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How to Save Seeds

One of my earliest gardening memories is discovering that a dried marigold flower contains dozens of marigold seeds. I couldn’t believe my luck – free seeds! I planted one of those seeds and was hooked on gardening. If you learn the basic principles for how to save seeds, I think you’ll be hooked too.

When a plant produces seeds, that typically completes the plant’s life cycle. Harvesting and saving seeds from your plants is a simple process, a great way to save money, and very rewarding.

Learning how to save seeds gives you a nearly-continuous supply of seeds that are adapted to your area at little or no cost. 

How to Save Seeds #seedsaving

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6 Tips for How to Save Seeds


How to Save Seeds

1. Learn a little seed terminology before you save seeds

A basic understanding of how seeds are pollinated and produced will help you succeed at seed saving. 


  • Self-pollinating crops typically pollinate themselves without help from insects or other plants. Self-pollinating plants, such as beans, peas, and tomatoes, are suitable for first-time seed-savers. 
How to Save Seeds

  • Open-pollinated plants, such as pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, and corn, will cross-pollinate, meaning the seeds from one variety can be affected by pollen from a neighboring plant. If you are growing more than one type of open-pollinated plant near each other, do not save seeds from the resulting fruit as they may have cross-pollinated.
How to Save Seeds

How to Save Seeds #seedsaving
Armenian cucumber cross-pollinated with cantaloupe

  • Hybrid plants – Do not save seeds from hybrid plants. Hybrid plants (F1) are two varieties that have been cross-pollinated to produce a third variety with desired traits from the “parents.” Seeds from hybrid plants will not be “true to type.” 

  • Heirloom seeds – Most heirloom varieties are good choices for saving. The seed has often been handed down for several generations (generally at least 50 years).

2. Save seeds from only the best plants and fruit

Do not save seeds from diseased fruit or plants. When you save seeds, you select which traits you want to continue. Choose the best tasting and healthiest fruit and plants from which to save seeds. 


3. Seeds for saving must be fully developed on the plant or vine

The perfect time to pick a plant to eat is often not the best time to pick a seed. Seeds need extra time to develop and become viable. The life cycle of the plant concludes with producing and developing seeds. Be patient and let the seeds develop and mature on the plant. 

How to Save Seeds #seedsaving
Artichoke Seeds

4. Learn how to harvest and dry both “wet” and “dry” seeds

Wet seeds, such as tomato and cucumber seeds, need to be fermented to remove pulp and the germination-inhibiting sac that surrounds each seed in the fruit.

Cucumber seeds after fermentation. Viable seeds sink to the bottom of the jar.
Cucumber seeds after fermentation. Viable seeds sink to the bottom of the jar.

To ferment wet seeds:

  • Gather supplies. You’ll need a knife, spoon, glass jar, bucket, sieve, and coffee filter.
  • Cut the tomato or cucumber in half. Using the spoon, scrape the seeds into a glass jar and add water to the jar.
  • As the seeds ferment, the pulp separates from the viable seeds. Stir to prevent mold forming.
  • Once the seeds have fermented, add water to the mixture and mix. The viable seeds will sink to the bottom and the pulp will remain at the surface of the water. Pour off pulp. Repeat until the water is clear.
  • Drain into a sieve and rinse with water. Seeds should feel rough, not slippery.
  • After the coating is removed, rinse seeds and spread them out on coffee filters. Allow the seeds to completely dry out. Should take 1-2 days to completely dry.  
Cucamelon seeds before and after fermentation
Cucamelon seeds before and after fermentation

Wet seeds that do not need fermentation include melon, eggplant & ground cherry. Remove seeds from the fruit and wash them under running water.


Hollyhock from bloom to seeds
Hollyhock from bloom to seeds

Saving dry seeds is often simple. Harvest the pods and heads in a brown paper sack. Once the seed pods are completely dry, shake out or crumble the pods to remove the seeds. Let the seeds continue to dry in a brown paper sack for a few weeks until completely dried out. Examples of dry seeds: Sunflower, hollyhock, artichoke.

