Saving Seeds Successfully: 5 Essential Tips

Learn how to save heirloom tomato seeds and other vegetable or flower seeds to plant in the future. Save money by gathering and saving seeds for next year’s garden. Get the easy tips for saving and storing seeds successfully. It’s easier than you might think!

The Seed Saving Backstory

Every summer, I tell myself I’m going to save the seeds from successful plants. Then, fall arrives, the rain hits, and saving seeds seems like an unrealistic fantasy. It’s tough to get motivated to muck around outside when everything is so soggy. This year will be different! At least, that’s what I’ve vowed to myself. Now, I’m sharing that vow with you, so I’d better follow through.

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Tip 1: Seed Selection

The seeds I like to save are usually the seeds from flowers. Saving seeds from marigolds, cosmos and sunflowers is usually successful. If I catch them soon enough, I like to save foxglove seeds. Seeds from dill scatter naturally in our garden, so I don’t save those, although I could if I wanted to. I had never tried to save seeds from tomatoes before, but a conversation I had recently with a master gardener encouraged me to give it a try.

Tip 2: Harvesting and Saving Seeds from Plants

I usually only save seeds from plants which will have enough time to sprout from seed and produce a flower, fruit, or vegetable. To gather marigold and cosmos seeds, I just pull the seeds out of the flower head. Dry weather is nice, but when that’s not a possibility, I gather the flower heads and bring them inside to dry before harvesting the seeds. Two other types of flower seeds that are easy to save are hollyhock seeds and poppy seeds.

Hollyhock seeds are easy to harvest. Just pluck the seed pod from the stem of the plant and remove the seeds. The seeds are distinctive and easy to store.

saving hollyhock seeds
The hollyhock seed pod and seeds

Poppy seeds are a little more work to harvest. The seed pod has a little cap on it. Once the pod is dry, the cap can be picked off. If the seed pod is held upside down over a paper towel or cloth, the tiny seeds are easy to see and collect.

saving poppy seeds
The poppy seed pod and seeds

Sunflower seeds are fun for kids to harvest, as they pick apart the giant heads of the sunflowers. Foxgloves require a bit more planning. The seeds are so tiny, I like to put a paper bag over the spent blooms and shake the seeds into the bag. One thing I am looking forward to saving this year are my scarlet runner bean seeds. They’re a beautiful dark pinkish-purple!

saving seeds scarlet runner beans
Scarlet runner bean seeds (It’s tough to capture the lovely color.)

Harvesting seeds from tomatoes is entirely different. I would not have even attempted it were it not for a conversation I had with a friend who happens to be a master gardener. (She isn’t fond of that term, by the way. In her opinion, it implies the master gardener knows everything about gardening, which isn’t the case.) Anyway, my friend made harvesting tomato seeds seem so easy, I decided to give it a try.

Tip 3: Separating Tricky Tomato Seeds

I had a few ripe tomatoes (not many), and some had been in the refrigerator. I selected one tomato from the fridge and one freshly picked from the garden. In a side-by-side test, I cut each tomato in half. I took out the seeds in their pulp, put the seeds from the refrigerated tomato in one jelly jar and the seeds from the garden-fresh tomato in another. Filling each jar about half full of water, I set them on the counter to see what would happen.

saving seeds tomato seeds in water
The tomato seeds and pulp at the beginning of the experiment

Sure enough, a few days later, the pulp had risen to the top, just as my friend had said it would.

saving seeds tomato seeds end result
Most of the tomato seeds sank to the bottom, separating from the pulp.

The good seeds were lying at the bottom of both jars. I skimmed off the pulp, then drained the water through a fine mesh strainer. I kept the seeds from the refrigerated tomato separate from the other tomato seeds, and set them carefully on a paper towel to dry.

Tip 4: Making Sure the Seeds Are Dry

In western Oregon’s damp climate, making sure seeds are dry can be a challenge. It’s especially tough to dry seeds when everything outside is so wet and soggy. For the purpose of this blog post, though, I made myself go out into the garden in the rain. I slogged around and collected marigold and cosmos seeds. I’m afraid the sunflowers I planted didn’t mature in time to produce blooms. They were plagued by garden pests and had to be replanted three times! That’s another story, though. This is what I brought in from the garden on that dark and rainy day.

saving seeds cosmos flower heads
These cosmos flower heads need to dry out a bit.
saving seeds marigold flower heads
These marigold seeds just begging to be saved.

