Forget eastern standard time; it’s seed-saving time

By Tom Seymour | Nov 05, 2020
Photo by: Tom Seymour Liatris seeds ready for harvest

It’s amazing how many varieties of flowers, both cultivated and wild, lend themselves to propagation by seed. Even better, many seeds are now ripe for the picking. But get out there as soon as possible, since it will soon be too late.

New England asters

Here’s an example of how I naturalized some wildflowers around my place. New England asters rank as my all-time favorite wildflowers and many years ago, I decided to establish them around my home.

It was October, and asters went to seed. Fortunately, the seedheads do not all mature at the same time, so even if a stiff wind blows many of the seeds away, enough remain available to seed savers. In my case, this gave me the opportunity to gather a sufficient quantity of seed, even though many seedheads were by then, bare.

New England asters come in shades of blue and violet and some even tend toward dark pink. Which of these traits will manifest themselves after the seed germinates and begins growing is something we cannot determine until the plant matures. My method, then, entails picking a few ripe seedheads from a number of different plants. That way, I’m sure to get some different colors.

Note that blue is the most common New England aster color and the other shades, especially pink, are recessive. But some or all of the different colors may be present in any large stand of asters.

To plant, just take a handful of the loose, fluffy seeds in hand and on a day with a gentle breeze, let the wind carry them to the general area where you want your asters to grow. It’s so simple and effective, so if you want to establish some New England asters on your property, give it a try.

Liatris

Liatris, with its spire-shaped flower spikes, also lends itself to seed gathering and sowing. In this case, you might want to skip broadcasting the seed and instead, plant them in the part of your perennial bed where you want them to grow. Don’t plant too deep, since when planted by nature, the seeds are simply left on the ground. It does help to cover them thinly with fine soil and then to water after planting.

Or, you could hold your seed in the freezer for several months in order to stratify them and then plant them out next spring.

Liatris seed spikes hold an abundance of seed and just one spike will give more seed than anyone needs to get more plants started.

Saponaria Juncoides

Saponaria juncoides, also known as soapwort, is a delightful wildflower. Once a cultivated favorite, soapwort has fallen into disfavor for reasons I could never decipher. Fortunately, soapwort has escaped from ancient flower beds and huge stands dot Maine’s reverting farmland.

Soapwort has double petals and a sweet aroma vaguely reminiscent of roses. Once established its root system guarantees that the plants will persist for many years. These can be transplanted, of course, but it is so much easier to save seeds in fall and just scatter them about, the same as you would New England aster.

A bouquet of soapwort always sits on my kitchen table in midsummer, spreading joy from the beauty and aroma of this hardy but neglected wildflower. It’s easy to get them started and it’s not too late to get out and harvest some soapwort seed capsules.

Mama Mia

Here’s another plant you can save seed from. It’s Oregano and it produces lots of tiny seeds that you can either broadcast or plant directly, either now or in the spring. Nothing beats fresh oregano for homemade Italian-style sauce.

Also, oregano is long-lasting and even after the ground freezes, the leaves still exhibit that distinctive aroma that makes this tough-as-nails plant a must-have for the home chef.

To harvest, just hold a small container under a dried seedhead and tap the seedhead. Countless, tiny seeds will fall into the container.

Lettuce Too

Many varieties of lettuce are open-pollinated and lend themselves to seed saving. Save seed from any of the heirloom varieties and either plant now or hold it over until spring.

I find that various lettuces often appear unbidden in and around my gardens. These are always welcome and they just point to the utilitarian nature of saving seeds.

Also, the price of garden seeds rises every year and some seem priced all out of proportion to their value. In this case, seed saving makes all kinds of sense. Why pay for that which you already have growing? Instead, just save the seed.

Lots of other plants lend themselves to seed saving. Much to the horror of serious gardeners, I even broadcast dandelion seed around my place. Dandelions hadn’t yet arrived around my woodland home and since I love eating all parts of the plant and enjoy their brilliant, yellow color, it seemed like a no-brainer to give these ubiquitous, European immigrants a little help.

So if you like to experiment, go out and gather seeds. Broadcast some and save some for planting in spring. It costs nothing and the end results often more than justify the means. Good luck.

Tom Seymour of Waldo is a homeowner, gardener, forager, naturalist, Registered Maine Guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist and book author.

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Comments (2)
Posted by: Katherine Holland | Nov 08, 2020 07:57

From the invasive plant atlas (https://www.invasiveplantatlas.org/subject.html?sub=6368): 

Ecological Threat - Saponaria officinalis has widely naturalized and sometimes becomes a troublesome weed. It may persist for years about abandoned home sites and invades waste places, stream sides, fields and roadsides. Because of its saponin content, the species can be poisonous upon ingestion.



Posted by: Katherine Holland | Nov 08, 2020 07:57

From the invasive plant atlas (https://www.invasiveplantatlas.org/subject.html?sub=6368): 

Ecological Threat - Saponaria officinalis has widely naturalized and sometimes becomes a troublesome weed. It may persist for years about abandoned home sites and invades waste places, stream sides, fields and roadsides. Because of its saponin content, the species can be poisonous upon ingestion.



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