How to Harvest Seed From Your Native Plants

Green milkweed seed pod

Green milkweed pods are not ready for seed harvest. Wait until the pods start to turn brown and split open.

The Seed Swap is Sept. 19th! Start harvesting seed now!

What’s going to seed in your garden? I’m seeing plenty of seed harvesting opportunities. Saving seed to propagate your own plants is a rewarding way to expand your native plant garden and share your favorites with friends at the Seed Swap next month.

As you stroll through your garden, make a habit of  noticing what’s setting seed. If you find yourself reaching for the pruners to lop off an “ugly” seed head, stop! Let the seed mature, harvest some and leave the rest for the birds and other seed-eating creatures. In my garden, most of the grasses are ripening now, as are the penstemons, paintbrush, and purple prairie clover.

Seed is ripe when it is hard, and brown or black. If you open a seed head or pod and find a small green seed that is soft and squishy, wait a week and check again. It’s important for the seed to be completely dry at harvest or mold can grow during storage. With some plants, if you miss seed maturation by a few days, you’ll find the seed has already dispersed.

The easiest way to harvest seed is to simply snip the flower stalks with seed heads, bundle them loosely and stuff them head first into a paper bag. Tie the bag around the stalks (don’t forget to strip the leaves off first) and hang the bag upside down in a dark, cool room. As the pods and seed heads dry, the seeds will burst out and fall into the bag. A gentle shake can speed the process.

Purple Prarie Clover

Purple Prairie Clover is already shedding its seed.

You can read additional seed gathering and cleaning tips from the California Native Plant Society.

Once you have your seed separated from the chaff, it’s time for seed inspection. You may want a magnifying glass for small seed. Discard seed with insect larvae and seed that appears smaller and less plump, as it is probably not viable. Store the seed in paper envelopes labeled with the species name and year harvested. Ideally, you should store your envelopes in the refrigerator but I usually just find a cold dark corner of the basement where they happily snooze until I’m tired of winter and ready to dig in the dirt.

For information on how to prepare your seed for the Seed Swap, see Chapter Events.

—Linda M. Hellow, Front Range Wild Ones Secretary

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