Tip 5: Storing Seeds

Once they had a chance to dry out a little bit, I gathered the marigold, cosmos, scarlet runner bean and tomato seeds. My friend who had given me the advice about separating tomato seeds didn’t get around to telling me about storing them. To learn about this, I turned to the University of Minnesota Extension Service. They have an excellent web page about saving seeds. Of particular interest to me was the section about seed storage, and I learned some quick facts.

According to the web page, seeds may be stored in glass jars or paper packets, labeled, of course. Silica gel (available at craft stores) folded into a tissue may be added to absorb moisture, but I don’t have any of that. I do have powdered milk, which may also be folded into a tissue and used for the same purpose.

Keep the seeds stored at temperatures between 32 and 41 degrees. If you have extra refrigerator space, the fridge is an ideal environment for seed storage. When spring rolls around, you’ll have some special seeds to plant.

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What Are Your Favorite Seeds to Save?

What about you, my gardening friends from far and near? Do you have a favorite seeds to save? I save the seeds from plants I am able to grow fairly easily. Maybe there are special plants you grow well in your area which are different from the plants grown in my area. I’d love to know about them, as well as any additional seed-saving tips you may have.

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14 thoughts on “Saving Seeds Successfully: 5 Essential Tips”

  1. Really good tips. I have been meaning to start saving seeds to I can cut down on the cost of gardening and yet every year I have failed to do so. It’s a bit too late for me this year, as the garden has been cleared out, but I will make an effort next year to save as many seeds as I can.

    • Sarah,

      Don’t feel badly. This is the first time in a long time I have actually saved seeds. The last time I saved them, I forgot about most of them and forgot to plant them! This time, I hope I do better. Thanks for your comment, and good luck with all of your gardening endeavors.


  2. I’m not a gardener, but you make this seem simple. Great info!

    • Paige,

      I’m glad you thought my post made seed saving seem easy. It really is! Thanks for taking the time to comment, even if you’re not a gardener. I appreciate your kind words.


  3. What an interesting post, I confess I am not a gardener but we have had some amazing sunflowers in front of my bungalow this year, I am going to see what I can salvage.

    Like you I would never have imagined you could save tomato seeds, I would love to hear how these turn out.

    • Rachael,

      Oh, I wish my sunflowers would have bloomed! The nice thing about sunflowers is that their seeds are easy to save. I’ll plant the tomato seeds next spring and see what happens! Thanks so much for your comment, and happy seed saving!


  4. Wonderful tips! Pinning this for later and also sharing with my parents. They love this kind of stuff!

    • Jillian,

      Thanks for pinning and commenting! I’m glad you think your parents will enjoy the post. I appreciate your kind words.


  5. Thanks for sharing the tomato seed trick! I’m so excited to try it! Also, good to know that there’s another reason to keep silica gel packets. Apparently they’re also good for your dashboard in the winter months. 🥶

    • Melissa,

      Yes! I think I just threw away a silica packet the other day. I’m going to have to remember to start saving them. I didn’t know about the dashboard tip. Thanks for sharing, and thank you for commenting. Have fun trying the tomato seed trick!


  6. You make it look so simple! Love the trick to get the tomato seeds separated from the pulp. I’d love to start a garden but I’m intimidated. I’m not very good with house plants. But, I’m taking notes… Thanks for sharing your tips.

    • Ana,

      I’m horrible with houseplants. They have to thrive on neglect to survive. I do better with a vegetable garden because I have more time in the summer to tend to it. I encourage you to start a garden, even if you just plant a few things. I never know what is going to do well from year to year, so I plant a variety. Maybe plant something you like to eat? If you give it a go, I’d love to know what you decide to try. Thanks so much for your positive words.


      • Same here… I’m just horrible at houseplants (I even managed to send a snake plant to it’s demise). But my garden grows like crazy as long as I keep the bugs & weeds away.

        I love to {try to} save okra, tomato, all kinds of cucurbits. I didn’t even know I could save marigolds! I’m gonna try it!

        • Nikki,

          I’m so glad you got some new ideas. Just this past weekend I saved the seeds from hollyhocks, which I had never tried before. We’ll see how it goes after I plant them in the spring. Thanks for commenting, and good luck with all of your seed-saving endeavors!



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