During the Summer months I continously dehead the flowers that are fading on my plants instead of letting them go to seed. This enables the plant to focus it’s energy on making new flowers so that it continues to bloom. Autumn, on the other hand, is an ideal time to collect seeds for the following year as plants are almost entering into a dormant phase.
Some of the main benefits of letting your flowers go to seed in your garden and collecting them are:
- Collecting seeds doesn’t cost a thing.
- Collecting them by hand is a controlled way of ensuring offspring plants don’t end up taking over your garden.
- If you have a plant that you simply love and would like to spread this love to other areas of your garden, then seed collecting is your answer rather than a trip to the garden centre.
- I actually think that when plants go to seed they can still be beautiful and add a modern, art deco twist to your Autumnal garden beds. Rudbeckias are charming in Summer with their bright yellow, cheerful flower heads, yet in Autumn they become a mass of towering, dark pompoms sitting above a sea of green leaves. All it takes is a sprinkle of Autumn’s early morning frost on the spindly leftover plant structures to transform it into a spectacular twinkling display in the sunlight.
Some plants can be over generous when it comes to seed production and as gardeners, we don’t always have the space to grow more plants. If this is the case, you could always gather these seeds anyway to share with family, friends, neighbours or other allotment owners.
If you don’t have time to collect the seeds and leave them where they are, there can be other ways in which the seed could disperse (spread). This is a more uncontrolled method and you could end up the following year with offspring plants in other areas of the garden where you’d least expect them and maybe even taking over other plants. Wind, birds and water are some examples of how seeds can be dispersed naturally. If you prefer a more romantic, less structured garden then seed dispersal by natural means could be more suited to you. There are no right or wrongs and I have to say I do both: collect seeds by hand and also let nature take it’s course.
What to do and what look for?
For seed collecting, I always wear gloves and wash my hands afterwards as it must be noted there are seeds that are poisonous.
For me, it really is a case of detective work and discovery. I love to explore and see what seeds I can find. Some plants are easier than others when it comes to gathering seeds: you can see obvious signs where the seeds are and they are easily obtainable.
Ornamental sweet peas have pods with the seeds inside. This plant is a perfect example of a plant with poisonous seeds.
My childhood favourites, marigolds, hide their seeds but are easily obtainable by pulling the old petals.
There are others, however, that are much better at hiding their seeds but are equally ideally built for natural seed dispersal. Poppies are one of my favourites when it comes to this. Their flower heads turn into shaker pods, which means when the wind blows, the pods shake and the seeds hidden inside are evenly dispersed through the holes at the top. Very clever!
When I have gathered enough seeds, I always make sure that I allow them to dry out before storing them. My maternal grandmother always used to put her seeds in old tights and hang them up to dry. As traditions get passed on, this is of course, something that I still continue to do. If you’re like me and seem to constantly ladder tights, this is a super, effective way of recycling them and it really does help to dry out seeds. For male gardeners, just a little tip, always ask female members of the family before cutting their tights up!
Once they are dry, I store the seeds in airtight containers, that sit high up on a shelf, in a cool, dark room, out of the way of children and pets. For those of you that might remember before digital cameras arrived on the scene, there were small, cylindrical pots that reels of film came in which were ideal for storing seeds. These days I use other small, airtight boxes.
Do not forget to label as although there are some seeds that are distinctive looking and can be told apart from others, there are some that can look identical after 6 months has passed.
Autumn is a busy month for collecting and gathering seeds but we should also remember there are other animals and birds working equally as hard in the garden in preparation for Winter.
One day, last week in one of my herb plant pots, I found an unusual soil mound that hadn’t been there before. Upon further prodding with a stick I found a hazlenut buried under the mound. Squirrels are great gatherers but they apparently don’t always remember where they’ve left their winter food store. An example of how forgetfulness can help with seed/nut dispersal as the remaining, unclaimed nut germinates into a young tree seedling the following year.