Need advice on bringing zinnias in for seeds before frost

christie_sw_mo(Z6)October 17, 2011

Thanks to the birds, I've collected very few zinnia seeds this year and now they're predicting frost for three nights this week. They're tall so I think it would just break them off if I try to cover them so I thought I might try bringing some in to hopefully finish. In hindsight, I should have netted some to keep the birds away but I didn't get around to it.

How successful do you think it would be if I just cut some and put them in a vase of water for awhile? Any advice?

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I think tomorrow will be the last frost-free day for my zinnias. I have been saving green seeds and taking zinnia cuttings. It's probably not feasible for you to take zinnia cuttings, but you could pull some petals to see if they have viable green seeds attached. This picture gives you some idea of which petals have viable green seeds attached, and which ones don't.

As you can see, the petals don't have to turn brown to have viable seeds attached. Save the fat green seeds and discard the empty ones. Bring the green seeds indoors and spread them out on some surface to dry out for a couple of weeks. Then you can pull the seeds off of the petals and store the seeds.

I save both brown heads and green seeds, but I actually prefer the green seed method. Brown heads are susceptible to water damage in rainy weather. Wet brown seeds can actually start to sprout in the zinnia head, which of course kills the seed. But green seeds in the head aren't susceptible to water damage, because their seed coat is still living and water proof. And picking greenseeds as they become available gives the birds less chance at them.

I have been picking individual greenseeds for the last couple of months. That leaves the blooms on the plant to have time to mature more greenseeds and to produce pollen for crossing with other blooms.

Of course, now, with a killing frost staring us in the face, it is no longer necessary to keep the blooms on the plants.

I don't hold much hope for maturing your seedheads by putting the branches of zinnia plants in a vase of water, although that might buy you a few days of time to search for green seeds indoors. Good luck. Incidentally, I had some success scaring seed-eating birds with those little reflective toy pinwheels. And I did use several home-made "hair nets" to physically keep the birds away from some of my choicer zinnia heads.


    Bookmark   October 17, 2011 at 9:46PM
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Thanks Zenman - I'll see what I can find today.
I usually don't have so many birds. This year I had flocks of what looks like house sparrows hanging around in a nearby shrub row. They've been carefully getting every single seed from my zinnias before they're even dry.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2011 at 7:06AM
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Hi Christie,

Hope you find some good zinnia seeds. Here in this part of rural Kansas I have had problems with various sparrows and finches which have developed a taste for zinnia seeds, even the more mature green seeds, like your birds also ate. I plan to make a lot more of the zinnia nets for use next year.

I solved the problem of our Kansas winds blowing the nets off, by using a safety pin to tuck in the net at the bottom.


    Bookmark   October 18, 2011 at 11:49AM
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Plant something the birds really like and they'll leave your Zinnias alone.....maybe. I have Sunflowers growing around my Zinnias, and they MUCH prefer them over the Z's. I know that vegetable and herb gardeners do this. I think they call it a "trap" crop.

I've always been curious if one can collect "green" seeds and they will continue to ripen after they're removed. Now I know you can do this with Zinnias, are there other annuals you can do this with, ZM?


    Bookmark   October 18, 2011 at 8:56PM
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I collected a lot of seeds yesterday and most look fertile so if I just didn't get them too early, I should have plenty of zinnias next summer. I just collected from the flowers that were starting to brown a bit at the tips and let the others go.

I might try the sunflowers but I'll have to plant birdseed. If I plant named varieties, I would mad at the birds for stealing those seeds.

Did you make the net or buy it Zenman? I used netting last year just gathered around the flowers and then put a twisty around it but it was kind of hard to gather it and keep all the edges in. I like your way better.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 9:15AM
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"I've always been curious if one can collect "green" seeds and they will continue to ripen after they're removed. Now I know you can do this with Zinnias, are there other annuals you can do this with, ZM? "

Good question. I don't know. I suspect there are, but zinnias are the only plant that I have used the green seed technique with. Originally I tried using green seeds as a way to hurry up the growth of a second generation of zinnias. I saved several weeks by saving green seeds and planting them immediately. I found that in order to get green seeds to come up quickly, you have to split or otherwise open the living waterproof seedcoat, as shown in this picture.

