Seed Saving Tips
How to properly harvest and save seeds from your own garden
Once you have chosen a plant, do not deadhead it. Instead, let the blooms fade, lose their petals and turn brown. Once the seeds have matured, they may become tempting for birds and other critters as they will eat them for food. Sunflowers, cosmos, and coneflowers are prime examples of seeds birds like. You will need to watch the blooms carefully and pick them before the birds get them all. In a way, that is a good indication of knowing when they are ripe and ready to be picked. In the case of sunflowers, you can cover the heads with old pantyhose to keep the birds from getting them all, but be aware that squirrels and chipmunks can get up under the stockings to get at the seed, so your best bet is to tie off the bottom.
Choose a dry sunny day to collect seeds. I usually pick them in the middle of the day after all the dew and overnight moisture has had a chance to evaporate. I walk around the yard with several paper lunch bags and snip off the seed heads into the bags, marking each bag as I go with the variety of the seeds inside. When I am all done, I place the bags in a cool dry place, preferably inside and I let them dry further for about a week.
After they have dried for a week, I begin to separate the dried flower material or chafe from the seeds. Sometimes it is hard to tell what is a seed and what is chafe. Seeds are usually hard to the touch. If you are unsure, you can leave all the material mixed together and just plant it all.
Once all the seed is separated, I store them in little paper envelopes or plastic canisters, marked with the name and date of the growing season. You should store them in a cool dry place. For long term storage, and for perennial seeds, I store them in the refrigerator. Many perennials require a cold period to germinate, so it's just easier for me if I store them all in the fridge.
It's also fun to share seeds with friends. You can put them in clear plastic baggies to trade or make your own seed packets. If you use the templates on my web site, not only are the packets pretty, but they will have all the growing and seed information printed right on them. I have a huge selection of seed packets on this page that you can print for free.
Below are a few more examples of what a seed head will look like.