If you’re looking for a way to add more of your favorite plants to your garden or you’d simply like to share them with friends and family, harvesting seed is the easiest and least expensive way to go. Don’t be intimidated – it’s not hard. You just need a little know-how before you begin.

Aquilegia canadensis

These ripened seedpods of Aquilegia canadensis (columbine) are ready for harvesting.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Manning

Bag with seeds

Mark your paper bag with the name of the plant, where it was collected in your garden and the date.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Manning

Separating seeds

Use a strainer to separate the seeds from the seed casings.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Manning

The flower is just the beginning of our seed-collecting story. Blooms are actually the precursors to the seedpods, which are what we need to collect seed. So if you want to propagate your favorite plants, don’t remove the spent flowers. Instead, let nature take its course, and keep an eye out for seedpod development.

Different plants produce seed in different forms. Sometimes they’re encased in fruit and can be collected when the fruit is allowed to dry. Other seeds develop in a papery pod after the bloom fades. Seed heads need to be collected before these pods naturally release the seed.

“And when,” you may ask, “will they do that?”

The seedpod will turn brown and papery-looking. And when the stem begins to turn brown, the seed head is about ready to open up and release the seed. Now here’s where we get to work…

Gathering seeds is the first step, and all you’ll need for this is a pair of scissors and a paper bag. Snip off the seedpods that are beginning to open from the natural drying process, and gently place them upside down in your paper bag. Be sure to mark the bag with the name of the plant, the location in your garden where you harvested the seeds from, and the date. This’ll help you remember where you collected the seed, and help with your notes on propagating success, too. (It’s good to make notes, so in the future you’ll know which plants do well, as well as which ones not to bother collecting from next time.)

Drying the seeds is the next step. This is an easy one: Just close the paper bag and put it in a cool location for an additional 2-3 weeks of drying. Once they’re all dry, tap and shake the closed bag to release the seeds from their pods.

Cleaning the seeds is a little more work. You’ll need a shallow container, like a flower tray (about 1-2 inches deep), lined with paper. You’ll also need strainers or sieves with different mesh sizes to separate the different-sized seeds from the debris and trash of the seed casings. Shake the contents of the bag into a strainer (above your flower tray) and work through the plant debris. The seeds should sift through the mesh to the paper below. After you’ve completed this step, take the paper and roll it into a tube shape. Hold one end over a small jar and slide the seeds right inside.

Storing seeds until you’re ready to propagate is the final step. Don’t forget to label your jar, close it tightly and place it in the refrigerator. The cool temperature will keep your seeds fresh until you’re ready to plant them or share them with other plant enthusiasts!

So don’t be wary of seed collecting. It’s easy – and a fun way to share and learn about the plants in your garden.