By Michelle Thompson
Tomorrows flowers are in the seeds of today
The first expected frost date for the Friendswood area is mid-December. Most plants will do OK with one frost but repeat frosts or a freeze will most likely mean the end of warm season annuals with many perennials on their way to dormancy. For plant lovers it’s time to search our gardens for flower, veggie and herb seeds. While I like to deadhead my flowers and herbs during the growing season, autumn is the time to let them go to seed. What you don’t collect can be enjoyed by the birds.
Grab some envelopes, pruning shears, and a marker for labeling and walk your garden to see what seeds you can gather. Wait until the seeds are fully ripened on the plant with flower heads mostly brown and dry before cutting off the seed head or seed pod. Some seeds can be collected by shaking the seed head upside down into a bucket or envelope. Some seeds, like marigolds, can be found by pulling off the dried flower petals to reveal clusters of dark seeds packed in the base of the flower head. I usually cut and gather mature seed heads and let them dry at least a week before extracting the seeds.
Another method to extract seeds is to put several dried seed heads in a covered coffee can or paper bag, (this is good for prickly seed heads) and vigorously shake. Tip the loose seed out onto a sheet of paper and pick out the debris. A sieve that allows seeds to go through the screen can also be useful to separate debris. Funnel seeds into paper envelopes or small plastic bags with desiccant packets you can save from vitamin bottles. Label each seed bag with plant name, variety or color, date harvested and any other useful notes. Store seeds in a cool, dark place, like a dark closet in a cool part of the house. For extended storage over a year, refrigeration is best.
Wet fruited seeds, like tomatoes, need to be extracted from the ripe flesh and pulp before seeds are dried. Rinsing seeds in a sieve with a strong water sprayer is sufficient for a small home gardener. With a large amount of wet fruited seeds, using the fermentation method may have benefits. More similar to letting nature take its course, gelled seeds are left in a bucket with water for 2-3 days then rinsed. The good seeds settle to the bottom.
Don’t think of fall as the end of the gardening year; it is the start of next year’s growing season.
Michelle Thompson is a Galveston County Master Gardener, a member of Heritage Gardeners of Friendswood and a docent at the Houston Botanic garden.