Seeds: Harvesting and Sowing Techniques


It’s that time of year! Having learned a lot over the past few years about harvesting and sowing seeds, this post shares the techniques I have been most successful with. The wildflower (AKA butterfly) garden created at our local hospice relied heavily (over 90 percent) on seeds. Some were purchased, many donated, and others collected or harvested by myself from my own and clients’ gardens.

Harvesting Seeds Requires Patience

The most important requirement for optimal seed harvesting success is patience, something I don’t have loads of. The seed heads have to be dried out, some actually fluffy (like dandelions) to be effective. Although I am loving this amazingly warm fall weather, seed heads are late to reach this stage this year due to the lack of miserable (cold, frosty) weather.

If you are impatient and do collect your seed heads before the seeds come away easily from the calyxes (the part of the flower head that holds the seeds together), dry them out in a warm spot, in a single layer.

Then, when they reach that fall apart stage, store them in a paper bag. Don’t use plastic bags as they hold moisture in causing your seed heads to get moldy. The faster the seeds dry out the better.

Use Brown Paper Bags to Harvest and Store Seeds

I find the best (and most cost-effective) way to collect seeds is to use brown paper bags. I use the kind we used to pack our lunches in before lunch boxes were a thing. You can still buy them in grocery stores, so someone must still use them for lunches. You could also use the brown bags given out at LCBOs, they would work just as well. For those of you not living in Ontario, they are our government-run liquor stores.

Simply hold the bag under the seed head and cut the stem just below the seed head so it falls into the bag. I use a separate (labeled) bag for each type of seed head but that’s because I collect tons of seeds. If you are collecting fewer seeds of a greater variety for a blended, random wildflower garden, store them all in the same bag.

I add a strip of heavy-duty tape (book binding tape works well) to the bottom of each bag so the seeds don’t escape through the cracks in the bags.

Seed Sowing Techniques

I have discussed my sowing successes and failures in previous posts. The easiest method (that I tried) was the outdoor winter trick using clear plastic clamshell (from grocery stores) containers. If you try this, be sure to leave your containers in a partly sunny (not full sun or full shade) location outdoors for best results.

The plastic cup method in late spring also worked well, especially to fill in bare spots. It too was easy and inexpensive.

Both the clear plastic clamshell containers (winter) and cups (spring) act like mini-greenhouses, holding the moisture in and collecting the warmth of the sun. For obvious reasons, the plastic used must be clear (not frosted, no stickers/writing etc).

Unfortunately, I have still not had much luck or success with sowing seeds indoors for spring transplanting. That technique seems to need lots of patience too. Perhaps that’s my problem. I manage to get the seedlings to a few inches tall then they fizzle out.

Before you pick one of the methods mentioned over the other, research whether or not your seeds require a cold stratification stage to ensure success. Most perennial seeds have a tough exterior shell requiring this cold step, while most annuals do not. The clamshell method includes this stage while the cup method does not.


I’ve learned to keep a journal of sorts with notes on my experiments with seeds. That way next winter I will remember which method I had the most success with and avoid making the same mistakes over and over.

I’d love to hear from anyone that has experimented with seed harvesting and sowing, both failures and successes. It is definitely a learning curve!

The Small Things in Life

the small things in life

Sometimes the small things in life are what bring you the most pleasure. Especially when you cannot, or have not been able to, enjoy these things. As I have muddled through this past week housebound (other than a few brief outings for fresh air) with a bad cold, I have jotted a few things down…

A Cup of Coffee

I assume it has been my body’s way of keeping me hydrated by making coffee taste awful. Thursday I attempted to enjoy my first cup of coffee in over four days. It never happened. I managed a few sips, but that was as much as I could choke down. This morning (Saturday) I tried again and got through the whole cup, but I can’t say I enjoyed it all that much.

A Hot Shower

Sad to say this has been my most exciting (and most strenuous) activity this week. After the fiasco earlier in the week, I have learned to enjoy this luxury when someone else is home to listen for any unexpected thumps.

Supermarket Roasted Chickens

My son went out for groceries this week and came home with ready-to-eat, roasted chickens. Brilliant! One less thing to worry about.

Messages From Friends and Family

Cheery emails and messages from friends and family and even my fellow bloggers have been greatly appreciated this week. A video chat with my two-year-old granddaughter was a favourite. Her sweet voice and cheery smile always make me smile, and this week in my heightened sense of appreciation for the small things, even more so.

Clear Sinuses

This whole mess started with a sinus headache that I nursed for several days, over a week ago now, before the nastier symptoms hit with a vengeance. I distinctly remember the popping balloons at my grandson’s birthday party feeling like explosions in my head. Maybe those “explosions” were a sign of things to come. Regardless, I am grateful that my sinuses are now clear, although my nose is on the run.

Soft Kleenex (Tissues)

And now that my nose is on the run, I am appreciating the softness of Kleenex tissues. I admit that I always thought tissue was tissue. My nose will tell you otherwise these days.

An Appetite

My appetite was non-existent most of the week, not so for my chief cooks and bottle washers (hubby and son). This is where the aforementioned roasted chickens came in, to complement their other (take-out) dinners. Last night I managed to enjoy a half order of Pad Thai, my favourite take-out dinner. Tonight I baked a (gluten-free) lasagna, my first forage into the kitchen in ages. A returned appetite has reminded me of my love for cooking. I’ll leave the cleanup for them.

A Pretty Winter’s Day

Looking out my windows today, I am appreciating the beautiful blue sky, snow-laden trees and rooftops, the warm sunshine, and icicles, lots of icicles…

I even got out for a short walk when the sun was at its warmest, progress indeed!

Winter Evergreen Arrangements

winter window boxes

As I was removing window boxes filled with perennials and frost-damaged annuals at the hospice I volunteer at, it dawned on me that these window boxes would look awesome with winter evergreen arrangements in them. Evergreen boughs with pops of red for a splash of color against the white walls of the building and snow on the ground.

Thanks to the early arrival of winter weather in our area, the plants, and soil in the window boxes were frozen solid. I brought them home and put them in my basement to warm up to enable the change of d├ęcor. Once thawed, the first thing I did was remove the dead annuals. Next, I trimmed the dormant perennials hard, back to a few inches from the soil level. This step was to allow space for the evergreen boughs and decorative trimmings.

Most grocery stores sell evergreen boughs in bundles this time of year for such DIY winter evergreen arrangements, as do home improvement stores like Lowes and Home Depot. I just take a walk through the woodland trails in my neighbourhood with a pair of clippers and a bag. Cedar, pine, and spruce boughs as well as pine cones are plentiful. Sometimes I can even find some vibrant red dogwood and/or contrasting white birch branches and twigs. If not, the stores sell those as well.

Your local dollar store will provide the finishing touches to the winter evergreen arrangements such as artificial poinsettia, bows, red berries etc. Battery-powered twinkling lights were also added for nighttime pizzazz.