Even as our gardens are winding down for the year, they’re preparing for the next. I love how this reminds me of what God has said: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Perennial plants – those that live for two or more years – are a gift that we often take for granted. How any plants can survive a winter like those we experience here in Ohio is miracle in and of itself. But annuals have a few tricks up their sleeves, too. They’re seldom a one and done sort of thing.

Most perennials and annuals will form seeds if their flowers are pollinated. Some hybrids are sterile however, meaning they won’t reproduce in this way. But even those that do are not guaranteed to produce the same color or form of the parent plant. In fact, they rarely do.

During the season, we often deadhead our plants by cutting off the spent blooms. This often stimulates the plant to produce more flowers. The reason a plant does this is because deadheading prevents it from completing its life cycle and it tries again. But at the end of the season, if you let the plants mature uninterrupted, the seeds that are produced can be saved to start new plants the following year.

As I walk through the garden, I look for dried flower heads that may hold those precious seeds. It’s important to allow the flowers to dry completely because it’s then that the seeds will have matured enough to be viable. Most seeds that are gathered too soon will not keep maturing. The plants need to be closely monitored for cutting seed heads at just the right time.

Seeds come in all shapes and sizes, but they must be allowed to dry completely before you store them. If they aren’t, they can develop mold from the excess moisture inside them, rendering them useless.

Once you’ve determined that the flower head have matured and dried sufficiently, you can collect them. Many seeds are easily shaken from their dead flowers, while others must be coaxed into release. Allow them to dry further, off the plant, for several more days, and then store them in a small envelope (preferably made of paper) and keep them in a cool, dry location until spring.

Some seeds germinate much better if they’re planted in the fall and are allowed to go through the process of cold moist stratification during winter. This freezing and thawing action softens or cracks tough seed coats, allowing for a higher germination rate. Examples of seeds that you can plant in the fall for the following spring are milkweed, morning glory, black-eyed Susans, columbine, coneflower, poppies and hardy geranium.

For best results, plant saved seeds within a year of when you collected them. While many seeds can be stored for several years and remain fairly viable, others must be used in a fresher state. Edamame is one that must be sown fresh or they often will not germinate.

Seed saving is an ancient practice and is an excellent and inexpensive way to continue growing those plants you like or want more of. An excellent resource for information about seed saving is “Starting & Saving Seeds: Grow the Perfect Vegetables, Fruits, Herbs, and Flowers for Your Garden,” by Julie Thompson-Adolf.