Baxter County Master Gardener Program • University of Arkansas System • Division of Agriculture • © 2013 BCMG
This is the time of year when the garden is winding down and you start thinking about what has worked well this year and what hasn't. Saving seeds is a great way to have more of what did well in your garden. Echinacea is one of my all-time favorite perennials because it's beautiful, easy to grow and an all-around tough plant.
Starting in mid-August, coneflowers like the purple coneflower (Echinacea) will move into seed production. The flower petals will turn black and fall off. Stems will also turn black and become brittle. The color of the cone portion of the plant changes from burnt orange to black. When all three of these events occur, it’s time to harvest coneflower seeds.
Snip the blackened stem about 8 to 12 inches down from the cone. Pull off any leaves or petals that remain. The cones need time to dry and drop seeds. You can help this process by placing the stem and cones in a paper bag or wrap the cone end loosely with a paper towel or newspaper. Hang the bagged cones and stems upside-down in a warm (room temperature) dry place. When using a paper bag, you can periodically shake the bag to help the seeds loosen and fall into the bag. What you will have left is seed with chaff (seed covering). For most of us, telling the difference between the seeds and chaff is difficult. The first year I saved the seeds of my plants and planted them in the spring and nothing germinated. Come to find out I had saved the chaff and not the seeds. Every day is a learning experience when you garden. The seeds are about 1/4 inch long and are cream or white in color; they are shown in a close-up in the picture below. Once the seeds are dry and sorted, store them in a paper envelope (nothing that is air-tight) in a cool, dark place.
If desired, you can leave the cones on the Echinacea plant to dry outdoors. The main drawback to drying the seeds outdoors on the flower stem are the Goldfinches. They love Echinacea seeds and will get to them before you have time to harvest, leaving you nothing to plant in the spring. I mention this because I know from experience. Enjoy your gardens, and save the seeds of plants you love to share and enjoy next year.
Submitted by: Tamara Carl
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