Saving plant seeds for next season

Many gardeners contemplate saving some seeds from vegetables or flowers for planting next season. Is it a good or bad idea? Consider all the information before gathering those first seeds.

Tomato seeds. Photo credit: Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University,
Tomato seeds. Photo credit: Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University,

If you are considering saving vegetable or flower seeds for next season, the first important step is to know if your plants are hybrids. Saving seed packages or tags from plants can give you that information. It is never a good idea to save seeds from hybrid plants unless you are not concerned with the quality of your future plants.

A hybrid is created by crossing two closely related plants. Neither Mom nor Pop was fantastic, but the cross gives a plant with exceptional qualities that the parents did not possess. The problem is that the seeds from the hybrid revert back to one of the parents or are a scramble of genetic material that is most likely not going to be desirable. The chance of having a plant as good as the one you currently have is remote.

If you want to save vegetable seeds, you want seeds that were open pollinated. That means they were pollinated by insects, wind or other natural ways.

Light frosts will probably not affect seed quality. Heavy frosts could damage seeds if they were not ripe at the time of freezing. Seed pods should dry naturally on the plant and the seed head should be brown as well as the contents. Seeds that are green or yellow are unripe. Often, they do not grow next season.

The only time that rule of brown and dry does not apply is if we’re talking about weed seeds. They attained their weed status by being able to put up with the most adverse conditions.

When picking the seed heads from plants, remove the seeds from the pod or whatever is enclosing the seeds. This allows them to dry more. Dampness is the enemy of seeds. The seeds could either mold or begin to grow and neither event is wanted. Spread seeds in one layer in an open container. The seeds will dry more indoors in the presence of warm, dry air.

Store your dry seeds in a paper envelope or paper bag. Avoid plastic because it can trap moisture. If the seeds mold, they are very likely dead. Store your seed packs at room temperature with air circulating. Label the envelopes so you know what you have.

In the spring, plant as you would regularly. Unless you are experienced at collecting and storing seeds, you may not want to just use your stored seeds if a food crop is important. Mark your rows and compare between what you have gathered and what you purchased. Be a smart gardener and compare the crops.

Michigan State University Extension warns there are several things to consider when dealing with open pollinated seeds. Some vegetable garden seeds could be a problem if another closely related vegetable is growing nearby. Examples would be those in the cucurbit family like squash growing near gourds. The swapped pollen could create a mystery squash-gourd combination that is useless. Another example would be corn. Sweet corn growing near popcorn, Indian corn or field corn could give a bizarre mix-and-match ear that is inedible.

The last opportunity to collect seeds is right now, so consider these tips when collecting some seeds for next year’s garden.

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