In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
December, 2004
Regional Report

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Zinnia seeds are easy to save, but seedlings you start from hybrid plants may or may not look like the parents.

Why Save Seeds?

There are personal and global reasons to save seeds. Choose the best seeds, treat them right, and you can count on their reliability for your garden.

Philosophically, it's a satisfying matter of closing the circle. You plant the seed, grow the plant, and harvest its seed. Gardeners have been selecting seed from the best of everything from amaranth to zinnias for centuries. To do so is to participate in this tradition of insuring plant quality. Your garden obviously benefits when you grow the best of well-adapted plants, but so does the species. Saving seeds is cheap, too, which appeals to my pocketbook and makes large projects more affordable.

What to Save?
So, why buy seed at all after the first time? Because not all seeds are viable and "true," especially when it comes to hybrid plants. Some are hard to harvest and store. There are inherent genetic differences in seed from hybrids, just as your eyes may not be the same color as your parents, so the plants you grow from these seeds may differ from the parent plant.

Furthermore, there are "new" seeds to try every year. As a general rule, saving open-pollinated seed works; saving hybrid seed does not. Most seed catalogs provide this information in their descriptions, and sometimes it is included on seed packs.

Tips for Success
Let flowers dry naturally for as long as possible before harvesting for seed. Go for browned -- almost split -- pods, but collect them before the seeds spill out or are flung far and wide. Break pods open or brush seeds onto newspaper, then pick out the seeds and discard everything else. In humid conditions like ours, it's also a good idea to let seeds dry for a day or two on a piece of window screen. Do this indoors, out of direct sunlight.

Store seed dry; plastic film canisters make good containers. Label them right away, and store in the refrigerator. Do not freeze seeds.


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