Monday, September 22, 2008

Gathering Seeds for a Beautiful Garden Next Year

I have to get busy this week! I feel as though I lost all of last week: I worked at a "real" job (substitute teaching) for a day and a half, had a long birthday lunch with Beckie, and babysat my grandkids several times, all worthwhile and enjoyable activities, of course. But the rest of the week I wasted trying to fix my computer, which I couldn't by myself, and due to the lingering effects of the cold/virus I had, I was operating at about half my energy level...which isn't very high anyway:) Yesterday I realized it's nearly the end of September, and I have done nothing, repeat nothing, to prepare my garden for the winter and next season.

Yesterday, to make myself feel a little better about accomplishing something, I did begin one small task in planning ahead--I collected some seeds. So many of you have talked about starting this or that plant from seed that I decided it's time I, too, become a little more thrifty and take advantage of what I already have rather than buy all my plants at the local garden center/nursery. My technique for gathering seed in the past has been random and very unscientific . . . I might take a seedhead from a coneflower, as pictured above, and crumple it all over the garden bed, hoping a few might take hold and become seedlings in the spring.

Although this method does work--one section of my main flowerbed was overrun with coneflower seedlings this spring--I wanted to be more organized this year and collect seeds the "proper" way. In particular, I wanted to collect some seeds from my old-fashioned, heirloom hollyhocks since many of you expressed an interest in these when I posted some photos of them in June. I found a very helpful website through that gives instructions for collecting and storing seeds in general as well as for specific plants. Here are the instructions given on this site for gathering hollyhock seeds:

1. Do not remove spent blossoms from the hollyhock. After blossoming, a plump green disk will appear on the stem, which eventually will turn a yellowish brown. Soon after, the top of the pod will open to reveal a ring of seeds. The seeds are dark gray flat rounds.

2. Remove the pod and allow it to dry for a few days. (Oops! I'll have to remember this step today.)

3. Once the pod is dry, pull back the top of the pod and remove the seeds. Spread them out in an even layer on a plate and place it in direct sun for a few hours. The reason for this step is that the pods often contain weevils, very small insects with pointed heads and visible antennae. The weevils don't like bright sunlight and will scurry off the plate. A good tip: use a heavy plate, not a paper plate, in case a gust of wind comes along.
--------Yesterday was overcast, and we had a brief rainshower, so there wasn't much sun. Even so, I noticed a few tiny insects crawling off the plate. Just to make sure they've all left, I'm going to set the plate out again today.

4. The author of this FAQ page recommended some precautions because some people get an itch after working with hollyhocks. She suggested wearing long sleeves and washing your hands immediately after collecting the seeds. I didn't notice any itch, and I usually get a minor irritation after brushing up against green beans and tomatoes. But it's a worthwhile precaution if you are sensitive to some plants.

5. After the seeds have dried in the sun for at least an hour, stir them to check for more weevils. Once you see no sign of them, bring the plate inside and allow seeds to dry for a few more days.

The website also offers tips for storing seeds, but the main rule is to keep them cool, dry, and away from direct light. The author stores her seeds in paper envelopes, but also said zippered plastic bags are fine as well.

Seeds can be gathered from many other plants as well, including daylilies. Not all daylilies are fertile, but many are and will develop a seed pod after they have bloomed. Once the seedpod turns brown, you can easily pull it off, let it dry, then gently remove the seeds within.

Sorry for the blurry picture, but I'm sure you've seen these seed pods before. I have no intention, though, of collecting seeds from these daylilies. These are my Stella d'Oros, and they badly need to be divided this fall or next spring anyway. By the time I divide them, I will have more than enough without going to the bother of collecting seeds!

I am going to collect some coneflower seeds, but my main focus is going to be on the hollyhocks. If any of you would like some seed, just drop me an e-mail. (I just opened a new e-mail account for this blog and have added the link on my profile.) Hollyhocks are well-known for cross-hybridization, so there is no guarantee on what color they may be. However, I did mark my one lone yellow hollyhock, and I'm trying to keep those seeds separate, although there won't be as many of these. Some of you have also offered me some seed. I can't remember now who offered me what, but I am interested in cleome--especially the tall variety; verbena bonarensis; and a bright blue flower that I can't remember the name of but I think are often called bachelor's buttons. Of course, I could just buy these seeds next spring at a garden center. But this past spring Beckie gave me some small tomato plants started from seed that Cheryl had sent her. It was so much fun watching those globe-shaped cherry tomatoes ripen, knowing that they had come all the way from England!

Finally, I hope you aren't tired of all my photos of the praying mantis, because I must show you this one that I took just yesterday.

If these two are doing what I think they're doing, that may explain why I've had an abundance of praying mantises in my garden this year!

Hope you have a good week--it's a glorious day here, and I am off to finally get some work done in the garden!

Oops, I forgot to add that if anyone has other tips on collecting and storing seeds, I would love to hear them.


