Saving seeds from your garden

Posted on Friday, August 1st, 2014

Collecting seeds from your garden is a great way to get new plants for free, plus you can swap them with friends or at organised seed swaps.

When collecting seeds from hybrids you may find that the resulting plants are different (for example in flower colour or size) to the original or, in some cases, will not grow at all because the seeds are sterile. But sometimes the diversity can bring pleasing results and it can be fun to see what’s going to appear.

How to collect seeds

There are different methods to collect seeds, depending on the type of fruit. When the seeds are contained in pods (such as Nigella seedheads, shown below) you should remove the pod from the plant when it’s ripe, but before it opens. Keep it in a paper bag, or between sheets of newspaper, in a warm room and they should open and shed their seeds for you to gather up. The same method can be used for catkins or cones.

Nigella (love in the mist) seedheads

Winged fruit (such as from acers) should be picked from the plant when they’re ripe. You can either leave the wings on or remove them to make it easier to handle the fruit.

Nuts can be removed from the plant when still green, or when ripe and ready to fall – the method will vary slightly from plant to plant. Remove the outer husks before sowing, but retain the shell of the nut.

Fleshy fruits (such as berries) should be collected just as they turn from green to their ripe colour. If the fruit is large (eg apples) you can cut it open and take the seeds out by hand. For smaller fruit (such as holly berries) place the fruits in a sieve and mash them up under running water. Put the resulting pulp in a container full of water, give it a shake and allow the contents to settle. Then gently pour the pulp and water out of the jar, which should leave the seeds at the bottom. Dry them on paper towels.

How to sow or save them

Always discard any seeds which appear to have imperfections or damage, and any which show signs of disease or pests. If you have used the jar method to separate fleshy fruit from its seeds, don’t use any seeds which floated as these will be dead.

If you want to plant the seeds yourself then you can do so straight away. Find out about sowing seeds. If you want to store them then most seeds are best kept in paper bags within an airtight container. Add desiccant to remove excess moisture (like those little silica gel sachets you often get in shop packaging) to prevent too much moisture accumulating. Some seeds, such as walnut and oak seeds, need to be kept moist, so store these in damp vermiculite or sand. If possible store the seeds in your fridge as this will help them keep for longer.

Find out more about collecting seeds…