Start saving for the future Nature: Vegetables and flowers form seeds and shed them on the ground. You can collect them before they fall, preserve them and plant them next year.

August 18, 1996|By Nancy Brachey | Nancy Brachey,KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

A young woman I know, new to gardening and enthusiastic, was amazed recently when morning glories bloomed out of nowhere on her fence.

Someone probably had planted the morning glories one previous spring, and the blooms dropped seeds that sprang into life this year.

That is nature's way.

Plants regenerate themselves by shedding seeds on the ground, seeds that lie dormant until the temperature is right and they germinate, usually the next spring.

In the garden, that works for a number of popular garden flowers such as morning glories, impatiens, larkspur and poppies, whose seeds will survive winter's chill.

Some are even tougher. According to a famous poem, during World War I red poppies germinated and bloomed on the battlefields of Flanders.

Your garden isn't a battlefield -- although the war on pests, weeds and diseases may sometimes make it seem that way -- so seeds ought to have better than a fighting chance.

Rather than letting them drop on the ground and then get buried under a tulip and lost, you can harvest and save seeds for sowing next year.

Lessons from history

It's nothing new; gardeners have done it for eons.

Seed-saving works best with nonhybrid plants, those whose seeds produce offspring that look identical to the parent plant or very closely resemble it. The plant has produced seed for many generations, so the offspring is a predictable match.

Because hybrid plants, usually marked F1 on the seed packet, are the result of recent crosses, they have a less stable gene pool. So their offspring are likely to be different and possibly inferior.

A rich pink hybrid impatiens produces a muddy lavender one, or a cream hybrid marigold bears an ordinary pale yellow flower.

Even with nonhybrids, you should gather seeds from the healthiest, strongest plants. In most groups of plants, some will stand out for their obvious vigor.

Make a small label on a plastic stake to identify the chosen ones.

Nothing's magic about harvesting seeds at the right time. Some seeds, such as beans and tomatoes, are gathered from fleshy fruit, others from the seed pods that follow the flowers.

The pods should be fairly brittle and on the dry side. If the pod looks delicate, cover it with a tiny paper bag tied gently to the stem.

With plants like lettuce, petunias and peas, make sure to get the seeds before the pods open and sprinkle the seeds on the ground.

Fleshy fruits like tomatoes should be overripe before harvest; then you can cull and wash the seeds.

Notes on names

Spread your seeds out to dry on white paper for a few days. Then put them in small, tight jars to keep out moisture for winter storage in a cool, dry place.

Don't forget to write the names down, or you will find yourself scratching your head about whether this jar has nasturtiums or that jar has lettuce.

Another caution about seed-saving concerns various squash and cabbage-family plants. These are notorious cross-pollinators and should be kept separate in the garden to maintain a perfect strain. With these plants, it's better to start with purchased seeds.

Most flower and vegetable seeds hold their viability for at least two years, especially if they aren't exposed to high temperatures and moisture, which shorten their life.

Pub Date: 8/18/96

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