  1. Naughty Praying Mantis! Have they no shame?

  2. What a nice post to remind us it is fall and time to get busy! I hope you are feeling better. I will send you some cleome seeds. I have tons and will make a special effort to collect them today (I am painting my bathroom right now-I'd much rather be collecting seeds:) Thank you so much for you kind comment on my Blogiversary post today. I am if nothing else very loyal. You do a good job of communicating and that is why I come here each post! It is an important part of blogging (for me anyhow). So you have my loyalty for sure! Send me your address when you get the chance. Glad you added an email address as it is HARD to talk to folks who don't have it posted on their blog.

  3. Great post today Rose. I gather seed too from my annuals & perennials when I remember. :) I've never let my daylillies go to seed , I figured as often as they need to be divided why bother. Interesting shot of the Praying Mantises, lol. You might have a point there on your abundance of them in the garden this year. :) They are a great predator to have around though.

  4. Yes, it is time to get busy in he gardens! I can't believe how fast this month is going too. I will have to read the article on gathering and storing seed. I have started with some zinnias, but need to do it in a more 'scientific' way also.

    The lunch was wonderful and the girls and I made good use of the butterfly book this weekend.

  5. Now I'm all inspired! If collect the seeds, instead of letting them just reseed willy-nilly, I might get the garden I"d like to have, instead of the mess I wound up with this year!

  6. Hi Rose.......sorry you have been so unwell and hope that you are feeling much better now....

    I love the Praying Mantis.....I am always so envious when I see them....they are beautiful....

    Glad you are collecting seeds....I have sent loads to Beckie and there are also some for you....Verbena Bonariensis included and lots of others.....I posted them quite a while ago so hope she gets them soon.....

  7. Jane Marie, I think they've grown used to me and my camera. They certainly aren't shy in posing for pictures:)

    Tina, Thanks for the offer of cleome seeds; I will take you up on that! Thanks, too, for your kind comments--you are definitely a loyal reader and commenter!

    PG, I've never been one to collect seeds very often. But after reading so many blogs this spring and summer, I realized I have been missing out on an inexpensive way to add to the garden. Besides, if you already have something you really like, it beats having to look all over town for just the right seed.

    Beckie, On a beautiful day like today, it's hard to imagine that soon we will be wearing winter coats once again. Glad you had a good weekend with the girls and could i.d. some butterflies:)

    Joyce, One of my problems is that I can't identify a lot of seedlings, so I have to think--is this a flower or a weed? I err on the safe side, which is why I often have some rather tall weeds:)

    Cheryl, Welcome back! I was so excited to see your comment here. While you have been gone, I have posted several photos of the praying mantises--I seem to have a colony in my garden this year:)
    I'll check with Beckie on the verbena--thank you so much! The more I see of it, the more I like that plant.

  8. Hi Rose, I'd offer some cleome seed, but Tina is already collecting some for you. It seems every cleome seed always sprouts, so you should have plenty;)

    I use plain white envelopes to store seeds. I like the contrast of the seeds with the white color. Plus they are easy to write on. I always put the collection date.

  9. Gosh, you have been busy! No wonder you've not been in the garden much.
    Is your computer fixed and are you better?
    Do you supply teach often? It always looks a hard job mostly bedcause you have to start afresh with the class each time.

    Well those Mantis are amazing. Am I right in saying that the female eats the male after mating? If so this photo was his last!!

    Glad you have an e-mail now. I have one on my profile too and am amazed that people have got in touch that way. It's really nice and socialble :)
    Take care Rose.

  10. Naw, there's still plenty of time to get the garden ready for winter. I haven't done anything at all in that regard yet. I'll bet you get a lot of takers for those Hollyhocks, but not me. I have enough (too many) Malvas, & they are similar enough to Hollyhocks. The only seeds I've collected are Columbine seeds, but this year I'm trying to collect seeds from a Trumpet Lily.
    Your Mantises remind me of that song by Don Dixon "Praying Mantis." It always makes me laugh.

  11. NO, I think it is a Mama giving a piggy back ride to her baby. LOL

    I am not a big seed saver,,well I save them, I just never remember to plant them. I have a big bowl full of Only God know, type seeds. I may just make a "Whatever" bed, one of these days and see what comes up.
    I do apprecite this tute. I may acutally try to do this this year. I know I am saving my sunflower and Cashmere Bouquet seeds and some herb seeds.

  12. Marnie, Thanks for the offer of the seeds; I remember now you said you had some. The paper envelopes do sound like a good idea--easier to write on. Oh my, could it be I'm getting organized??

    Suburbia, I'm doing much better, thank you, just a nasty cough left. The computer is not fixed yet--the words "CPU" and "motherboard" were mentioned, which doesn't sound good. I substitute maybe once a week; someday I may do a post about it, maybe in the winter when there's nothing growing. The nice thing about it is that I don't have to go to work if I don't want to!
    Oh my, you are right--the female mantis does usually eat the male after mating. Well, I'm glad I photographed him while I could:)

    MMD, I know there were a few people who were interested earlier this summer. I understand you don't need any; want any Stellas? Just kidding:) I'm going to have to check out that song!

    Eve, I've never saved seeds before either. Well, no that's not right--I've saved some, then forgot where I put them by spring:) I'm curious--what are Cashmere Bouquet flowers?

