Don't bother collecting seeds from hybrid plants
Q. How can I save seeds from some of my favorite plants in the garden to use for next year?
A. Humans throughout history have been saving seeds to grow plants they find appealing. There are some things to know about the plants you hope to collect seeds from before you do it.
You need to find out how the plant you have gets pollinated. Flowering plants need to be pollinated to produce seeds. Also you want to make sure the plants you save seeds from are healthy and perform well.
First, check the plant tag from the nursery. If your plant is a hybrid, you are better off skipping trying to save seeds. Plant breeders manually pollinate specific parent plants with desirable traits to achieve offspring with those traits. These types of plants do not produce true-to-type seeds for next year in your garden.
If the tag says heirloom or does not mention the pollination type, your plants are usually good ones to collect seeds from. They are most likely standard varieties, which means you should get the same type of plant from the seeds they produce.
One caveat is cross-pollinated plants with the same species, which can produce odd offspring. For instance, if you plant your summer squash next to your pumpkins, you could get a strange result if you save the seeds from either or both plants. That is because they are varieties of the same species so they can pollinate each other's seed-producing flowers.
Once flower seeds are mature, you are ready to collect them. You can spread them out on a screen or newspaper to allow them to dry and to separate the chaff, or pod, from seeds. Store seeds in a cool, dry location in glass jars, envelopes or paper bags that you have marked with the name of the seed and the year collected.
Vegetable seeds can be collected when the veggies are overripe on the plant. Scoop out the seeds along with the pulp and put them both into water in a bowl or glass jar to allow the seeds to fall to the bottom. Strain out the seeds and dry and store them as you do the flower seeds.
You are on your way to next year's crop of lovely flowers and delicious vegetables!
-- Nancy Degnan
• Provided by Master Gardeners through the Master Gardener Answer Desk, Friendship Park Conservatory, Des Plaines, and University of Illinois Extension, North Cook Branch Office, Arlington Heights. Call (847) 298-3502 on Wednesdays or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit web.extension.illinois.edu/mg.