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Collecting seeds


By Mookins

Norfolk, United Kingdom Gb

am starting to collect seeds as my flowers die off, as they are being stored do they need any extra care or storing needs?

x x x



~apparently they need to be stored in small paper enelopes not plastic as they can sweat and go mouldy.I found a fantastic site and will forward the info when I can get on our other computer!

19 Jul, 2009


Great Arlene...I would like that info too please...:>)

19 Jul, 2009


this from the RHS but I will post the other site info as well.For some reason the photos won't cut and paste~ if you go to the rhs site you will get the pics too.

Seeds are usually collected only once they are ripe. Signs of ripeness include splitting and opening of the seedpods or husks, and a darkening in colour of the seeds themselves. Seeds within fleshy fruits usually ripen at the same time as the fruits.

There are some exceptions to the rule of collecting seeds only when ripe.

Birch (Betula) catkins are green when unripe and brown when ripeSeeds of trees and shrubs that produce catkin-type flowers (left) are best collected while still unripe and green. The catkins can be hung upside down in a paper bag to collect the seeds as they ripen. If left on the plant, they would disperse in the wind so rapidly, that you would have no chance of collecting them.

Seeds of some other trees develop germination inhibitors as they ripen. These are often trees with fleshy fruits or berries such as Sorbus (rowan), Tilia (lime) and Crataegus (hawthorn). These fruits are best gathered early, before they are fully coloured, and certainly before any hint of shrivelling. The seeds inside the fruits should still be green. This will ensure better germination the following spring.

Choose a dry day for seed collection, so that the seeds do not become damp.
Choice of plants

Only take seed from healthy looking plants. Sickly or non-vigorous plants could have diseases such as viruses. These can sometimes be transmitted via seed. This means that the resulting seedlings would be similarly non-vigorous.

Obviously, it is best to choose plants that you wish to increase your numbers of, and which have seeds that are appropriately ripe.

Bear in mind that many hybridised plants will not come true to type from seed. Unlike with cuttings, where you get an exact clone of the parent plant, seedlings will be genetically different from their parents, and may have altered colours or growth habit.

Paeonies can contain both fertile and sterile seedsSome seedpods, for example on paeonies (left), can contain both fertile and sterile seeds. The sterile seeds are often pinkish or red in colour, whereas the fertile seeds often start off whitish, and then ripen to black.

Removal of seeds from the parent plant

Cut off ripe looking seedpods, seed cases, fruits or cones from the parent plant.

Collecting seed from herbaceous perennialsCollecting seed from herbaceous perennialsCollecting seed from herbaceous perennials

Large trees can be shaken to dislodge fruits and seeds. A blanket can be laid under the tree to catch the seeds as they fall.

Wind-fallen fruits and cones can be picked up from the ground, but do take care that they are not infested with maggots or rots
Seed cleaning

Clematis seedheadDry seeds often need nothing more than the picking off and teasing apart of the cotton wool-like substance that holds them together. Populus (poplar) and Salix (willow), both catkin-producing trees, are examples. Clematis seed heads (left) have a similar cotton wool-like appearance.

Seedpods can be spread out on a tray to dry. When they have completely split and shed their contents, they can be rubbed with the hands, to separate out and crush the chaff. The dry mixture can then be sieved and picked through, to isolate the seeds.

Beans can be hung up to dryFleshy pods containing large seeds, such as broad beans (left), can be hung upside down, still on the plant, to dry. When the pods and leaves are shrivelled and completely dry, the beans can be removed by hand and left to dry further, if necessary.

Winged seeds can be stored with the wing cases still onWinged seeds, such as Fraxinus (ash) or Acer (maples and sycamores), can either be stored with the wing cases still on, or with wings rubbed off, so that they take up less space and are easier to plant.

Nuts should have the outer husks removedNuts should have the outer husks removed, but the shell left on.

Berries can be mashed in a sieve and held under running water so that the pulp washes awayFleshy fruits, such as peaches, apples, or Sorbus berries (mountain ash; rowan), should have the fleshy portion removed to expose the inner seeds. Apple pips and peach stones can be extracted with a knife and then rinsed off. Berries can be mashed in a sieve and held under running water so that the pulp washes away. The seeds should then be left to dry on a paper towel in a warm room.

Cones can be dried in a warm roomCones can be dried in a warm room. They will gradually open, until the seeds are released.

