeds with the right amount of soil (research this before sowing), that improves the chances of the seeds germinating.

Storing seed

Once the seed is dried, gently remove any chaff then store in an envelope or paper bag in a cool, dry, rodent- and insect-free location.

While many seeds can be stored for years, if not decades, it is generally best to plant harvested seeds within eight months of harvesting.


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