  13. Rose .. is that "adult content" with the praying mantis ? LOL
    I laughed at that one .. funny how we become fascinated by odd little things .. I love the discussion on seed gathering , especially about NOT using paper plates .. that made me snort giggle because it would be me all over doing that one ! I have lots to start doing or at least keep doing in my garden .. another 2 bags of compost to spread .. cutting back a few bothersome things .. the weather is sunny with no rain for days yet .. makes me slow to knuckle down and do things because I keep thinking I have lots of time yet ..... BAD !!!!! haha

  14. That poor guy! He seems so obliging. Judging from the size of that female, she looks like she might have had more than one suitor. I wonder if the hollyhocks would grow in Florida? We are in zone 8b there.

  15. Very useful information on the hollyhock. I did let my nasturtiums go to seed and have harvested some rather large ones. They're drying now and I hope they'll bloom again next year.

  16. Rose, I am laughing at myself...I didn't know the brown dead looking heads were the real deal seeds of the one hollyhock that bloomed! Next year I promise to do better! I am very bad about collecting seeds, I usually let them grow where they've seen the result...The Susans are every where.

    Mrs Mantis won't treat the Mr kind after mating! Poor guy!

    Wonderfully helpful post...I plan on having more Hollyhocks so next year I will heed your advice! Thanks!


  17. It is the first day of autumn Rose so you chose the perfect day to get busy with seed collecting. You also get the bonus of more praying mantis. What a great shot. I have never seen them in this postion before. I bet you will be able to find those little egg capsules around your garden soon.

  18. Dear Rose,
    I am a seed to seed gardener too.
    I love having my seed box full each Autumn. For me it is the hope of another Spring to come.
    I save my marigold, zinnia and cosmos seed every year for direct sowing next spring. Some seed I will save for Winter sowing, like the poppies. I use brown paper bags, envelopes and always mark the seed type and date of gathering. I carry envelopes in my pocket when I walk, just in case I see some seed I want to try!
    I love seeds and seed saving.
    Your mating Mantis picture is fantastic. She is much bigger than him. I adore these ancient bugs.

  19. Joy, Perhaps I should have put an "R" rating on this post:) I have done my share of stupid things when it comes to gardening; I probably would have used a paper plate, too.

    W2W, I think hollyhocks will grow anywhere, but they're probably more suited to some places than others. I always associate them with farmsteads. I agree, the male mantis may have picked the wrong female, unless he thought she had already eaten enough!

    Nancy, Are those the nasturtiums you grew in a bottle? I am going to have to plant some next year; they're such pretty flowers.

    Gail, LOL! Don't feel bad; I've done some equally silly things, in fact, lots! I've never been very organized about collecting seed before; we'll see if I can change that this year.

    Lisa, I saw an egg sac on Wikipedia, so now I'm going to go hunting:)

    Sherry, Thanks for the tips on storing seed. The paper envelopes do seem a good choice. Mr. Mantis may have picked the wrong female--I haven't seen him around since then!

  20. In this economy, posts sharing ideas for being more thrifty in our gardening practices are very welcome Rose! This is the first time I'm trying seed saving. Thanks for the timely post!

    Speaking of thrifty gardening, since I can get pretty wordy in my posts, I decided to break down your request for a post on overwintering annuals into 3 parts, and have the first part posted this morning.

  21. Nothing like insect porn to start my day, ha! I love fall, but I'm trying not to think too hard about the long winter. I hope you and computer are feeling better.

  22. Rose if you feel that you have lost a week I feel that I have lost a whole season! I am home from Europe now and boy oh boy does my garden need my/our attention..natureboy is the asst. gardener..well the one who does all the know what I mean.I adored Hiedelberg and as much of Germany that we a storybook with all its castles and quaint charm!Florence was not my favorite stop but there are always books that I can read and know that I was there. Thank you for the comments that you made while I was on my was nice hearing from familiar voices when amongst strangers. enjoy collecting your seeds...Anita from Germany is good at collecting do you know her blog if not I can direct you. hugs NG

  23. what a wonderful post on seeding.
    it is so much fun to grow from seed. thank you for the all the info. sometimes i think i am learning everything by mistakes and it is so nice to read other peoples take on gardening.

  24. Hi Rose, my brilliant comment resulted in ERROR from blogger. This one will be shorter in case it happens again. I wanted to say that you taught me something new with this post. Leaving the seeds in the sun to get rid of weevils! Brilliant! And use the best china, this is important! LOL
    new url

  25. Funny you guys were talking about the Blogger quirks, they posted it will be out for a while tonight in order to put a fix in.

  26. Hi There!
    I got into your post today from "Mr. McGregor's Daughter". Nice Garden must I say. Nice tips on collecting seeds.

  27. For not having a lot of energy, you certainly are very busy with the seeds! I am going to try and collect some seeds as well and not wait for a serendipitous moment to happen!

  28. Hi Rose - I see you've been seed saving too! I haven't forgotten that you'd like some of my seeds and will be publishing a list of what I have for open garden donors like yourself to choose from soon.

    Thanks for the congratulations too - I'm dead chuffed as we say over here :D

    Nice mantis photos BTW


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