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How to Save Zinnia Seeds (The Easy Way)

How to Save Zinnia Seeds

Learn how to save zinnia seeds. Saving your own zinnia flower seeds will not only help you avoid possible seed shortages but it can also help you save money if you are addicted to growing zinnias (like I am).

Garden Lesson: Never Say NEVER…

Once upon a time, I would constantly tell my hubby that the vegetable garden was for vegetables ONLY. Once upon a time, I declared that I would never ever EVER spend money on annual flower seeds because “what’s the point spending money on something that only grows for one season and doesn’t produce food for our table…

Well, if there is one thing that my garden adventures has taught me it’s this: Never say NEVER. Gardening is a constant life lesson in adapting and also trying new things. 

One year, about 4-ish years ago, I had to spend 5 extra dollars at one of my favorite online seed companies in order to get free shipping. I had already gotten everything I needed for the vegetable garden, so I just impulsive-bought a few packets of zinnia seeds. And I instantly fell in love with zinnias.

I will never go back to a non-zinnia-filled vegetable garden. Why? Well, let me explain…

Why Zinnias Should Be in Your Vegetable Garden 

Here’s a few reasons why I think that zinnias belong in your vegetable garden:

1. Zinnia flowers attract pollinators & beneficial bugs to your garden.

Both bees and butterflies happily buzz around the zinnia flowers all the time. There are also countless other tiny pollinator bugs that love zinnias. And my zinnias are the #1 place where I find my garden preying mantis beauties (and lots of other beneficial bugs).

If you are struggling with attracting pollinators and good bugs to your garden, I highly recommend adding zinnias to draw them in. Read more about what plants to grow for attracting beneficial bugs here.

2. Zinnias are great filler-plants for your veggie garden to keep weeds under control.

Whenever I’m in ‘transition-mode’ in between my spring/summer/fall gardens, I love to sow zinnia seeds as a filler plant in the empty spaces. When nature sees an empty patch of soil, it likes to fill it up with something…mainly weeds.

Zinnias are quick and easy to grow, so they make the perfect (and pretty) cover crop wherever I have an empty section in the garden. So, for example, if my zucchini plants die from vine borer infestations, I can pull them out and immediately sow zinnia seeds in that empty garden spot until I’m ready to use that garden bed again. Read more tips on natural weed control here and learn about my other favorite summer cover crop (buckwheat) here.

Beans and Zinnias Grown Together
I LOVE growing zinnia flowers with my beans!

3. Zinnias are the perfect companion plant to bush beans.

I honestly find bush beans to be very ugly plants. They kinda flop all over the place, with the weight of the beans making them fall over easily. They also leave a TON of the soil around them empty and bare, which, as mentioned above, makes nature like to fill in the bare spots with weeds.

Fortunately, I found a beautiful solution to my ugly bean plants: I always plant zinnias and bush beans together. I’ll sow the beans first, and then when the plants are a few inches tall, I’ll sow zinnia seeds all around the bush bean plants as a pretty cover crop. I LOVE digging around in the beautiful zinnia flowers for my bean harvest.

4. Zinnias are edible.

Zinnia petals are edible and look very pretty in your summer salads, so that’s a fun way to tell your brain that zinnias deserve a place in your veggie garden (if you rationalize everything like my brain likes to do). They are edible, after all…

If you need more ideas for edible flowers that benefit your garden in other ways, check out my list of edible flowers for your vegetable garden.

5. They are a beautiful addition to your vegetable garden.

There are so many amazing benefits to gardening, and I firmly believe that one of them is that a garden, even a humble vegetable garden, is a place to unwind, ground yourself, and enjoy the beauty of nature.

I was so silly to think that a vegetable garden was only for practical purposes. A garden nourishes me in more ways than with healthy vegetables on my dinner plate. And in order to find that peace, serenity, and joy in my vegetable garden, it really helps if it’s pretty. Zinnia flowers are such delightful bright colors and they are pretty and hardy plants, that seem to flower non-stop all summer and all the way until the first frost.

