Seed Saving

For the last couple of days, I've been going around the garden with little envelopes grabbing dried seed heads. Back in the olden days, I worked in the office for a plant conservatory, and one of my many jobs there was to prepare seeds to be sent out to members of the seed exchange we were members of. Mostly I handled cold-hardy cactus (we had a large collection) and seeds from the considerable tree collection that graced the grounds, but there were a few odd ones that were fun. For each seed, I made an envelope with the botanical information, collection data, and cultivation notes where they were provided by the head gardener.

Seed collection

So for my own seed collection I was being a bit more precise than perhaps your average person would be about the varieties: I recorded the botanical name, common name if that was used more often ("Lupine" versus "Lupinus"), some small notes on cultivation, and the date of collection (so I know if the seeds are likely to be viable). I really should get a better reference book, but I really can't justify the cost, given the availability of more detailed information on the internet.

The other thing I used to do as part of the seed exchange was clean seeds, and oh boy you cannot imagine how exciting that is. Some seeds are easy: lupines just sort of pop out of their shells and into the envelope. But some seeds, like nicotiana, are a pain in the butt because the plant itself is kind of sticky and the seeds are small, and you end up with little seeds everywhere.

So two days of seed collection and cleaning, and I'm almost done with what I'm collecting this year. Most of the plants are getting to self-sow for next year, but I did collect some of the excess. I will probably start some inside in case the self-sowed plants don't work out, and give some away. I'm trying to get out of the habit of storing seeds for more than a few months at a time.

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posted by ayse on 08/18/06


For years, I followed my husband around the world and would plant various things, dreaming of the day we would settle down -- he was in the Navy for 32-1/2 years, and I was there for 31-1/2.

Some years ago, I bought a little book, by Sunset, on plant propagation, but, in the past year, have lost it -- figure that, Ireland, Germany, Brazil, etc., and I never misplaced it, but, after twenty years in California, the little critter is gone.

Anyway, I need to know how to propagate an Italian cypress from the cone that grows on it, as well as from cuttings.

If you haven't guessed, by now, that I'm rather older than the rest of you, I am, but I'm still young inside and my greatest love is starting things from scratch... AND I finally don't have to leave what I've started.

We have a little over 5 acres here, in the foothills of the Sierras, and almost everything that is growing is from my plant pirating activities.

Please, if anyone can refer me to a book that will help me, I will be forever greatful!

My absolute, hands-down favourite book on plant propagation is Secrets of Plant Propagation by Lewis Hill. This site is seling it for $19; Amazon is probably cheaper. I bought mine ages and ages ago and have all kinds of little notes in it: I could never give it up now. I feel for your lost book. Funny how you can hold on to something for so long then as soon as it seems like you can't lose it... gone.

Another fun book on plant propagation is Pirating Plants by Peter Tobey. He talks about more difficult ways of getting plants, including transplanting mature trees (that have grown in stone fences!). A very amusing read. Unfortunately out of print but there are used copies around and interlibrary loan can get it for you, too.

Anyway, cypress is pretty hard to start from seed, easy to start with layering. If you have a bit of patience, I'm sure the seeds will work out for you. 5 acres in the Sierra foothills sounds pretty nice.

Note: We're getting pummeled with spam comments, so I've turned off the ability to use any HTML or include any links for the time being. Email with any issues.

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