When to Stop Deadheading for Seed Collection

mary_maxAugust 5, 2013

I have been quite faithful this year to dead head and cut back etc. and wow it does pay off. :) But I now wonder if it is time to stop this procedure and let the various annuals perennials go to seed so I can collect for next year. When is it best for zone 5 to let things go to seed. Thanks so much.

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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hi Mary,

There's no one answer for that since they all bloom at different times, but whatever it is you want to get seed from, just be sure you leave enough flowers "in the end" to get seed from. So if they're blooming less and less, like perennials mostly do, stop while they're still producing enough flowers to get an adequate amount of seed--whatever you consider that to be. It'll be a little trial and error with the different plants to be sure you're getting "enough" seed for whatever you want to use it for. In some cases it pays, with perennials, to just let them go to seed from the very beginning one year, and then deadhead all summer the next couple years. In terms of "this year" I think you probably should stop deadheading most things pretty soon or they could possibly freeze before they have time to produce mature seed. Kind of hard to imagine a freeze when it's this hot, but then it IS Colorado! And if you don't wind up with seed from something you wanted this year---there's always next year!

Happy seed saving,

    Bookmark   August 6, 2013 at 1:14AM
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Thanks Skybird for you answer. It was very helpful! I appreciate you taking the time to explain this to me.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2013 at 10:46AM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Glad you found something you could use in that, Mary! If you haven't collected much seed before, here are a couple other things that might be helpful!

On some plants the seed can be very hard to find! There are a few things I've never been able to find seed on!

Some plants "shoot" their seed all over the place--before you even realize the seed is ripe! In that case, by the time you go looking odds are that it's already been "planted" for you and you'll find VERY little left "on the plant!" (Acanthus is a fine example of that! Sweet violets too, tho there's usually some seed left to collect on those!)

Not all plants produce VIABLE seed! Even tho you find "seed" on a plant, it could be something that's sterile so the "seed" will never germinate--since there's no "germ!" (Hybrid ornamental blue fescue is an example of a sterile plant!)

Some plants will produce "seed pods" but there won't be any seed inside! Last year I let my new sky-blue grape hyacinths ('Valerie Finnis') go to seed--they were REALLY ugly for a couple months!--and when it finally looked like the seed pods were ripe I collected them and didn't find seed in ANY of them! That was a real disappointment in that case, but since they multiply underground very easily I didn't even try again this year! ("Regular" grape hyacinths reseed all over the place--in addition to the bulbs multiplying!)

Any hybrid plants you collect seed from will very likely not come true from the seed you collected! In other words, the plants you start from seed will be somewhat to a lot different from the parent plant. Most hybrids grown from seed tend to revert back to whatever the dominant plant they were "crossed" with was, or they revert back to the simplest "straight species" of the plant--just depends on how the hybrid was developed. Bottom line is that with seeds from a hybrid you never know for sure what you're gonna get until they bloom! To get a hybrid plant that's true to the parent you need to either divide the original plant, successfully root cuttings from the parent plant, or use some other "vegetative propagation" method like "tissue culture," which is really a commercial thing done in sterile conditions and I suspect you're not gonna try that at home! Wikipedia has a really good article on vegetative propagation! Hybrid Oriental poppies can be started vegetatively from root cuttings to get a clone of the parent, and if you're ever interested in trying that let me know and I'll copy/paste my directions for you!

If you're interested in seed saving, you might want to check out some of the basic seed saving videos from the Webinars link I just posted. Seed Savers Exchange deals mostly with veggie seeds so I think that's what they show in the videos, but the principles are the same for any seed saving!

What it all gets down to in the end is that seed collecting and saving is a fun--and worthwhile--thing to do, but it's never a Sure Thing. You need to just keep Playing At It and see "what develops" (pun intended), and don't be disappointed if you don't find or don't get what you were hoping for! And it's always a good idea to "proof" the seed you collect on some damp paper towel in a baggie before you try to start it, or before you give it away to somebody. And if you're giving hybrid seed to somebody I highly recommend you let them know it's seed from a hybrid and that you can't guarantee what they might wind up with (two seeds collected from the same hybrid plant can be different when they're grown!) [That's how many hybrids are developed! By crossing a This with a That in "isolation" and then growing them to see what they get!]

Have fun playing with it, and once you get going come back and tell us all about your results!


Here is a link that might be useful: Vegetative Propagation

    Bookmark   August 6, 2013 at 12:13PM
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Thanks again for the info. How fun this is? What about the reed grass that I see a lot of around this area. Do you know if the seed viable? If so would this be the time to collect some?

    Bookmark   August 6, 2013 at 1:09PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

If it's 'Karl Foerster' feather reed grass (Calamagrostis - most likely one) you're asking about, it apparently is sterile. If you're wondering about something just google the name along with "sterile seed?" and you should find the answer for most things.

Purple fountain grass, Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' is sterile too! Sure wish you could start that one from seed since it's not hardy--and is very expensive to buy each year. I've been lucky enough so far to keep one going inside over winter for the last few years!

Don't know this for sure, but I suspect most of the hybrid ornamental grasses are sterile. You could click on "ornamental grass" after "plant type" on the Monrovia site and check some of the others out if there's any more you're interested in.

Have to go! Headin' out to get my oil changed! (Not mine! The oil in the car!)


Here is a link that might be useful: Monrovia - feather reed grass

    Bookmark   August 6, 2013 at 2:30PM
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