As a gardener, sooner or later you’re going to want to start collecting and saving seeds from your garden so that you can continue a favorite variety, or preserve a particularly good plant’s attributes. Whether it’s vegetables or flowers, every gardener eventually gets to this point. Most flowers store their seeds in “seed pods.” Some other plants do this as well, such as the legume family of vegetables, like peas and beans. A seed pod is just a small seed container that is usually located inside or just behind the flower itself. Flowers are the reproductive organs of the plant, and the seed pods are what flowering is all about – at least, as far as Mother Nature is concerned. Once the flower withers, it leaves behind the pod.
For many, collecting these is the final tribute to the flower itself. The flowering plant goes through a simple life cycle:
- It grows
- It blooms
- It gets fertilized
- Its flowers die
- Its seeds mature
- It releases the seeds
- It dies
To collect the seed pods, you merely have to get to them between the maturing and the release so that you have viable, mature seeds that are still all in one place.
How To Collect Seeds From Seed Pods
To get started, you’ll need a few simple tools. You’ll want some sharp scissors (possibly shears if you’re working with thick-stemmed plants), a small pocket knife (a pen-knife will do), some paper or burlap or cloth bags (about the size of a lunch bag), a fine-tipped marker, and something to carry all of this in like a tool belt, a box, or a gym bag.
The idea is to collect the seed pods and place them in the bags. You can place individual pods from one plant into a bag (if you wish to separate by plant) or use each bag for one species. The marker is to label the bags so you know where the seeds came from and what they are. You can label them beforehand or in the field, as you wish.
The process of collecting is pretty simple. The pod will be inside or just underneath the flower. Some plants are “males” and won’t have a pod, while others are self-pollinating and will have both male and female flowers. The female flowers are usually larger to accommodate the seed pod. Simply cut the stem below the pod, brush away the flower fragments (they should be dry and brittle), and place the pod into the bag. The number of seeds in each pod will depend on the species, so know your species or cut one pod open and see how many are in there to get an idea of how many you should collect. Always get too many rather than too few.
Once you have the pods, you can take them to a safe location (indoors, away from breezes and insects) and cut them open to retrieve the seeds. Spread them out on a cloth or paper. Most should need nothing more than to be bagged and stored for the next year. You can go through and separate out those that look too small or off-color if you wish, but experience shows that this is easier to do during the spring planting process than it is now. Store seeds in paper bags in a cool, dry place.
Seed Saving Tips
Be sure the seeds are ripe before you harvest. Choose a pod, remove it, and open it up. If the seeds aren’t the right color or size (compared to store-bought or from memory), they probably aren’t ripe. Be aware that many flowers wilt at the point the seeds are fertilized, so it may be another month or more before the seeds are ripe. Specific species will have different ripening times.
Got any tips of your own? Leave a comment!
Want to learn more about collecting seeds from seed pods?
Check out these helpful resources:
University of Minnesota – Collecting Wildflower and Prairie Seed
University of Illinois – Seed Collecting and Storing [PDF]