Seed storage

Remove any shrivelled or damaged looking seeds before storing.

The best way to keep seeds dry in the fridge is to store them in paper bags or envelopes, which are then placed inside a plastic bagMany seeds are best stored dry, at fridge temperatures. This provides optimal conditions for avoiding rots, and for maximising the viability of the seeds by slowing down their metabolism and reducing their rate of deterioration.

Fleshy seeds are best stored in plastic bags of moist sand, peat substitute, or fine vermiculiteLarge, oily seeds, such as walnuts (Juglans) and Quercus (oak) acorns, cannot be completely dried out before storage. Fleshy Magnolia seeds should not be dried either, as they lose the ability to take up water once dried, and then fail to germinate. Such seeds are best stored in plastic bags of moist sand, peat substitute, or fine vermiculite (left).


Many hardy tree seeds have a degree of inherent dormancy, which can be overcome by appropriate storage techniques. This makes germination much easier the following spring. Such seeds require the winter weather that they would normally experience when shed from the plant in the autumn, to break their dormancy. The frost and the cold break down the hard seed coast of trees such as Acacia and Robinia.

Cold also has an effect on the internal hormonal balance of some seeds, helping to overcome the inherent physiological dormancy that is apparent in some species. Acer and Arbutus (strawberry tree) are two examples. This kind of dormancy can be overcome by combining storage with the technique of cold stratification.
For more details click here

If seeds are to be stored long term, then the addition of a dessicant such as silica gel or calcium chloride (sold in many DIY stores) will help to keep them dry for longer. Freezing seeds will also preserve them for longer - often for several years. But germination is usually best when the seeds are sown fresh, declining with increasing length of storage.

Although various means can be used to overcome the deepening dormancy that can occurs in storage (see RHS Propagating Plants by Alan Toogood, ISBN 0-7513-0365-8 for more details), the loss of water from the seeds during lengthy storage periods will reduce their viability over time.

Maya Albert

19 Jul, 2009


This is what I was looking for~

To keep up a supply of seeds (which doesn't necessarily correspond with the demand, an unfortunate fact I prefer to ignore), there are several bits of equipment I've found essential. For a start, you need some small scissors to nip off the seed heads. I find an old pair of embroidery scissors perfect. Of course, you can use your fingers, but some seedpods are sticky and you end up with bits sticking to you (geraniums can be very messy), or your finger nails start to shred.

You need a supply of paper bags or envelopes to put the seed heads in as soon as they're cut. I find 9" x 6" best. They give you room to give the seeds a good shaking to release stay-at-homes. You need to label the envelopes immediately. It's amazing how quickly you forget if that envelope contains ordinary blue Geranium pratense or the pale blue one. Any old pen, pencil or felt tip will do. Writing on a flat surface helps. So long as you know what's inside the envelope when you get back indoors, it'll be OK. For carrying these envelopes from plant to plant, a small box is useful. There was an ancient woven wood basket with a metal handle that strawberries or mushrooms came in already here when we moved, so I use that. A trug would work, too.

Naturally, in your enthusiasm (well, certainly in mine), some of the seeds you're so anxious to collect won't be ripe. Sometimes, they won't even be mature enough to ripen and you'll have to add them to the compost heap. But the majority will ripen properly if you put them somewhere dry. At this stage, they really need to have enough room for the air to circulate, so ideally they should be put in rather bigger paper containers than the original collection envelopes. There is a difficulty here, in that the paper bags such as my grandmother always had in her kitchen drawer are becoming harder to find. Everything these days comes in plastic bags, and plastic bags won't do for drying seeds. I've solved the problem by making my own bags - killing two birds with one stone, if you like. Old telephone directories are difficult to get rid of, if you don't have paper recycling facilities nearby. I stick two pages of the Yellow Pages together on three sides, label them in big black felt tip and hang them in lines down the length of the garage. I got a packet of 100 pegs for £1.50 which was a very useful buy here. I already had string.

Always harvest your seeds when it's dry. Around mid-day or early afternoon on a sunny day is ideal, but try not to collect them when they're damp. If you can't avoid it, lay them out separately on newspaper to dry out before putting them together in paper bags.