You will NOT be disappointed by adding zinnia flowers to your vegetable garden.

A Brief Nerdy Deep Dive Into Seed-Saving…

Okay, let’s get some of the super-science-related stuff about seed-saving out of the way. If you want to save zinnia seeds and/or get particular colors or specific sizes, it is important to learn whether your zinnias are open-pollinated plants (heirlooms) or hybrids before you start seed-saving.

You will be able to learn more about your particular zinnias and if they are open-pollinated or hybrid by looking at their seed packet OR looking at the seed info online from the seed company you used to make your zinnia seed purchase.

If you didn’t save the seed packets, hopefully you purchased your seeds online (check out this awesome list of good-quality seed companies for inspiration), and you can find your old online receipt in your email inbox or, if absolutely necessary, by reaching out to the seed company for help remembering what you bought.

Open-pollinated (aka heirloom) plants must be used to have your best success rates for seed saving. You *might* be able to seed save from hybrids, but since hybrid plants are not true-to-form, you will risk things like: poor germination rates, growing not-zinnia-looking flowers from the seeds you save, etc. So for best results, make sure you use open-pollinated (aka heirloom) zinnia plants for your seed-saving adventures.

Also, if you want very specific qualities to your future zinnias (double-flowers, the same red color, etc.), you will have to do some extra steps in your zinnia-seed-saving adventures.

In order to get specific varieties of zinnias from your seed-saving you will need:

  1. An open-pollinated (heirloom/heritage) zinnia variety: hybrid zinnia seeds might still produce zinnias, but they will be random sizes and colors and not true to the version you originally planted. Only open-pollinated zinnia seeds have the possibility to give you true results like the plants they originated from.
  2. A way to avoid cross-pollination: zinnias can be cross-pollinated by insects from different zinnia varieties (creating, basically, a hybrid version). If you want true and specific zinnia varieties, you will need to figure out how to prevent cross-pollination.

There are a few ways to avoid cross-pollination issues: (Option #1): Plant one variety of zinnia ONLY per half-mile. This option only works if you have a large farm and no neighbors planting zinnias. (Option #2): This is more practical: put a small paper or cloth bag over some of the flower buds BEFORE they bloom (and hopefully leave plenty of the flower buds for your hungry pollinator friends and for you to admire) and keep the bag on until the flower is done blooming. The bag will prevent pollinators from getting to those flowers, so their sole purpose will be providing you with perfect true-to-form zinnia seeds.

I included this info to help any of you who want to have specific zinnia seeds. Personally, I don’t really bother with this special attention to saving zinnia seeds.

I’m not growing a flower farm, so I’m not super picky about the sizes and colors of my zinnias. I’m growing them for all the reasons mentioned in the above paragraph and I’m seed-saving my zinnias in order to save money on my new obsession with filling every possible space with zinnia flowers.

I prefer my very easy way to save zinnia seeds, which I’ll get to right now.

Saving Zinnia Flower Seeds

How to Save Zinnia Seeds (The EASY Way)

STEP ONE:

Stop deadheading your zinnias to allow the flowers to develop seeds. Leave the brown flowers on the plants so that the seeds can develop. Seeds are ready to harvest when the flower heads become dry and somewhat brittle.

Deadheading keeps the zinnia plants blooming all season. However, if you want to harvest zinnia seeds, you have to let the old flowers fade, turn brown and dry out on the plant so they can produce those precious seeds you will be planting next year.

Of course, you don’t have to stop ALL deadheading: you can deadhead some of the plants to keep having some beauty and simply select a few of your best looking plants for your seed saving adventures. For me, I usually wait to save seeds from my zinnias until the end of summer when everything is naturally starting to die back anyway. I just have to time it right so that they still have enough time to develop mature seeds before the first frost of the season.

