As our gardens draw to a close for the year, they are preparing for the next. I like the way it reminds me of what God said: “For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to make you prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you one. hope and a future. ‘â(Jeremiah 29:11).
Perennials – those that live two years or more – are a gift we often take for granted. How plants can survive a winter like the one we experience here in Ohio is a miracle in itself. But annuals also have a few tricks up their sleeve. They seldom are one and do anything.
Most perennials and annuals will form seeds if their flowers are pollinated. However, some hybrids are sterile, which means they will not reproduce this way. But even those that do are not guaranteed to produce the same color or shape as the mother plant. In fact, they rarely do.
During the season, we often stop our plants by cutting back faded flowers. This often stimulates the plant to produce more flowers. The reason a plant does this is because the dead head prevents it from completing its life cycle and it tries again. But at the end of the season, if you let the plants ripen continuously, the seeds produced can be saved to start new plants the following year.
As I walk around the garden, I look for dried flower heads that might contain these precious seeds. It is important to let the flowers dry completely because that is when the seeds will have ripened enough to be viable. Most seeds picked too early will not continue to mature. Plants need to be watched closely to cut seed heads at the right time.
Seeds come in all shapes and sizes, but they should be allowed to dry completely before storing. If they are not, they can develop mold from the excess moisture inside them, rendering them unusable.
Once you determine that the flower heads have sufficiently matured and dried out, you can collect them. Many seeds are easily shaken off their dead flowers, while others must be cuddled to be released. Allow them to dry further, off the plant, for several days, then store them in a small envelope (preferably paper) and store in a cool, dry place until spring.
Some seeds germinate much better if planted in the fall and can go through the process of wet and cold stratification during the winter. This freezing and thawing action softens or cracks hard seed coats, allowing for a higher germination rate. Examples of seeds you can plant in the fall for the following spring are milkweed, morning glory, black-eyed susans, columbine, echinacea, poppies, and hardy geranium.
For best results, plant stored seeds within a year of harvest. While many seeds can be stored for several years and remain quite viable, others must be used in a cooler state. Edamame is one that must be sown fresh or they often will not sprout.
Saving seeds is an old practice and a great, inexpensive way to continue growing the plants you love or want more. A great resource for information on seed saving is âStarting and Saving Seeds: Growing the Perfect Vegetables, Fruits, Herbs, and Flowers for Your Garden,â by Julie Thompson-Adolf.