Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Mondays in Steamboat Today.
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For more information about collecting, storing and germinating seeds, contact the Routt County Cooperative Extension at 970-879-0825 for a fact sheet or check out “Seeds of Wildland Plants” by James A. Young and Cheryl G. Young published by Timber Press Inc. of Portland, Ore.
One of the most beautiful flowering displays in my garden each year is a swath of Shirley Poppies started from seed given to me by a friend and fellow Master Gardener, Carol Fox, now deceased. Propagating flowers and vegetables by seed is very satisfying as well as a great way to inexpensively fill in bare spots in your garden. (And in the case of Carol, a wonderful way to keep a memory alive. I think of her each time I see one of these pretty blooms open.)
To be successful in planting a garden from seed, you must start with fresh, high quality seed. This most often is obtained from a reputable seed company or by collecting seed from plants where seed heads have been allowed to form. Be aware, though, that saving seeds of some patented cultivars may be illegal.
You will want to collect the seed between the time the seeds are slightly soft and when they are fully mature. Fully mature seeds often are too hard to even bite. If you wait until they are fully mature on the plant, the seed may fall to the ground. Also, if you wait too long, competition for the seed from rodents, birds and insects may beat you to your prize.
To collect seed, don't strip it from the plant. Instead cut a good-sized section of the stem and leaves and let the seeds dry on the plant material. For most plants, this method allows the seeds to reach full maturity. Once dry, simply strip off seeds from grasses or pods, or shake out seeds from seedheads. For plants with exploding seeds, such as fireweed that has a fiber attached to the seed, you'll need to take care to dry thoroughly or you'll get mold. Seeds in fleshy fruit such as melon, squash or peppers, should be scooped out and dried on a paper towel before storing.
In our part of the country, seeds can be stored at room temperature for about a year without losing viability. You can extend the storage life of seed for as many as 10 years by letting the seeds dry thoroughly. Then, package them in moisture-proof containers (sealed cans or jars are preferable to plastic bags) and store at 40°F or below in the refrigerator or deep freezer.
When you're ready to plant the seed (generally in the spring after the snow melts), sow your seeds in a vermiculite-filled furrow, mulch and keep moist through germination. Master Gardener Audrey Enever successfully sows half of her seeds in the fall and the remainder of her seed in the spring, to give her plants an early start but also by hedging her bets should the winter be too cold and dry.
Using seed to fill in the bare spots of your garden is an inexpensive and gratifying way to complete your vision of a plant-filled flower or vegetable garden.
Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the CSU Extension Routt County. Call 970-879-0825 or email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.