No matter when you start focusing on seed saving from your zinnia flowers, you will have to deal with some ugliness in the garden as you wait for the flower heads to dry on your plants. It can make you wince a bit when you see the dying flowers, but I like to try to change my life perspective on things and try to find beauty in a fading garden.

Saving Zinnia Seeds
My red zinnia garden patch is fading and getting a bit ugly as I wait patiently to seed save from this patch.

STEP TWO:

When the flower has turned brown and dry, then cut it off just below the base of the head (no stem). You don’t have to wait for the head to dry out completely and turn entirely brown. If insects or birds are a problem or you wish to harvest a lot of seeds, you can cut the heads when you start seeing the petals fading and the center starts to dry out and separate.

Again, all of the color does not have to be gone, but the goal is to make sure that the seeds inside the head have turned brown, since that indicates that they are mature. Also keep in mind, that dried petals don’t always turn brown. They can retain some of the original color after the head has dried and still set good seeds.

Make sure you choose the healthiest and most robust flower heads. If the plants have issues with things like mildew, pest problems, or they were weakened by drought, then those particular flower heads will probably carry those same weaknesses. 

Even though there were still hints of red color in this flower head, the seeds are dried and it was ready to harvest for seed saving.

STEP THREE (Seed Saving Your Zinnia Flowers The EASY Way)

If you want a higher germination rate (aka more success) with your zinnia seeds, please skip this Step Three and scroll down to the next section for the longer-but-better option. I honestly prefer this easy way, but I have done seed saving both ways in the past.

Store your dried zinnia flower heads in a brown paper bag. Place the brown paper bag in a dark and dry location in your home. Rodents love eating seeds in the winter, so if you deal with lots of rodent issues, you might want to hang up your brown paper bag. I usually hang my bag in a spare closet in my home.

Moisture and mold will ruin your seeds, so try your best to give them a place in your home that is dry and has good air circulation. I use brown paper bags for this reason: it still provides the seeds with some air. You shouldn’t use a plastic bag, for example, because it can more easily trap moisture.

You can also simply spread the flower heads in a single layer in a shallow box or tray. The ultimate goal here is to keep them DRY. The issue I ran across with drying them in a tray was that if someone walked past the tray quickly, that brisk air motion made the seeds and flower heads scatter all over the place in my home. So if you use a tray or box, try to keep it somewhere out of the way so it won’t get tipped over and/or scatter seeds everywhere if someone walks past.

Let your zinnia flower heads dry for 1-4 weeks (until the seed heads are completely dry and crumbly).

Now here’s why this is the EASY way to dry your zinnia seeds: after a few weeks, check over the zinnia flower heads and make sure they are all completely dried out. Once they are all dried, simply store the entire dried flower heads until next flower season

I usually just leave the flower heads in the same brown paper bag and keep it somewhere dry, dark, and cool. Next spring, when it’s time to sow zinnia seeds, take a dried zinnia flower out of the bag and place it into your hand. Go to your chosen location in the garden and gently crumble the flower head over the soil. 

This easy way of saving zinnia seeds involves WAY less time and effort. However, it also means that when you scatter those flower head parts over the soil, you are also scattering the “waste” of the flower head (the chaff, petals, etc.), so keep that in mind if you are trying to be very particular about where your flower seeds are being sown.

Also, keep in mind that by leaving the seeds inside the flower heads, you run the risk of the seeds not all drying completely before storage, which means you might have less seed viability (aka germination rates). Despite these risks, I’ve got enough other gardening tasks to do in my garden in the fall season, so I like doing the easy (aka lazy) method of saving zinnia seeds so I can save some time.

A completely dried zinnia flower head that shows the seeds, petals, chaff, etc.

How to Save Zinnia Seeds (The Longer Option)

If you are more serious about your zinnia-seed-saving adventures and you want a higher success rate with the germination of your zinnia seeds, start with steps one and two above, and then start here for step three.

