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Seed Saving for a Pretty Spring and Summer Next Year 

Saved seeds from cuttings yield poppies, calendula, bachelor's buttons, toadflax, cosmos and maybe a few surprises.

Photo by Julia Graham-Whitt

Saved seeds from cuttings yield poppies, calendula, bachelor's buttons, toadflax, cosmos and maybe a few surprises.

Just when we thought it was safe to go into other gardens ... well, they are outdoors and as long as you keep your distance, going into gardens is still a great activity to keep the mind from wandering toward more unpleasant thoughts.

Perhaps you've been on your daily walk or drive, and you've admired the neighbor's flowers, or those at that place on A Street over by Trinity Street. But if you don't have a lot of money, you might wonder how you, too, can get a beautiful flower garden. Well, this is the time to plan ahead. Saving seeds from the spent blooms of "cutting gardens" can be quite easy.

No, don't steal seeds from your neighbor's garden or any other yard you happen upon. Gardeners tend to be a sharing bunch and are usually happy to oblige as long as you ask politely for a cutting, some seeds or seedpods, so long as you're not taking an entire plant. Please don't take an entire plant. That makes gardeners grumpy.

This time of the year, flowers blooming at my place and my clients' include ornamental poppies (some are known as breadseed poppies), calendula, love-in-a-mist (Nigella), bachelor's buttons, asters, Shasta daisies, sweet peas, Sweet William, sunflowers, toadflax (Linaria), carnations (Dianthus), dahlias, cosmos and many more.

Many people cut off the spent blooms (also known as deadheading) so the plant will continue to bloom. This is especially true of sweet peas, dahlias and other summer bloomers. Keep cutting those flowers and the plants will put out even more. But don't cut them all off. Save a couple so they can dry out and produce some seeds.

Calendula is a lovely flower that comes in multiple colors, mostly oranges and yellows, and it will self-sow — heartily. It's a nice plant to grow in a bare spot because it will reseed year after year. Same goes for the ornamental poppies. They produce approximately 8 gazillion seeds from just a few seedheads.

How to save these seeds, though? It's pretty simple. I use old prescription bottles because you can see what's in the container and, of course, you'll be marking the container with the name of the seeds you collected. Right? Mark the container, even if you're sure you'll remember next year. Because you will not remember next year and an awful lot of those smaller seeds look identical. If you're not blessed with seasonal allergies and don't have any loose prescription bottles lying around, you can always use envelopes.

The easiest way to save some of these future beauties is to place the container or envelope under the dried bloom, then shake the seedhead vigorously. If it's a poppy, you'll end up with about 3,000 seeds. (You think I'm joking. I'm not.) If it's calendula, you'll get about 10 to 12.

Store these seeds for next year in a cool, dark place. A closet in a cooler part of the house works great — if you have a basement or cellar, even better. If the seeds are completely dried, you can also store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer. Again, make sure they're labeled, though a mystery flower is always kind of fun.

One last thing to consider when saving seeds is whether they are from open pollinated or hybrid plants. Open pollinated flowers, such as blue bachelor's buttons or pale blue nigella, will be true to type. Not so with hybrid flowers. It's entirely possible that the gorgeous breadseed poppy you've saved seed from was cross-pollinated in the yard or garden. You may end up with a completely different color flower next year.

One last reason to not cut all of the spent blossoms back on your plants is to provide food for wildlife, especially birds, chipmunks and squirrels. I discovered that my laziness in not cutting back the cow parsnip blooms means their dried stems provide a lovely feast of bugs for woodpeckers.

You can toss some of these seeds in your garden once our winter rains start and again in the late winter to early spring. As long as they get a chance to outcompete the weeds, you'll be amazed at what comes back up.

Julia Graham-Whitt (she/her) is owner and operator of the landscaping business Two Green Thumbs.

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