Guest Gardening Bloggers

Selective Seed Saving

By Frank Nyikos | February 3, 2016
Image by Frank Nyikos

Selective Seed Saving

by Frank Nyikos February 3, 2016

Selective Seed Saving

By Frank Nyikos | February 3, 2016

Frank Nyikos is the author of Hybridizing ABC’s, a book concerning all aspects of plant hybridization. He currently has over 50 internationally recognized plants that include hostas, daylilies and a single special daffodil. He was a regular contributor to The Indoor Gardener, a bi-monthly Canadian magazine devoted to all aspects of indoor gardening. He currently blogs at http://decodedplants.com/author/frank-nyikos and at http://hostaguy.hubpages.com/. He has recently finished a new manuscript about all the various plants one can grow or re-grow from foods purchased in your local food market.



I have been asked many times what my favorite season is for gardening. My response is that it is whatever season the questioner and I are in. Each season holds gardening activities that I look forward to all through the year. The sun blasted dry, hot and humid trailing edge of summer in August is no exception.

While I have had some very early spring plants produce mature seed it is usually not until this time when most plants begin to anticipate the long cold winter with seed production. Seed is the promise of life to come. Plants are preparing all the various ways for their species continuance and seeds are a central means towards that end.

I am a selective seed savor. This is man’s oldest method of attaining food as well as planting more of specific types of plants that we desire. Left to their own natural method for regeneration, plants will crowd each other within a habitat. Man has been able to alter the natural order by planting extra seed of plants they like and removing undesirable plants that try to compete for the same space.

Through selective seed saving man has been able to encourage evolutionary changes that suit our preferred expectations. This passive form of hybridization has been our primary method for improving the quality of plants. This is one of my favorite methods as well. It requires little work on my part. I still have to prepare the site and remove unwanted volunteer plants. Then all I have to do is collect, save, and stratify my seed for next year.

Stratifying seed means that you expose your seed to a situation that lets it know to sprout and grow. Sometimes this may mean it will be necessary to compromise the seed shell by making an opening in it so that water can reach the germ. For the most part, it is only a certain length of time that it spends in cold storage. There will be some that will not require any special treatment. This may be a seed savors greatest challenge.

Birdseed Poppy seed podBirdseed Poppy seed pod
Fortunately we have the internet today to help us with knowing how to prepare our collected seed and prepare them for sprouting. We can look up plants to find out seed preparation specifically. We can also discover where a particular plant grew naturally in the wild. For example, did you know that Basil is a plant that evolved in tropical South East Asia? The key here is tropical. You may know that just the slighted frost will kill Basil. You may not have put 2 and two together to realize this means that the seed will also be damaged by cold temperatures. Collected, dried and stored Basil seed will not need a cold period in the refrigerator in order to sprout for you next spring.

Sometimes it may be necessary to experiment. Simply divide your saved seed in half. Expose half to at least 6 weeks in the refrigerator and leave the other half at room temperature. Plant some of each seed and learn which sprouts best.

Rose Campion seed podsRose Campion seed pods

Belamcanda seed podsBelamcanda seed pods

I save seed for many reasons. I save some seed for their memories. Some of my seed has been saved from seed given me by family members who have since passed on. I grow these plants every year not only for the plant or flower but to keep the memory of these loved ones alive. I save seed so that I have something for early spring plant sales or swaps. Mostly, I save seed to make them better fit my need in the garden.

Selective seed saving is an important method for improving the quality of a plant. Did you know that a few thousands of years ago the size of a Fava Bean was smaller than the finger nail of your little finger? These were a prized food item even that far in our past. Through selective seed saving the size of these beans have grown to be the huge juicy beans we have come to love and enjoy.

Cleome the light purple selected colorCleome
The seed I save that I have encouraged to change into what I most desire is the Cleome. Some people call this a spider flower. My study of this plant began with a packet of the common pink flowered form that is generally sold in catalogues. My initial goal was to produce a deep dark purple. I have been able to produce this color as well as another version I like that is a lighter greyish purple. I have been able to produce these flower colors reliably because I selected seed from those plants that most closely match the color I want. By the way, I keep the two colors of Cleome well apart in my garden to prevent interbreeding.

The lazy hybridizer in me has been saving and planting seed from those plants that most closely match my ideals for a great many years. I have been rewarded with plants that grow better and better each and every successive year through my small efforts. I believe that my seed, in addition to growing better towards the ideal I see in my mind have also been learning to grow in my own micro environment. I have been selecting seed that like my moderately heavy loam, hot and humid summers that usually have minimal rain. This is another good reason to begin saving your own seed.

Saving seed can be very rewarding. I am able to keep memories alive. I have some extra to sell or trade. I have seed that will produce quality plants that have learned to grow in my harsh environment. And, I hope that my small efforts will encourage some future family traditions. My Cleome seed is desired now. I try each year to have a bit extra available to share. The time it took to collect, dry, store and stratify is really short so that it is as much pleasure to look forward to each year as any other garden project. Perhaps it is time for you to start your own seed collecting and saving program.

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