Creating a garden progeny

Collect seeds so your grandchildren can grow the same plants someday

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— One of the most fulfilling and fun features of gardening for me is harvesting seeds from my favorite plants and sharing them with friends and other green thumb enthusiasts. What a thrill to be able to nurture flowers for today and for the future. Who knows, maybe someday your grandchild will grow the same daisy that thrills you each summer.

You can collect almost any seed, but try starting with easy-to-save ones, such as sunflowers and hollyhocks, and ones whose seeds are expensive. Rare or hard-to-find seeds, like Solomon's seal, are also good candidates.

Don't count on seedlings always looking exactly alike. That's the joy of growing plants from seed. Genes naturally combine into random patterns. You can expect the "kids" to look similar to their parents, but every once in a while, an absolutely delightful oddball appears.

Leave fruit (seed head) on the plant so seeds mature. If you cut it off too soon, you might as well throw it away because the embryo won't continue developing. Gather seed when fruit/seed head ripens. It will be nearly dry and may be crisp, papery or stiff. The seed should be brown or black. As a rule of thumb, this happens about a month after flowers fade.

The best time for gathering seeds is in the afternoon on a sunny, dry day. Rain or dew on the plant promotes mold in storage. Some collecting can be tricky. Some of the seeds stay nicely in their pods and some shoot around like rockets (like old-fashioned impatiens). To avoid losing any of your harvest, tie small paper or cloth bags over the ripening pods. Be sure to seal any openings where seed could escape. A cloth bag works especially well because you can cinch it tight, but it also costs more. When seeds mature, simply cut the stem below the bag.

Seeds can be planted directly after collecting or processed and stored for spring. If you plant right away, do it in late fall so there is little chance they'll grow before winter.

If you store the seeds for spring plantings, you must complete three steps: threshing, cleaning and drying. Threshing removes any extra plant material surrounding the seed. You can thresh by rubbing the seeds against a screen with your hands or experiment with your own methods to remove this excess matter.

Clean the seeds by sifting them through small screens to separate the chaff from the seeds. The cleaner the seeds are, the better they'll grow when planted. After cleaning, dry the seeds on newspapers until free from moisture, about one to two weeks.

Store seeds in a small, dry bag or film canister. Tightly seal the bag, then label it with the plant name, date and place of harvest and place it in a jar or other airtight container. The best storage is in a cool, clean and dry environment away from rodents or insects such as a dry basement, the vegetable crisper of your fridge or an interior closet.

Kathy Conlon is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call the CSU Cooperative Extension office at 879-0825 or e-mail gardeners@co.routt.co.us.

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