STEP THREE (The Longer Option For Seed Saving From Your Zinnia Flowers)

Start by storing your dried zinnia flower heads in a brown paper bag. Place the brown paper bag in a dark and dry location in your home. Rodents love eating seeds in the winter, so if you deal with lots of rodent issues, you might want to hang up your brown paper bag. I usually hang my bag in a spare closet in my home.

Moisture and mold will ruin your seeds, so try your best to give them a place in your home that is dry and has good air circulation. I use brown paper bags for this reason: it still provides the seeds with some air. If you use a plastic bag, for example, it can more easily trap moisture.

You can also simply spread the flower heads in a single layer in a shallow box or tray. The ultimate goal here is to keep them DRY. The issue I ran across with drying them in a tray was that if someone walked past the tray quickly, that brisk air motion made the seeds and flower heads scatter all over the place in my home. So if you use a tray or box, try to keep it somewhere out of the way so it won’t get tipped over and/or scatter seeds everywhere if someone walks past.

Let your zinnia flower heads dry for 1-4 weeks (until the seed heads are completely dry and crumbly).

After the zinnia flower heads are completely dried, it’s time to separate the seeds from the “waste” (aka petals, chaff, etc.). Put down some paper towels on a clean and flat surface where you are going to separate the seeds. Take a dried zinnia flower in your hand, and, over the paper towels (the paper towels are used simply to make it easier to spot the seeds and it also makes it easier to clean up afterwards), gently crumble the flower to break it apart.

Gather up the seeds from the crumbled flower. It should be fairly obvious which bits are seeds and which bits are NOT seeds. If you need some help here, the seeds kinda look arrow-shaped (but you can also do a simple google image search). Some of the seeds might still be attached to the flower head or the petal and you will want to gently separate them.

Discard the waste and keep the seeds. Now look over the seeds and only keep the ones that are completely dried and intact. If you want, you can spread these seeds out and let them air dry for a few more days (if you are still concerned that they aren’t dry enough yet).

This whole process takes some time, but it will provide you with only-seeds to sow in your next flowering season. Plus, you’ve only kept the best looking seeds, so you will have much better viability (germination) of your zinnia seeds.

Since this process takes time, you might want to do this activity on a rainy fall day or snowy winter day. Grab some hot chocolate, eat something pumpkin-y, play some music, and make it a lovely activity that helps you relax and slow down in these hectic modern times. It’s all about perspective…

Saving Zinnia Seeds

Tips for Storing Your Zinnia Seeds

Store your zinnia seeds in a dry, dark, and cool location. Make sure you label the container! You can buy (or make) seed envelopes for storing your seeds or store them in a mason jar or another airtight container.

If properly dried and stored, your zinnia seeds should be viable for 3-5 years.

You can find seeds at True Leaf Market.

Why You Should Save Zinnia Seeds

Once you become addicted to zinnia flowers like me, you’ll quickly start to wince every time you order new seeds. Zinnias can get expensive after a while…those little seed packets cost around $3.00 each, and most packets have between 10-50 seeds in them, depending on which types you purchase. 

Since I love scattering zinnias to fill the gaps, I go through plenty of zinnia seeds each season. So saving zinnia seeds makes financial sense. Not only will seed saving your zinnia seeds save you money, it will also help you feel less stress during seed-catalog season. Seed shortages have been frustrating since 2020. I used to traditionally buy my garden seeds around Christmas time, and now I’m buying them around Thanksgiving and even THAT’s a bit late for most of the seeds I want to buy. Ugh. 

One way to combat the seed shortages and growing popularity of gardening (which is awesome…except that it means more competition over buying my favorite seeds…) is with seed saving.

Fortunately, saving zinnia seeds is super easy. They are a great place to start if you’re a beginner to seed saving!

I hope my article here inspired you to grow zinnias all over your garden and yard and I hope it also inspired you to try your hand at seed saving your zinnia flowers. Once you get into seed saving, it becomes quite an enjoyable new garden habit. You won’t regret it!

More Gardening Tips:

How to Save Zinnia Seeds (The Easy Way)

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