Even though I’ve grown a garden every year for a long time, last season was the first time I tried to save seeds from any of my favorite flowers or vegetables. It always seemed like a hassle, and it was easier to buy new seeds. However, last year I set a goal to save at least a few varieties of seeds, especially from my favorite flowers such as zinnias.
Zinnias were one of the best performers in my garden last year, so it made sense to start there. It turns out that harvesting seeds from the old flowers isn’t difficult.
To harvest seeds from zinnia flowers, cut the blooms from the plant when they are brown and brittle, remove the petals, and break apart the center to collect the seeds. Spread the seeds out to dry for a couple of days, then store them in a paper bag or envelope in a cool, dark place.
Zinnias are such cheerful, easy-to-grow flowers that it’s a shame to let their seeds go to waste. Saving the seeds from the flowers is pretty straightforward. Here’s what I’ve learned.
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Five steps to save seeds from zinnia flowers
- The first step is to wait entirely for flower heads to dry on the plant. The flowers will turn brown, and the petals should feel brittle and crispy. This is when you can cut the flower from the stalk. Be sure to diligently label each variety since they may look similar once dried.
- Put the dry flowers on a screen or mesh drying rack to allow airflow and even drying. It can take up to a week for the seeds to dry thoroughly. Alternatively, you can hang the plants upside down in a cool, dry area to finish drying.
- When seed heads are finally thoroughly dried, remove the petals from the flowerhead. Have a paper plate or clean container ready to catch the loose seeds. Break apart the center of the flower so you can collect the small, arrow-shaped seeds. You can remove the leftover petals from the pile of seeds if you want, but there’s no need to be too picky.
- Spread the seeds out and air dry for a couple of days. This step is crucial because it will help prevent the seeds from rotting while in storage.
- Once dry, store the seeds in a paper bag or envelope. Separate and label individual varieties. Place bags or envelopes of seed into a container with a secure lid and store them in a cool dark place.
- Seeds should remain viable for up to 5 years when appropriately processed.
Proper storage will be vital for you if you live in a hot or humid (or both!) climate. When I lived in South Carolina, I lost a batch of leftover seeds due to improper storage through the summer, when the temperature and humidity were high.
You can put a sachet of rice or old packets of desiccant with your seeds to help reduce the humidity, then put the bag in a dark cupboard to keep the temperature low.
A few tricks will ensure the seed you save will produce healthy flowers, featuring characteristics true to their parent plants. Read on to find out how to guarantee a bountiful crop of beautiful blooms for next season.
Two tips for saving the best seeds
Even though saving zinnia seeds isn’t hard, these two tips will increase your chances of being as successful as possible and limiting the need to ever buy zinnia seeds again!
Select Healthy Blooms
It’s critical to seek out the biggest and best blossoms for propagating. Seeds from the healthiest flowers will have high germination rates and lead to vigorous growth and blooming.
Mildew and mold can easily infect seeds. Do not attempt to save any seed that may have come in contact with a fungal disease. The plants from these seeds won’t be as healthy, and you wouldn’t want any disease to spread throughout your garden.
Prevent cross-pollination for exact copies
Unless specific efforts are made, zinnia flowers will cross-pollinate when growing multiple varieties. Cross-pollination means the pollen from one flower will travel to another and fertilize the seed.
The resulting plant may be a hybrid of the two varieties and not look like an exact copy of the flower you saved seeds from. This variation is common when you save seeds from a double flower. The offspring will likely be a single or semi-double flower instead of a double.
Hybridization is a natural occurrence and not necessarily a bad thing. It can lead to a more resilient plant through the exchange of genetics. However, some gardeners may want their next generation of zinnias to look exactly like the parent flowers. If this is you, there is a way to accomplish this.
- Choose a zinnia plant that is producing the flowers you love the most. Then watch for a flower bud to develop, and before it opens all the way, cover the bud with a fine mesh bag.
- Covering the flower bud will prevent any pollinator from transferring pollen from one flower or variety to another. Leave the cover on for the duration of the season. Luckily, just a few flowerheads should produce enough seed to plant your garden the following year, so you can still get plenty of blooms from your favorite plant.
