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Fall Garden Tips: September Edition

Seedy Ideas for Autumn Gardeners

The Mary Comber Miles Indigenous Garden volunteer group believes in life-long learning. As one member said, “The joy of this lovely small group is that no one is an expert gardener, but we all share what we know with each other.” Lions Bay residents interested in joining in this initiative are welcome.

Seed Saving and Storing: The Ultimate Dormancy Package

Seed Collection

Seed saving can be a satisfying way to expand your own garden at no cost and share your fall bounty with your friends and neighbours. Here are a few hints we've gathered online:

  • Collect the oldest and seediest blossoms you can find and cut off any remaining petals. Bring the seed heads indoors to a dry place that is room temperature. Leave them to dry thoroughly for at least a few weeks. Then pull the seeds from the broadest part of the seedhead where you usually find the largest, most mature seeds that will have the best chance at success. You can throw the smaller seeds into your compost heap or back in the garden where they might give you a thrill by popping up next spring.

  • Easy flower seeds to dry are Cosmos, Zinnia, and Echinacea.

  • A suggestion for saving tomato seeds is to dry the clean seeds on coffee filters. They stick to the paper but come off easily when spritzed with water.

Seed Storage

Dill Seeds. Photo by Aseedtolife, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Once you’ve collected and fully dried the seeds, to ensure that they sprout reliably they must be stored in air-tight containers. Seeds ideally need both dry and cold storage, but dry is more important than cold. In 'Six Good and Bad Places to Store Your Seeds', Bob Wildfong reminds us that basements, fridges and heated garages are not good for seed storage but airtight containers and main floor closets are well-suited to preserving seeds. He explains that because seeds have a living plant inside with a small amount of seed nutrient, a warm and moist environment will cause a seed to begin sprouting too early. They will use up their food stores too quickly and have nothing left when they are planted in the spring. However, dry and cold conditions send them into dormancy, like hibernating animals, ready to emerge when the weather is ideal for germination.

Seeds to Plant in the Fall

To sprout in the spring some seeds, including indigenous species from temperate climates like ours, require a cold treatment over winter called 'stratification'. Seed stratification is the process in which seed dormancy is broken to promote germination. Seed stratification succeeds if it mimics the precise conditions present when the seeds break dormancy in nature. Discovering each seed type’s germination requirements is a fascinating exploration of Mother Nature’s infinite complexity.

Some of the plants that need stratification are native Milkweed, Butterfly Bush, Catmint, Perennial Sweet Pea, Rudbeckia (Black-Eyed Susan), Sedum, Hen-and-Chicks, Lavender and Verbena).

Monarch butterfly. Photo by Paolo Costa Baldi. (GFDL/CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Promoting native perennial Milkweed is essential for the survival of Monarch butterflies, a species in steep decline, because Milkweed is the only plant that their caterpillars will eat. Growing the type of Milkweed that is native to our region is an inexpensive way to promote Monarch butterfly habitat.

Milkweed is one of the plants indigenous to British Columbia that requires the freezing and thawing temperatures that our winters provide before it will germinate.

Fall is the time to plant Milkweed for germination the following spring. Seeds should be planted by inserting them about one inch into the soil in a sunny area with well-drained soil.

Check out more about seed saving on the website Seeds of Diversity. This organization is a group of seed savers who protect Canada's seed biodiversity by growing and sharing seeds with others through their seed library and by keeping vulnerable varieties alive and in cultivation for future generations.

An excellent guide to all types of plant propagation, including seed saving, is The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds: 322 Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits, Flowers, Trees, and Shrubs by Robert E. Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough, which is also available at the West Vancouver Memorial Library.

Keep your eye on The Watershed for more gardening tips from the Mary Comber Miles Indigenous Garden volunteers. Have thoughts or questions to share? Leave a comment below or email

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