Judging from the brown, shriveled up flowers in my wildflower patch, temperatures have dropped to below freezing recently. Indeed, many parts of the country are now experiencing temperatures low enough to kill off our wildflowers. Soon the task of trimming back the dead plant matter will be the only chore left to prepare the wildflower garden for winter. Did you happen to save any of the seeds from your wildflowers before they died? Collecting seeds from your wildflower garden to plant next season is one of the most rewarding, and economical, of all gardening practices. It’s also fairly easy as long as a few basic steps are followed.
First, it’s important to collect the seeds from your wildflowers at the correct time. This is also the most difficult aspect of seed collecting since the proper time will vary from species to species and from year to year. Collecting seed too early will result in moist, green seeds that either won’t germinate or will produce weak seedlings. Waiting too long before gathering seed, or gathering seed that has already fallen to the ground can result in rotten seeds that could even contaminate the rest of your seed collection. To determine the right time to collect the seed, first identify the lifespan of the particular wildflower and observe the approximate month seeds begin to mature. Also keep in mind that different wildflower species produce seeds in different forms. Seeds can be enclosed in a fruit, pod or within the spent flower head.
How to Collect Wildflower Seed
There are several methods for collecting the seeds once they have matured. For wildflowers with dried seed pods and heads, the easiest way is to cut the pod or head off the plant with a pair of scissors. Place the pod or head upside down in a paper bag. Using a paper bag instead of a plastic bag is preferred since the paper bag helps with the drying process and allows for air flow. Label the bag with the name of the wildflower, close the bag and place it in a cool dry area for 2-3 weeks. After the drying process, simply give the bag a light shake or tap. This should release the seeds from their pods and heads and leave you with a bag full of usable seed.
Threshing and Storing
Seed threshing is also a good idea once the seeds have been collected. While not mandatory, threshing will help cut down on mold spores and other potentially harmful substances found in the chaff. Threshing involves separating the usable seed from the bits of plant material. This is usually accomplished by rubbing the collected material against a coarse screen. Once you have completed the collection and threshing process, store the seed until you’re ready to plant. Keep the seeds in a paper bag or envelope in a cool, dry place. Do not store the seeds in a freezer. The ideal place to keep them is in a refrigerator at a temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit or less.
Seed collecting can be a fun way to spread your wildflower growing areas, and collected seeds make a great gift to neighbors. Of course, if you need wildflowers to start out with, be sure to check out our wildflower seed blends for mixes that have been selected based on their adaptability to a particular area.