As is shown in that picture, there are several ways to open the green seedcoat enough to get rapid germination. If you plant a greenseed without opening the seedcoat, it takes a couple of weeks or more for the coat to die and become water permeable, after which time the seed germinates, still saving several weeks over letting the seedhead become brown before saving brown seeds and quickly planting them for a second generation of zinnias. Then I tried drying the greenseeds and saving them and planting them next year, and that worked too. So using green zinnia seeds has been doubly useful for me. But I haven't tried that technique with any other annuals.


    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 11:32PM
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"Did you make the net or buy it Zenman?"

I have been making the zinnia nets myself. I bought several yards of black netting at a fabric store and some black yarn. The color black does a better job of not "standing out" in the garden.

I use a large needle to loosely weave the yarn as a quick way to join the netting. My yarn "stitches" are one half to three quarters of an inch long. I just alternate from the front to the back side. It is a very simple stitch.

Next year I may experiment with using my serger to close the net edges. I think I need to get some black woolly nylon for that, and I need to re-read my serger manual to figure out how to thread the thing. My old Pfaff serger is not a self threading model, and threading it is fairly complicated. It mounts as many as five spools of thread, although I probably won't need that many threads for zinnia nets. Incidentally, some current serger models mount as many as 8 spools of thread, and they self-thread. It would probably be easier to use my wife's Pfaff sewing machine to do a zig zag stitch, but I think the serger stitch might work better with that open netting fabric. However, hand sewing the nets with the yarn goes fairly rapidly, too.

(not associated with any product or vendor mentioned or linked)

    Bookmark   October 20, 2011 at 12:41AM
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Nifty, thrifty idea, ZM! Couldn't you just glue it instead?


    Bookmark   October 20, 2011 at 7:04AM
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I came across a link that says to lay strips of tissue paper under tulle for support when sewing on a machine, then you just tear off the tissue paper. Sounds like it would work.

Not sure there would be enough there to use glue.
I tried duct tape once to attach two large pieces of tulle together and it could have been a comedy skit. Didn't go well at all. lol The duct tape was sticking where it shouldn't and I didn't have a big flat piece like I envisioned when I was done. I was trying to make a cover for a little cherry tree in my yard to keep the birds away.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2011 at 9:39AM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

I save old nylons and cut them in sections. Then I tie the open ends or put rubber bands around them and slip those over the blooms to protect them from the birds.


    Bookmark   October 20, 2011 at 5:32PM
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"I save old nylons and cut them in sections..."

Thanks for that tip. It could be helpful for some people. I have a bunch of old nylon hose for use in the garden, but I prefer to use the more open tulle netting because it lets in more light and airflow. And you can see through it better. I have used the nylons for making slings to support trellis-grown melons, and the strength and flexibility of the nylons are suitable for the melon slings.

I have a lot more tulle netting than nylons, so it is just as well that I prefer the netting to the nylons for protecting blooms. The tulle netting has also kept pollen eating bees from disturbing my favorite breeder zinnias.

However, your scheme should work just fine for protecting blooms from birds.


    Bookmark   October 20, 2011 at 10:30PM
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"Couldn't you just glue it instead?"

I tried several different kinds of glue, including a hot melt glue gun, and I didn't like the results of any glue approach that I tried.

I also tried fusing the nylon tulle with an extra hot iron, and that formed a rather stiff bond that tore apart rather easily. The glue gun was a stringy mess, and the resulting zinnia net weighed a lot because of its heavy load of glue gun glue.

If I had a high energy laser, I think I could fuse the nylon nets together. But I don't have such a laser. A small blow torch could work, except for the smell. I'll do some more experiments this Winter on zinnia net-making techniques.


    Bookmark   October 20, 2011 at 10:57PM
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"I tried duct tape once to attach two large pieces of tulle together and it could have been a comedy skit."

I considered some of that tape that melts when ironed, but couldn't find any. Just as well. I think I would have wound up with melted tape all over the iron because of the openness of the tulle netting. I tried some double-sided Scotch tape, but it didn't stick tight enough.

The tissue paper tip may come in handy when using my serger with the netting.


    Bookmark   October 20, 2011 at 11:11PM
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