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How to save seeds from vegetables and flowers

Saving seeds is a pretty straightforward process as long as you keep a few things in mind.

Planting seeds. Gardening on the windowsill. Young seedling growing in pot on windowsill, indoor.

Planting seeds. Gardening on the windowsill. Young seedling growing in pot on windowsill, indoor.

Yulia Naumenko/Getty Images

Whether you’ve just taken up gardening or have been growing your own vegetables and flowers for years, you’ve likely considered saving your own seeds from your crops. If you’ve spent any time researching heirloom seeds, you know that they exist because people lovingly and carefully saved and passed them on through generations. I find the practice of seed saving both inspiring and practical. I love the idea of preserving history as well as the satisfaction that comes with planting seeds that I know exactly where they came from.

Saving seeds is a pretty straightforward process as long as you keep a few things in mind.

First, only collect seeds from open-pollinated (by air or insect) varieties of vegetables and flowers. Try to minimize any cross-pollination which can happen if crops are planted too close together. Make sure seeds are mature before collecting them. Most vegetable seeds are mature when ripe or, in the case of beans and peas, when the pods begin to dry. Flower seeds can be collected after blooming is over and the petals have fallen. (I feel like this must be a country-western song).

How to save tomato and cucumber seeds

Tomato and cucumber seeds are surrounded by a clear gel-like substance. Use fermentation to extract the seeds from the gel. This can be an especially rancid-smelling process to consider doing it outside. 

First, spoon the gelled seed mass into a waterproof container – glass or plastic – with an equal part of water. Place the container out of direct sun but in a warm spot, and stir once a day.

After a couple days, viable seeds will sink and the bad ones will float along with mold and other debris. Something about this reminds me of the ill-advised witch-detection swimming test of the Middle Ages but, in this case, while the floating seeds are not possessed by the devil, they are not healthy seeds that will grow into a plant.

The good seeds will drop within five days, after which time, get rid of the gunky, moldy stuff floating around. Wash the good seeds (the ones that sank) in multiple changes of water. Lay them out in a single layer on a plate or screen, then place in a warm spot and allow to dry for about three weeks.

If you plan to save and dry lots of seeds, a hanging mesh drying rack is a great inexpensive option.

How to save seeds from peas and beans

Bean and pea seeds are the edible part of the vegetable so to save seeds from these plants, allow some pods to turn brown on the vine then pick and remove the seeds inside. Air dry by spreading them out in baskets or on screens and stirring once a day. After six weeks, they’ll be completely dry.

If you need to pull up your beans or peas before the pods have dried (because of frost or a freakish early snow storm), hang the vines (roots and all) upside down in a warm place such as the basement or a barn and allow the pods to turn brown slowly.

How to save watermelon and melon seeds

Remove the seeds and rinse off all the pulp using a strainer. Then spread them out on wax paper to dry for about a week, turning them over once a day. Store in an airtight container until ready to sow.

How to save seeds from lettuce and greens

Lettuce, greens, and radishes produce pods with seeds after they’ve flowered. Like beans and peas, you’ll get better results if you allow the pods to dry on the plant.

These vegetables like to make it a little more interesting though by drying from the ground up, a few pods at a time. If you’re not attentive, the dry pods can shatter, spreading their seeds all over the place. To prevent this, use paper bags, old nylons, or burlap (real or fake) to cover the seed heads to keep them from dropping their precious cargo. Alternatively, you can also pick the dry pods daily.

How to save seeds from flowers

Perennial Flowers

Harvest perennial flower seeds after they’ve bloomed and the petals have fallen. Simply cut off the flower head and remove the seeds onto wax paper. Let them dry for a week in a warm place out of direct sunlight. Then clean off any husks or pods. You can seal the dried seeds in an envelope (don’t forget to label), then place the envelopes in an airtight container in a cool, dark, dry place.

Black eyed Susans, sunflowers, blackberry lilies, coneflowers, and meadow rue are some of the easier flowers to collect seeds from.

Annual Flowers

Saving seeds from annual flowers follows the same practice as perennials: wait until they’ve bloomed and the petals have fallen, then dry for a week or two before sealing in an airtight container.

Marigolds, snapdragons, morning glories, and poppies are all pretty easy to collect seeds from.

Flowers that grow from bulbs

You can collect seeds from flowering bulbs and subsequently grow bulbs from seeds though the latter can be a lengthy process that takes patience (and merits its own, separate, article).

To collect the seeds from a flowering bulb, leave the flower head on the plant for several (three-ish) weeks after the petals have fallen. Dry and store them in the same way as any other flower seed.

An alternative method for saving seeds is to keep them in a fine, dry sand in a cool area (just make sure the seeds are bigger than the sand kernels so you can find them.

How to store saved seeds

Once dry, seeds should be stored in a dry container and placed in a cool, dry place. The operative word here being (obviously) “dry.”

If you have a zero-degree freezer, seeds can be stored there. 


Properly dried and stored seeds can remain viable for up to forty years, which, I think, is a pretty amazing thing.

Saving seeds is an act of preservation. It’s also a money-saving practice that helps promote genetic diversity in plants. Actively taking your crops through an entire growth cycle is a wonderful way to learn and teach about nature, especially if you have kids. Seed saving also makes you more self-reliant, something we may all need to be in these changing times.