Meet Mark Cullen

Canada's best known gardening personality, Mark Cullen believes that Canadians of all ages need to play more - preferably in the dirt. A best-selling author with over 400,000 books in print, Mark reaches over one million Canadians every week through various media outlets. He is Home Hardware's horticultural spokesperson and regularly contributes to various magazines, gardening shows and newsletters. With a familiar style that people can relate to, he delivers a message that is compelling, fun, informative and inspirational - all based on his organic approach to gardening. In his spare time Mark enjoys driving his Ford Model A - and of course he loves to garden.

Save money, save the planet: save seeds!

You planted them. You watered and nurtured them to maturity. Now, why not harvest them?

This is the best time of year to collect seeds from your favourite plants: clean them, sort them and save them for planting next year. For many of the plants in your garden, this is easy and great fun.

Annuals that will reproduce nicely from seed gathered from your garden include zinnias, many marigolds, portulaca (which self-sows at my place!), cosmos, 4 o’clock, euphorbia, some nicotiana, sunflowers and virtually all of the large seeded varieties that are not hybrids. The hybridized annuals that you planted this spring will not reproduce true in colour or growth habit to their parent plant. However, sometimes the results are interesting!

Vegetables that produce well from garden seed include beans, tomatoes, peas: most all ‘large seeded’ plants. The ‘hybrid rule’ mentioned above still applies.

My favourite perennials from garden seed include the native Echinacea, some rudbeckia, Russian Sage, Bee Balm (Monarda) and, once again, most of the large seeded plants that are not hybridized.

What to do:

1. Let them mature. The whole reason – the ONLY reason from the plants’ point of view – that a plant produces a bloom is to produce seed. And the only reason that it produces seed is to reproduce. It is a basic law of nature: plants, like animals, have an inherent need to multiply or, at least, to perpetuate the species.

2. Remove when dry. After the seed has dried (and before the birds eat it), remove the seed head (the finished blossom) from the plant and bring it indoors. Remove the seeds from the seed head or pod and place them on a screen or in a ceramic saucer. Do not use a paper towel as they will stick to it.

3. Place is a sunny window for 7 to 10 days.

4. Put the seed in an envelope, label it carefully (don’t skip this step or you will regret it next season…) and place in a tightly sealed jar.

5. Store in a cold cellar or in the veggie crisper in your fridge.

6. Most perennial seeds can be stored for a long time in the freezer. I do not recommend this for annual or vegetable seeds, though you can experiment with some and you may be surprised at the germination rate of the ‘frozen’ ones come spring.

How do you know when seed is ‘viable’ (will germinate)?

Place a few seeds in a glass of water and let stand over night. The seeds that are floating in the morning are the duds, the ones on the bottom of the glass are the viable ones. You can also do this experiment with pre-moistened paper towel by rolling the seeds up in the towel, keeping it wet for 7 to 10 days and unrolling it to see how many have germinated.

The ‘germination test’ is a good way of determining the % of seeds that will grow and therefore how densely you should sow them come late winter/early spring.

You can learn more at, and

Keep your knees dirty!