Collecting flower seeds from your garden or neighborhood is a perfect fall day activity. It is fun to make your own annual flower collection and a great cheap way to have more variety of flowers in your garden.
How to save, clean, and store seeds from annual flowers in your garden
Let me show you how I have saved seeds from annual flowers for years. I will explain exactly what is the best time to harvest seeds, how to clean the seeds, and how to store seeds safely for future use. I’ll also share my own favorite flowers, that are so easy to save seeds from.
Why I love saving seeds from Annual Flowers
Well, why indeed? What is there not to love about collecting your own seeds to plant in spring? I love collecting seeds from flowers because it is fun, easy, and rewarding. Gathering seeds is an activity that gets me outside, helps me enjoy the beautiful fall weather, and makes me dream of next year’s garden.
I can’t walk past a lovely garden with blooms that are seeding without taking a handful home with me. I am forever picking seeds out of the lining of my jackets and out of the pockets in my pants.
I like to select and reproduce the prettiest, most successful flowers in my garden. I love having a wide range of different flowers and growing annual flowers gives me the best opportunity for creating my own picking garden. The fact that this is one of the most frugal ways to create a beautiful garden is a nice bonus.
Let me show you how easy it is to harvest flower seeds! This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience (which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link I will earn a small commission but it won’t cost you a penny more)! Read my full disclosure policy.
Other than picking and regrowing flowers from my own garden, I like to collect seeds from other places as well. Most seed-making flowers set seeds abundantly. No gardener objects to you collecting a seed head or two from their hollyhocks or poppies. In fact, many gardeners trade seeds freely and for free.
Since so many flowers set seeds in huge quantities it is easy to collect a fair amount of seeds, plenty more than you can use in your garden next season. So why not collect and save seeds from your most favorite flowers, package them up pretty and give them as gifts to your gardening friends. Or do a little guerilla gardening and turn them into seed balls.
Oh, and by the way. I usually don’t collect all the seeds from my garden flowers. I also allow seeds to fall and scatter haphazardly or to be eaten by the birds. But collecting and saving annual flower seeds makes it easy to re-plant them exactly where I want them next year.
My current garden is still a project in development but I already have some favorite annual flowers growing. My tried and tested favorites include, cosmos, foxgloves, hollyhocks, and dille. This year I was gifted some new annuals I had never heard of before and especially the ‘Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate’ is so beautiful and lovely (and that name is so funny!) I can’t wait to save some seeds for next year (although apparently, it will seed itself quite nicely too).
Let me show you exactly when and how to harvest seeds and how to save the seeds properly for the next season. And I’ll share some tips for which flowers are best for collecting seeds.
What tools and materials you’ll need
You don’t need many things for gathering seeds, but a few things are good to keep on hand.
- Paper bags, cups or jars (1 for each kind of flower you are collecting).
- Scissors or garden shears
- Small (paper) bags (I use these vellum bags), envelopes, boxes or containers to keep the seeds
- Sharpie for labeling the seeds after harvest
- A pair of garden gloves (I think these are hysterical!) – for the more prickly kind of flowers
A nice big table to work on is nice too. I prefer to do this outside on a non-windy day. You can do it inside but be prepared for a fair bit of cleaning up afterward because handling dried seed and seed pods can get quite messy.
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The Best Time for Saving Seeds from Annual Flowers
Late summer or early fall is the perfect time to collect seeds from flowers because most will be ripe. You will know that the seeds are mature when the flowers are dead and the pods or seed heads are dry, brown, and can be split open easily.
Therefore it is important to be a bit of a ‘lazy’ gardener and let your flowers bloom and whither naturally. If you cut flowers too soon they will not be able to form seed pods. The seeds need to grow and dry naturally on the plant for them to be strong and viable for the next season. Be patient and make sure that your flowers have had enough time on the plant to dry fully into full seed pods.
You can not collect seeds from cut flowers, because fresh flowers, in general, have not set seed and a cut flower will not continue to make seeds.
The seeds are ripe for harvesting when you can hear the seeds rattle around if you shake the pod, or the little tufts of seeds are easy to get loose.
You do have to be patient and don’t try to collect your seeds too early, but timing is everything. Don’t wait too long either or the flowers will have sown themselves already, or the birds or mice will have eaten the seeds (poppy seeds are particularly loved by mice).
The best day is a sunny, non-windy day after a dry spell. Try to beat the fall rains or your seeds will be too wet and it will be hard to dry them sufficiently.
If the seeds are not quite ready yet, but the weather is about to get wet and nasty: cut off the stems with the seed pods attached, and put them in a dry space to dry out fully.
How to Harvest and Save Flower Seeds for Next Spring
Choose the best and biggest flower heads and seed pods to collect seed from.
Use clean pruning shears to snip the dried flower head.
Usually, it is best to collect the flower heads entirely and take them apart on a table or tray. Some flowers however fall apart as soon as you touch them. In that case, collect the seeds directly at the plant before removing the flower head.
Pick the best-looking, developed seeds to save and collect. The ones to save are usually bigger, darker, and firmer than underdeveloped seeds.
