In October, David Coton is getting the garden prepared for the onset of colder weather but, at the same time, the arrival of spring bulbs in the garden centre is a reminder that you should also now be planning ahead for next year.
Cost conscious consumers can occasionally recoil from the price of seed packets. So much money for so few seeds, how can that be?
Of course there are many expensive processes that seed companies have to take into consideration when they bring their product to market.
However, the ordinary gardener can save themselves a bob or two by collecting their own seed.
It can also be a satisfying exercise, taking the seed from the plant, sowing and reaping the rewards during the following year.
When you see that the seeds have darkened and are ready to drop from a plant, wait for a dry day, arm yourself with a paper bag and get out into the garden to collect the ripest. Either pick them from the plant, cut off the seed head or shake the seed directly into the bag.Only collect from healthy pest free plants.
Native plant seeds can be sown immediately in gritty compost. These include Angelica, Foxglove, Sweet Cicely and Yarrow. Sow in seed compost using a 3in pot or in a seed tray and cover in a protective layer of grit before leaving outside in a sheltered position. Water sparingly if the compost dries out.
The cold and inclement winter conditions will then break down the protective seed covering and promote germination. If you want to appear knowledgeable, this is called 'stratification'.
To break the seeds dormancy you can also place them in your refrigerator for a month and then sow them when they start to sprout.
The resultant seedlings can then be potted on singly and planted out when they are large enough.
Many seeds don't require frost to germinate and will need to be stored until the spring. The list of these includes Cosmos, Lovage, Marigold and Sunflowers.
After collection, you can sift the seed heads to remove the chaff and leave only the seeds. Dry and store the seed in a cool and dark place. Use paper bags or food containers with a sachet of silica gel.
Some can be started off in a greenhouse during the early spring when they will appreciate only a little water in the morning. They can then be potted on in a similar fashion to native plants.
Note that seeds from hybrid plants may not be worth collecting, they will either not be viable or will not have the same properties as the specially bred parent plant.
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