hand separating seeds from seed pods in a bowl

Separating Seeds From Seed Pods

Some seeds need to be separated from the flowers or pods by winnowing, or shaking and sifting out the seed.

©Bob Farley

Bob Farley


Understand Different Types of Seeds

To determine the best way to harvest seeds from garden herbs, flowers, or vegetables, it is helpful first to understand types of seeds and the varying dispersal strategies your plants possess. Depending on natural conditions and circumstances, plants have adapted over time to rely on wind, water, or animals to distribute their seeds far and wide. Dispersal methods are meant to ensure success in reproducing the next generation. By collecting and sowing seeds of your own garden, you can match a plant’s natural process, interrupt or speed up that process, and manage germination. 

Pro Tip

Click through these images to see plants with seeds dispersed by wind, animals or water.

Step 1

dried coneflower seed head on plant in fall

Dried Seed Head on Coneflower Plant

Each spike of the cone-shaped head of this echinacea bloom contains a seed that could become a new plant. Left to dry on the plant through fall, it can now be harvested for seed-saving.

Photo by: Bob Farley

Bob Farley

Allow Plants to Go to Seed

We’ve all heard snipping the blooms on basil plants will keep the plants from becoming leggy, and deadheading blooms of sweet peas, zinnias, coneflowers and black-eyed Susans will give us re-bloom. Towards the end of the growing season, though, allow plenty of time before first frost for select plants to go to seed if you wish to collect and harvest seeds for the next growing season.

Step 2

bean pods in a brown paper envelope

Saving Legume Pods and Seeds

Beans and other legume pods will twist, dry, crack and expel seeds. Let them dry first to harvest and save the seeds.

Photo by: Bob Farley

Bob Farley

Remove Seed Heads, Pods, or Capsules

On a warm and dry day, clip seed heads, pods or capsules and place into properly labeled (name, date and location) paper bags or envelopes.

Pro Tip

Paper allows moisture to evaporate, discouraging mold.

Step 3

Harvest Seeds

You must separate seed from filaments, capsules, or pods. To detach fly-away filaments, place seed heads in a paper bag with a few pebbles. Shake the bag. Peel open the bag to let the filaments fly away, pick out the pebbles, and you’ll be left with the seeds. For capsules and pods, when dry, pinch, roll, or pry open to remove seeds, then screen to separate seeds from remnants of capsules. For pulp-encased seeds, allow fruits and vegetables to fully ripen on the plant. Research the best method for harvesting wet seeds from particular plants. Some (including tomatoes) should be fermented to remove germination-inhibiting substances or to control growth of diseases. Artificial fermentation mimics the natural process of fermentation that occurs when the fruit is eaten by an animal or rots on the ground.

Step 4

upcycled spice jars used for seed storage

Seeds Stored in Spice Jars

Upcycled glass spice jars make good storage containers for harvested seeds that need to be stored indoors. You can make stick-on labels for each saved seed collection.

Photo by: Bob Farley

Bob Farley

Store Seeds

Carefully drying, sorting and storing seeds will help to ensure germination and growth of healthy plants when the next season rolls around. Again, it is important to mimic natural processes. Perennial wildflowers can be sown in the fall when they would naturally fall to the ground, germinate and over-winter in the garden. Some seeds will need to be stored in a refrigerator to match winter conditions. And some will just need to be stored in a dry, cool spot.

Pro Tip

All plants are unique, and methods for collecting and harvesting, as well as preparations for planting should be researched for best practices.