- Once the flower has bloomed and passed its peak, wait for it to dry out, then follow the steps above to save the seeds. Presto, an exact copy of the parent plant!
Plant next year’s crop
The best part of seed saving is that you’ll be well prepared and ready to plant all your favorite zinnias when next spring rolls around.
Zinnias are quite easy to grow, typically produce abundant blooms, and will undoubtedly beautify any garden space. Follow these simple steps to establish a new crop with your collected seeds.
The most straightforward way to start your seeds is by directly sowing into your garden bed. When soil reaches a constant daytime temperature of 70 degrees, you can plant seeds ¼ inch deep. Plant in rows and space the plants according to your specific variety. After germination, carefully thin seedlings to promote the growth of the healthiest sprouts.
You can also start seeds indoors to get a head start on the season. About six weeks before the final frost, sow the seeds in soil blocks or seed trays. Once all risk of frost has passed, transplant the seedling into the garden. Don’t forget to harden off your seedlings first!
You can read about that process here and how to guarantee your seedlings thrive in their new home: 7 Ways To Minimize Transplant Shock In Seedlings.
Well-drained soil with added compost will provide the ideal growing space for your zinnias.
Maintaining even moisture throughout the soil is especially important during germination, but even when mature zinnias like regular water. Zinnias need about an inch of water per week. Avoid over-watering, as this increases the chances of your flowers developing powdery mildew.
Access to plenty of direct sunlight will provide the energy required to produce full and constant blossoms for cutting or to enjoy right in your garden.
It is also important to maintain and manipulate your zinnias throughout the season. To encourage bushy plants with plenty of blossoms, pinch out the leading stem of young plants and deadhead spent blooms. Constantly harvesting zinnias as cut flowers will also effectively produce a steady supply of blooms.
If it’s tall flowers you’re after, let the leader grow. Be sure to stake or give some form of support to these towering blossoms. Get some ideas for staking your zinnias in this article, 8 Ways To Stop Your Zinnias From Falling Over.
Most varieties of zinnias will produce blooms for about two months. By making multiple plantings, you can ensure that you’ll enjoy blossoms throughout the entire season. This method is especially effective in regions with extended growing seasons and is known as succession sowing.
When the flowers are all spent for the year, collect the seeds to start the process all over again!
Why choose zinnias? Here are three reasons
There are more than a handful of reasons to be enthusiastic about growing zinnias. Zinnias are the perfect minimalist flower. They are easy to maintain, don’t consume much water, or require much fertilizer or pesticides. Zinnias are a fantastic all-natural addition to any garden.
1. A huge variety of colors, shapes, and heights
First of all, there are countless zinnia varieties available. Flowers with various styles, contours, shapes, and brilliant colors exist. You can find zinnias that resemble daisies, pom-poms, dahlias, or even cactus style with rolled petals.
No matter your favorite color, chances are there’s a zinnia to suit your fancy. From lime green to deep orange and burgundy red, you can create a custom color palette for your garden.
2. Easy to grow
Not to mention, zinnias are quite easy to grow from seed. A little patience during the germination period is all that’s required. Once they take off, you can expect an abundance of blooms with minimal effort!
A little deadheading will go a long way in prolonging the blooming period and keeping your zinnias looking their best. But other than that, they’re practically maintenance-free!
Zinnias also grow well in containers, so you can still enjoy these beautiful blooms even if you don’t have a lot of space.
3. Perfect for cutting and pollinators
One of the most significant reasons to grow zinnias is that they are lovely cut flowers. They are stunning as cut flowers in arrangements, adding vibrance to any bouquet. Zinnias have strong stems that can support the weight of their blooms, and they’re known to last quite a while in a vase, from 1-2 weeks.
And if you grow them for pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, you’ll be happy to know that zinnias are an excellent source of nectar. Sit back and admire the butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds they attract as they flit from flower to flower to feed.
Keep learning about zinnias
For even more about this amazing flower, be sure to check out these articles with tips for growing your best flowers: