Because me trying to make bread would be an abject failure, I created my own pandemic obsession last year. I decided to harvest the seeds from my cute native plant gardens.
Now I live on a small lot, but I’ve made due shrinking the lawn little by little and adding native plants each year where I think I now have a respectable little backyard oasis. Normally I leave the seeds on my plants for the birds to feed on over winter, but late October/early November hit and maybe it was pre-election jitters, but I went to town harvesting the seeds from my plants. It wasn’t entirely a sporadic decision. I had some thoughts about what to do with the Wild Senna plants that were taking over with baby plants all summer long. They produce a LOT of seed and explode off the plant sending possible Wild Senna babies everywhere. I felt slightly bad for the birds taking away some of their winter food, but my neighbor feeds the bird over the winter so I calmed my mind and started in on my seed heads.
There was Rattlesnake Master, Butterfly Weed, Bee Balm, Aster, Cup Plant, Wild Senna, Blazing Star and, of course, Common Milkweed. Our district does a Common Milkweed pod collection in the Fall so even though I have my own in my gardens, I am never without Common Milkweed seeds. They show up on my desk from people who donate them months after our collection is done. Sometimes I wonder what normal people get on their desks.
Anyway, harvesting the seeds, I found, is a timely process. My favorites were the Common Milkweed and Butterfly Weed. They split open nicely and I was able to shake out or scrape the seeds out of the pod with little trouble. Aster was a major pain and there is more dead flower head in my collection than seed, I am sure of it. Bee Balm was tricky. The seed is so very small that you need to clip off the seed heads into a container. When turned over, the teeny seeds just fall out so you want to be sure you contain them while clipping them off. I spent hours sitting at my picnic table outside harvesting seeds. Not a bad way to spend your time. I also binged watched some Netflix on cold days, harvesting the Wild Senna over a big bowl while sitting on my couch.
Some seeds need stratification (cold snap to get the seed to open up and germinate), some don’t. There is a plethora of information online about seeds. I found the USDA plant information sheets helpful. They are organized by latin name so just search for the common name if you don’t know the latin name.
What the heck do I do with these seeds once I harvest them?
You can always cast your seeds in soil in the Fall and hope they come up the next Spring. That hasn't worked well for me. I tend to forget where I put them and I am sure the birds eat them (which is fine by me). Last year a friend told me about Milk Jug Greenhouses so after a quick google search I found roughly 4,386 videos on these. I counted. They are super easy and a great way to get plants started. Basically, you are putting seeds out in January in these greenhouses so they can go thru stratification and then grow when the weather warms up. And they are protected in the milk jug. Directions are in the photos. Cat is optional.
And if this doesn’t work, we will never speak of this again. But I have faith it will as I’ve seen it done. I hope to have an update on my new baby plants come March/April.
You've got questions. We've got answers.
- I don’t want to mess with that and just want to buy my plants
- I want to become a Master Rain Gardener
- I need money to install a native plant or rain garden
- What is this about a Common Milkweed pod collection?
- Do you have any info on how to plant and care for a tree?
- What is that cat’s name in the photos? Jensen George Roskilly
- How much does he weigh? 19lbs - he's big boned.
Blog author: Amy Roskilly, Conservation Education & Communication Manager