How to Start Garden Plants From Last Year's Seeds

Overview

Saving the seeds of your best plants is a good idea. By doing so, you're basically getting new plants for free the following year. Keep in mind, though, that hybrid plants may not grow true to the parent plant but can revert back to an earlier version. Perennials and bulbs--yes, you can save seeds from bulbs--will not flower much, if at all, the first year they're planted.

Save the Seeds

Step 1

Choose seeds from a variety of plants. Pick the seed pods when they're ripe and fully packed. The pod will probably turn beige or brown and become dry. Larkspur, delphiniums and snapdragons are good choices for saving seed pods. So are sweet peas. Roses have a swollen area behind the flower that becomes the seed pod.

Step 2

Pick daisy-like flowers, such as zinnias and cosmos, after the petals have dried. The seeds are at the end of each petal attached to the center. Snip off the dried flower.

Step 3

Save the seeds in envelopes you have labeled. Take a photo of the plant in bloom and tape it to the envelope.

Test the Seeds' Germination

Step 1

Select 10 seeds of each variety. If the seeds are small, place them on a paper towel. If they are large like cucumber, squash or sunflower seeds, place them directly in a container with a lid. Spray the paper towel and seeds until the towel is saturated. Put warm water in the container to cover the seeds completely. Put the towel in a zipper baggie. Put the lid on the container. Label the containers with the type of seed the containers contain. Place in a warm, dark place.

Step 2

Check every few days to see if any seeds have germinated. Look for a fuzzy white tendril coming out of the seed. That's the root. If the seed hasn't germinated, add fresh water, cover and replace in the warm, dark spot. Once the first seeds have germinated, keep them wet for two more days.

Step 3

Count how many seeds have germinated and compute the percentage. For example, if six of the 10 seeds have germinated, that's a 60 percent germination rate. You will have to plant 40 percent more seeds to get your plant yield than you would have to plant with a batch of seeds that provided a 100 percent germination rate.

Plant the Seeds

Step 1

Select a location that is similar to that of the parent plants. If they grew in full sun, plant the seeds in full sun. Dig the soil to a depth of 12 inches. Add any necessary soil amendments such as gypsum for alkaline soil or sand and peat for clay soils.

Step 2

Rake the soil level after you've removed any rocks or roots.

Step 3

Plant the seeds. How close depends on the germination rate. If normally the seeds would be planted 6 inches apart but only 50 percent of them germinated, then you have to plant twice as many seeds, 3 inches apart. Transplant the seedlings that are too close together to fill any gaps. How deep to plant the seeds depends on the type of plant you're planting. A good rule of thumb is to plant the seed as deep as it is big. Tiny seeds like lettuce seeds, for instance, only need a dusting of soil for coverage.

Tips and Warnings

  • If none of the seeds have germinated after two weeks, the batch isn't good.

Things You'll Need

  • Seeds
  • Paper towels
  • Containers with lids
  • Water
  • Shovel
  • Soil amendments
  • Rake

References

  • "Burpee Complete Gardener"; Allan Armitage et al; 1995

Who Can Help

  • National Gardening Association
Keywords: saving seeds, planting saved seeds, plant saved seeds

About this Author

Katie Rosehill holds an MBA from Arizona State University. She began her writing career soon after college and has written website content and e-books. Her articles have appeared on GardenGuides.com, eHow, and GolfLinks. Favorite topics include personal finance - that MBA does come in handy sometimes - weddings and gardening.