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Saving seeds main image
Saving seeds is a wonderful way to get free plants! We look at how to save seeds from a number of popular garden plants.

Helpful information

Timing: Varies by plant (see below for timings by plant)

Where to do it: Outdoors

Garden space: Large garden, small garden, allotment, greenhouse, balcony

  • This provides gentle exercise and may help build dexterity and coordination
  • Saving seeds can be a quiet, calm activity that allows you to spend time getting close to nature
  • It can be hugely satisfying to grow new plants from existing ones, not to mention cost effective!
Seeds saved from sunflowers
Seeds saved from sunflowers. Photo credit Devi Puspita Amartha Yahya, Unsplash

With gardening, the word 'propagation' means the process of reproducing or multiplying plants using existing ones. Once you start trying it, propagation is a really magical way to get extra plants in your garden for free. It's also a great way to create more plants to gift!

There are a number of ways plants can be propagated. These include:

In this guide, we look at how to save seeds from a number of popular plants in the garden.

There are good reasons to try saving seeds from your plants:

  1. Becoming more self-sufficient. If you can grow new plants from your own seeds, there is less need to get seeds - or plants - from elsewhere.
  2. Continuing well loved and successful plants. You may have a particular food produce variety or flower you love. By saving its seeds, you can re-grow something genetically very similar.
  3. Cost. Savings seeds from your own plants is a completely free way to get more plants!
  4. Learning more about your plants. When you save seeds, you can then sow them and watch them grow. This gives an amazing chance to observe the complete lifecycle of a plant.

Growing from seed costs a lot less than larger plants. Seeds can quickly establish into the plants you would be paying a lot more for in garden stores.

Scott, Gardening Club member

These are some of the more popular plants to save seeds from, in A to Z order.

Make it easier

Some seeds are small and a bit fiddly. If you have any challenges with dexterity and grip, you may prefer saving seeds from plants with larger seeds, such as sunflowers and peas.

Chillies

Red chilli peppers
Red chilli peppers

Timing: Once the individual chilli pod is ripe (or a bit over-ripe). Generally mid-summer into autumn

To save seeds from chilli peppers, you need to extract them from inside the fruit.

  • Carefully cut open a chilli pod (It's advisable to wear gloves when doing this)
  • Remove and wash the seeds. You can do this using a very fine-mesh sieve, or in a small bowl of water
  • Spread the seeds on kitchen towel and leave to dry in a warm place for a few days
  • The seeds are ready to be stored once they break, rather than bend, when tested with a fingernail

Propagation was my initial interest in gardening. I'm very keen on growing chillies.

Shalini, home gardener

Chives

Purple chive flowers
Purple chive flowers

Timing: After flowering, once seed heads have developed. Generally in early summer

Chive flowers produce masses of tiny seeds. These dry quickly on the plant. To save seeds:

  • Check the plant regularly once seed heads develop. As soon as the seeds turn black, snip off entire seed heads
  • Place the seed heads in a paper bag, or large paper envelope
  • Leave somewhere warm and dry in the house for a couple of days
  • Rub of shake the seed heads so the seeds fall to the bottom of the bag or envelope
  • The seeds are now ready to store

Lettuce

A head of lettuce
A head of lettuce

Timing: Once the plant has gone to seed / bolted. Can be done most of the year round

When you see a lettuce that has gone to seed, it can be a bit disappointing as that's the end of its time providing food. It is, however, a great opportunity to save seed from the plant. To do this:

  • Watch the plant carefully after it flowers
  • You will see the flowers turn into seeds heads. These dry out and turn brown. This process tends to take a couple of weeks
  • Once you have spotted dried seed heads, shake the fluffy seeds into a bag or bucket
  • Use a sieve to separate the seeds from the chaff (outer casing). You may need to rub the seeds a bit to do this
  • Dry and store the seeds

Gardening tip

Some varieties of lettuce cross-pollinate. This means if you are growing multiple varieties and save seeds, you might not know exactly what you are saving. You could keep varieties you are saving seeds from a good distance (8 metres or more) from other varieties.

Peas

Pea pods
Pea pods

Timing: Once the pea pod has turned brown and dried out on the plant. Generally early summer into autumn

Letting some pea pods dry out is a great way to save seeds:

  • Gently shake dried out pea pods still on the plant. Remove them when they begin to rattle
  • Shell and remove the peas
  • Dry them for a few days in a warm place
  • Store somewhere cool and dry

Sunflowers

Sunflower head and seeds
A finished sunflower and seeds

Timing: After it has finished flowering and the seeds have had time to fatten. Generally late summer into early autumn.

One sunflower can be the source of a huge number of seeds! To save the seeds:

  • Watch carefully after your plant has finished flowering. The head will go droopy and turn brown. If you peek closely at the flower head, you will be able to spot the seeds. Wait until they look fairly fat before saving
  • Cut the complete head off the plant
  • Place it somewhere warm and dry for a week or two to dry out. You could hang it upside down in a shed or garage
  • Once its dried, remove the seeds. You can do this by rubbing your thumb / finger across the seeds so they pop out. Tapping the seed head might also work
  • Store in a cool, dry place

Tomatoes

Tomatoes ripening on the vine
Tomatoes ripening on the vine

Timing: Once the fruit is perfectly ripe. Generally mid summer into autumn

Tomatoes are one of the most popular plants for saving seeds. You could even try with supermarket plants if you are not currently growing your own. To save seeds:

  • Choose a perfectly ripe tomato
  • Squeeze the seeds and flesh into a bowl. You could use a spoon to scoop them out if preferred
  • Leave somewhere warm for a few days. The mixture will begin to ferment
  • Pour the mixture into a fine mesh sieve and rinse thoroughly
  • Spread the seeds in a single layer on some kitchen towel. Leave them somewhere warm and dry for up to a week
  • The seeds are now ready to store
Sunflower seeds saved in an envelope
Sunflower seeds saved in an envelope

You've spent time carefully saving seeds. Now you want to make sure they are stored properly, so they have the best chance of success.

Envelopes are ideal for saving seeds. You can write the variety name and date saved on the front.

Make it easier

If you have any sight loss, use bright coloured envelopes to save seeds in. This may make it easier to distinguish the seeds from the envelope compared to the common brown envelopes.

Keep your envelopes in an airtight container somewhere cool and dry. A cool cupboard is a good place. If you have them, adding a couple of sachets of dried silica gel to the container can help keep out moisture.

How long do stored seeds last?

You should be able to successfully sow your seed for between two five years. The exact time can depend on the crop. If you have old seeds, you can always give them a go. Somtimes, seeds beyond their use by date will surprise you by still growing!

Share your tips

Do you have a plant you have great success saving seeds from? Send us an email and let us know. We always love to hear other people's tips!

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