Saving Seed – Columbine & Chives

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Faded chive flower heads filled with seed.


Some people think of seed saving as a fall activity, but if you wait you will miss the opportunity to collect many seeds that your garden produces. The best way to know when the correct time to gather seeds is requires knowing when the plants you wish to save seeds from flower or fruit. Some plants, such as hellebores flower during the winter months. Seeds of these plants are typically ready by late winter or early spring.

Plants that flower in the spring, such as the chives above – or columbine, generally produce seed by the end of May or early June. Collecting seeds from chives is really easy – but before allowing this plant to set seed, be aware that any seed you do not get will produce new plants. If you wish to save just a few seeds and not have this plant everywhere in your garden, cut the majority of the flowers off as soon as they fade. To make sure none of the remaining flower heads produce seed falls to the ground, cover the top of the flower head with pantyhose and gently tie the pantyhose around the stem of the plant using plant tie material. This will prevent damage to the stem and allow the seeds to mature properly.

The pantyhose method is an acceptable way of collecting any type of seed that forms in a pod. It is an especially useful method to use if you are unable to keep a close eye on your garden or if you are collecting seeds – such as touch-me-nots – that have a reputation of exploding and shooting seed all over the garden.

Columbine setting seed - the green ones are immature - the brown ones are mature.


While we are still on the subject of timing, it is important to know when the seeds are ready to be collected. If you collect them too soon, the seeds will still be immature thus are unlikely to germinate. If you collect them too late – and are not using pantyhose to capture any seed that falls out of the pod – the seed you collect will be a lot less than what the plant actually produces. The ideal time to collect seed of any plant that produces a pod is when the seed pod and some of the stem that is attached to the seed pod has turned brown. Some seed pods will begin to split open. Columbine is an example of this. Once the seeds inside are mature, the pod begins to open – slightly at first, then the opening continues to increase until all the seeds fall out. The ideal time to collect the seed is as soon as you see the pod begin to open.

Now you may be wondering if removing the ripe seed is ok while there are still green pods on the plant. This is fine. Remove the seed pods that are ready to be removed and leave the rest. Just as not every flower opens at once, not every seed pod matures at the same time.

Once you have collected the seeds from your plants, you must remove the seeds from the pod and lay the seeds out to dry. Return the pods to the compost pile or scatter them about in the garden, but be aware any seed you missed may germinate.

That’s all there is to it! Seed saving is easy!

If you want to know more, check out my new book The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Seed Saving & Starting! Best of all, there is a FREE sample download for the Kindle!

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July 21, 2012

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