If you suspect there is even the slightest bit of moisture left in the flower heads then dry them – spread out – on a newspaper or inside a brown paper bag for a week or two. A clean pizza box works great too.
Don’t forget to keep your seeds separate and mark them so you can remember which is which.
How to clean seeds before storing
Especially when you plan to gift or swap your seeds it is nice if your collection of seeds is clean and free of dried plant bits. For your own personal use, this cleaning step is not really necessary. It won’t hurt if you plant the seeds next season along with a bit of plant material.
When you skip the extra step of cleaning the seeds it is very important that the plant bits are very dry. Even the tiniest bit of moisture could be a source of bacteria, fungus, or mold in your seeds.
There are several ways to clean seeds:
Handpick any larger pieces of leftover plant bits out of the seed collection.
Gently blow over the seeds, while swirling them, to remove smaller dried pieces of the chaff and let them blow away.
Toss them in the air or drop them from a few feet high and let the wind carry the dry, lighter bits away. This works best for bigger and heavier seeds.
How to store flower seeds safely for next season?
Seeds should be stored in a cool and dry place where they can fully rest and contain their energy.
Make sure that they are safe from pests and rodents (mice and birds love seeds).
The absolute best place to store dried flower seeds is in air and water-tight containers in the fridge or freezer. That way their lifespan is almost indefinitely. But if and when you plan to use your seeds next year a place inside is fine too.
I like to use small paper coin envelopes for storing my seeds. They are easy to store, you can write directly on them and they look nice. In the past, I have also collected matchboxes for seed storage, or hand-folded little bags.
You can also use plastic baggies or containers, just make sure that everything is as dry as the Sahara desert because plastic will trap moisture.
If you have a large collection and plan to save flower seeds yearly, it might be a good idea to invest in specialized seed containers (I am in love with this feed storage container set, just wow!).
Store your flower seeds somewhere dry, temperate, and safe. It is best if the seeds remain in the dark, to prevent them from germinating prematurely.
Fun Facts about Seeds
The largest seeds in the world are the seeds from the tree ‘Coco du Mer’, which once produced a seed of 25 kg (55 lbs).
The smallest seeds in the world are grown by orchids in the rainforest. One seed weighs just 1/35,000,000th of an ounce (0.81 micrograms)
The longest known distance a floating seed has traveled is 15000 miles
The oldest seed that was still viable and grew into a plant was 30,000 years old
The Best Flowers for Seed-Saving
Over the years I have successfully grown dozens of different kinds of flowers from seeds I collected and grew in my garden. Some are easier than others. These annual and biannual flowers are my absolute favorite flowers to grow from (self-collected) seeds.
When harvesting seeds from flowers the process is exactly the same for annual and biannual flowers. The difference comes next spring when growing and planting the flowers.
- Marigolds – Tagetes
- Love-in-a-mist – Nigella
- Sweet peas – Lathyrus Odoratus
- Nose Twister – Nasturtium
- (Oriental) Poppies
- Bachelor’s Buttons – Cornflower
- Foxgloves – Digitales
- Hollyhocks – Alcea Rosea
- Pansies – Viola
- Forget-me-nots – Myosotis scorpioides
- Honesty / Money Plant – Lunaria
WANT TO REMEMBER THIS? SAVE THIS HARVESTING FLOWER SEEDS TUTORIAL TO YOUR FAVORITE PINTEREST BOARD!
I sincerely hope that I have inspired you to start collecting seeds and create a beautiful flower garden for free by yourself!
Next time you see a garden with ‘ugly’ brown flowers think about all the seeds growing there and applaud that gardener for giving the flowers a chance to renew and regrow. Be that gardener!
My Dad was a seed saver. He was one to use his junk mail envelopes to put his seeds in and label. Since my weather is usually mild, I try to shake the dried pods and I get reseeding this way. I have good success for several years with two late blooming cosmos (they bloom in orange and yellow in late August to first freeze around mid November or Dec). They look like fall then as the weather changes! Another flower is a type of salvia that has broader leaves and the flowers are coral white tubes. I just shook a long seed pod this morning. My button zinnias also reseed when I make sure to let some go to seed. I’m having to buy less annuals now! I should be more organized but sometimes I just bury the plant seeds in the pot–like my Potulaca–and up it came as my reseeded Dahlsberg Daisy, also reseeded itself, came up as the other was nearing its end. So maybe I’m a seed saver yet of a different variety?!!’
Oooh, you got such nice pictures of the seedheads! I’ve tried to photograph mine a few times and they never come out right 🙂
Question: are there any tricks to making sure the seeds germinate when you plant them the next year? Last year I saved zinnia, basil, cilantro, and dill and the only ones that came up reliably were the dill seeds. A few zinnias came up, but only one cilantro and no basil. Just curious if some varieties of plants did better than others? My cilantro reseeds itself in the garden just fine, but planting the coriander seed sure didn’t work 🙂
My father gave me a bunch of lazy susan flowers this fall. I’m drying the seeds but what not? What am I doing?
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