Artichoke seeds are harvested after the bloom fades
Artichoke seeds are harvested after the bloom fades
Sunflower seeds
Sunflower seeds
Purple hyacinth vine seeds
Purple hyacinth vine seeds
Luffa seeds
Luffa seeds
Nasturtium from bloom to seeds
Nasturtium from bloom to seeds
Sunset cosmos from bloom to seeds
Sunset cosmos from bloom to seeds
Borage from bloom to seeds
Borage from bloom to seeds
Zinnia from bloom to seeds
Zinnia from bloom to seeds
Poppies from bloom to seeds (the seeds are inside of the heads)
Poppies from bloom to seeds (the seeds are inside of the heads)
Chamomile from bloom to seeds
Roselle from calyx to seed harvest
Marigold from bloom to seeds
Marigold from bloom to seeds
Dill from bloom to seeds
Dill from bloom to seeds


5. Once seeds are thoroughly dry, store saved seeds correctly

Drying out the seed is an important part of saving seeds. Seeds that haven’t dried properly often become moldy. Place seeds in paper envelopes, or for longer storage, store them in mason jars. Be sure to label seeds with the type of seed and the date harvested. Store seeds in a dark, cool, and dry place.

How to Save Seeds #seedsaving
Sunflower, marigold, and hollyhock seeds

6. Share your saved seeds with others

Set aside some seeds to plant next year, and then share the extras in a seed swap or donate them to a local seed library. Garden seeds also make great gifts for gardeners.  

How to Save Seeds #seedsaving
Seed library at Mesa Public Library

Did you learn something from this article? Please share it with others and begin observing the plants around you. Also, watch the life cycle of your plants. For instance, how do they make seeds? Can you save them?

Which seeds do you have success in saving? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

How to Save Seeds #seedsaving
Seeds before planting at local school garden

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I partnered with Kellogggarden.com to bring you this article about saving seeds.


Roger

Sunday 22nd of January 2023

I might have overlooked it but I was wondering how to save Jalapeno seeds or any kind of pepper seeds as far as that goes

Angela Judd

Thursday 26th of January 2023

Good point. I should add them. Here's some information: Generally, peppers are self-pollinating, but insects can cause cross-pollination. Keep varieties 100 feet (30m) away from each other. Seeds are ready when the fruit is fully ripe. You can increase seed quality by removing all but a couple of fruits from the plant and saving those seeds. Also, it's best to save seeds from the first fruits rather than later ones. Spread seeds out on a flat service and allow them to dry until they crack when broken in half.

Cathy

Saturday 15th of October 2022

I have a question. If the sunflower seeds dried on the flower head, and you let it stay until it died, can you still harvest the seeds for planting in the future?

Angela Judd

Monday 17th of October 2022

Yes

Jen Pepler

Monday 22nd of August 2022

Very well written! Thanks a bumch!

Angela Judd

Wednesday 24th of August 2022

Thank you!

Debbie Smith

Wednesday 20th of April 2022

How long can you save harvested seeds? I have several I have saved from last year and more that I ordered online but have just found out I will be unable to have a garden this year. I'm hoping they will still be good for next year.

Angela Judd

Thursday 21st of April 2022

Here is a blogpost that may be helpful: https://growinginthegarden.com/seed-storage-organization-tips/

Cindy Handrick

Tuesday 22nd of February 2022

First, I want to tell you how much I have enjoyed your videos and your posts. I look for a new post almost every day! I could do a better job at saving seeds and that has become my goal. I struggle with geraniums. How and when is the best time to "harvest" geranium seeds?

Angela Judd

Tuesday 22nd of February 2022

Thank you! Leave the flowers on the plant at the end of the season and allow the seed pods to develop, and then harvest the seed heads in a paper sack before they burst and allow to dry.