The flowering season may be coming to an end but there is still abundance in the garden. This is the time to collect seeds, propagate and divide.
October is the time to harvest a different sort of crop: seeds, cuttings and divided plants to fill the garden with colour next year. Here’s how to go about it...
Collect your own seeds
Set off with a brown paper bag, a pair of scissors and a skip in your step. If you want to bulk up stocks of a favourite plant or ensure new supplies of an annual, now’s the time to collect their seeds. Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea), love-in-a-mist (nigella damascena), cosmos (cosmos bipinnatus) and honesty (lunaria annua) are ideal for beginners and will easily store and germinate the following spring. However, there are many other annuals as well as perennials, biennials, alpines, ornamental grasses, vegetables, herbs and some trees and shrubs that can all be grown from seed that you’ve collected.
1 Choose your plants carefully
Go for strong, healthy ones as they’re likely to have good- quality seed. However, be aware if they’re hybrids (specially bred plants that are unlikely to have the same qualities as the parent plant) rather than species, as the plant won’t “come true” from seed. In the case of hybrids, either buy new plants the following year or be prepared for the collected seeds to produce something completely different from this year’s plants.
2 Collect the seeds
Once you’ve decided which plants you’re saving seed from, the trick is to collect it just before it has dispersed. It’s a bit of a waiting game, but once the seed head has ripened and changed colour (from green to brown, black or red) and is dry and crisp, it’s time to spring into action. Pick individual seed heads and use separate paper bags for each species or, if they’ll come away easily, place a paper bag over the seed head and gently shake.
3 Dry the seeds
Once you’ve gathered all the seeds you want, lay them out on a warm windowsill or a greenhouse bench – you can even find a spot in the airing cupboard. You need to give them time to dry out so you can get to the seed more easily. Clean away the ‘chaff’ or casing until you’re left with just the seed. Check to see which seeds you’ve collected and if they need to be sown straight away. Hellebores, for example, can be stored to sow next spring when the weather warms up.
4 Transfer your seeds into individual paper packets and label them
You’ll be surprised how satisfying this is. Keep them in an airtight container and, if you have any sachets of silica gel from new shoes or bags, place a couple in with the seeds to absorb excess moisture, which would otherwise cause the seeds to rot. If not, add a handful or two of rice to the container and find a spot for the container in the fridge.