The Seed Collector

Belamcanda Blackberry Lily
Belamcanda Blackberry Lily

By Josephine Borut

Fall is almost over and you may be starting your end-of-year cleanup; but, before you cut everything down and compost or bag it for removal, think about the plants that did well and were well-loved, then check the dried remnants of the flower heads for seeds. You will be amazed at what you find.

Let’s look around. Some plants produce pods (a multi-seed vessel) like the pea, bean or false indigo, some are capsules (a small gelatinous case) such as blackberry lily, some are fleshy hips or fruits like quince or roses filled with single seeds. Some plants have single, small seeds such as chives; others produce larger single seeds with a protective covering such as the oak or buckeye tree. Over time, nature reproduces abundantly in the most beneficial manner for the specific species. The diversity of method is absolutely astounding.

Penstemon  Husker’s Red Seed
Penstemon Husker’s Red Seed

Collecting and starting seed from your own garden is fun, however, there are a few caveats. If you choose to start collecting seeds, you need to be aware that not all seeds will be clones of the parent plant. The least likely to resemble the original plants are the hybrids. Annuals and heirloom plants will be most likely to be true to the parent plant from seed. Another concern is that some plants need specific treatment of their seed or are particularly difficult to grow from seed. Therefore, you need to check reference books or websites in order to avoid spending your time and effort in vain.

“Why bother saving seeds?” you ask. The first reason is to save money, but there is another reason and that is to preserve a particular plant trait such as disease resistance or abundant yield. An heirloom strain of vegetable or flower may have more vigor, flavor or scent than some of the newer varieties, and therefore, they are most worthy of preservation.

Redbud seeds
Redbud seeds

Some tips for collecting your seeds: cut the seed heads and put them into a single container (it can be as simple as a paper cup) and label the container with the name of the plant and the year you collected the seeds; once inside away from the wind, place the dried seeds on a white sheet of paper and separate out the superfluous debris; collect seeds at the optimum time when they are ripe but not yet released from the parent plant. Store the seeds in a sealed container in a dry, cool location. In the spring, start your seeds just as you would if you had purchased the seeds.

Blue Indigo seed heads (Photos by Josephine Borut)
Blue Indigo seed heads
(Photos by Josephine Borut)

Be inquisitive. See what grows from that tiny seed. It is wonderfully satisfying to save a seed, plant it in spring and nurture it to maturity. The process is an exhilarating and gratifying experience. Each plant grown from a seed that you saved is a new adventure in gardening. Try it, you may get addicted.

The Long Island Horticultural Society meets at Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay. For more information, go to

Josephine Borut is currently on the board of the Long Island Horticultural Society and a past board member of the Long Island Rose Society. She is a current member of The American Rose Society and The Long Island Horticultural Society. 

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