Once your seeds are dry you need to encourage the laggards to come out of their shells, so to speak. Perhaps it's memories of helping my grandfather get winkles out of their shells on a Saturday afternoon, but I like to poke around the seed pods to make sure none are wasted. Here, a cocktail stick comes in handy. It's particularly useful for the last few seeds in an Aquilegia pod, or (another sticky one) Polemoniums. The embroidery scissors come in useful again here, as I find some seedpods don't like to burst without encouragement, so I cut the pods of Sisyrinchiums and Penstemons in half before giving their bag a good shaking. Sometimes, it's helpful to crush hard seedpods to break them open. A rolling pin comes in handy here - or I have heard of someone who drives a tractor over heaps of cones to open them to get to the seeds.

To collect the seeds themselves, you need several sheets of paper. The back of junk mail comes in handy. With most seeds, you collect a lot of rubbish in the way of bits of seed pod, mud,small spiders, tiny orange grubs (what are these?) which you don't really want to keep. Professionals use things called aspirators and other such gadgets to separate the wheat from the chaff, but I use a couple of tea strainers. One's stainless steel with quite big holes, which is useful for removing the unwanted small bits from fairly large seed. The other has a smaller, nylon mesh which lets the dust through, or lets the small seeds through and keeps the bigger bits of rubbish out. If the seeds are largish, a pair of tweezers is useful for picking them up. If the seeds are small, you can separate them from some of their chaff by holding the paper at an angle and letting the seed roll down - the other stuff generally stays put. A combination of these methods usually results in more or less 100% seed only.

After separating the seed, you need to make absolutely sure it's dry before you store it. Damp seed will only rot, and after all this trouble, you really want to have seed to swap. That is what it's all for - unless the actual seed-collection process is your hobby. Leave the seed for a couple of days in a dry environment, then pack it in paper envelopes. Do remember to label the envelopes clearly. You'll need to keep all the seeds somewhere until you swap them. I find an old ice-cream container handy, or, if you're addicted to collecting and have more seeds than that, one of those plastic biscuit 'tins' you get an Christmas. Keep the seeds cool, dark and dry - in the fridge, except at Christmas, when you need the space for food.


I'd like to digress here, and ponder on some of the methods I've read about on the web for drying and storing seeds. It seems it's very popular in the USA to dry seeds with a dessicant. I don't think this is a good idea. Some seeds - like seeds of bulbs, for instance - need to have a large store of food ready for the embryo when it emerges, and I think totally drying the seed would damage this. Think of dried, shrivelled daffodil bulbs - they don't always rehydrate properly. And very tiny seeds would be dried to death. Another idea is to store seeds in a freezer. For much the same reason, I don't go for this, either. Defrosted ice-cream won't refreeze successfully, and things get freezer burn. My son (who knows about these things) tells me it's to do with the speed with which things are frozen, and it's a well-known problem (the speed of freezing and defrosting and consequent change in whatever-it-is - probably 'molecular structure') in 'materials' science. So I opt for letting my seeds dry naturally, somewhere dry, and then storing them in a plastic container (more or less airtight, but probably not completely so). There is also a theory that seed should be stored moist, rather than dry. I take this to be moist as opposed to wet, i.e. not completely dry, and I think this is what storing in paper bags in a not-quite-airtight container amounts to.

Probably too much information but hope it helps!

19 Jul, 2009


This is brilliant thank you so much...chances are the seeds ive collected are too young, but will keep them just in case learning through trial and error

thank you so much

x x x

20 Jul, 2009


Whew, Arlene, a lot of information but never too much.
I am not going to compete for volume or completeness but, as a regular seed collector say that I let my seed dry off for a few days in open containers the potting shed. The seed should then be 'cleaned' by having any chaff and rubbish removed. If the seed is for your own use then the cleaning does not have to be too thorough but if it is to be passed to a seed exchange then it should be as clean as possible. If the seed has a tail, eg clematis or pulsatilla, then the tail should be left on.
I pack small quantities of seed into little envelopes that stamp collectors use and larger quantities into small brown 'cash' envelopes from a stationery shop. Label the envelope! The envelopes are then stored in a small box in the fridge until I need them.

20 Jul, 2009


~After looking at this now I can see that all the photos in the RHS text didn't come through but all the text under the photos did~repeating over and over again.Apologies!I should have run through and deleted the extra lines but was really tired.

20 Jul, 2009

How do I say thanks?

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