Growing healthy plants and vegetables is every plant parent’s dream. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing our gardens filled with fragrant flowers and succulent vegetables. One way to ensure our gardens remain healthy and disease-free is to maintain seed purity.
This means ensuring the quality is high at the point of purchase and that cross-pollination or accidental mix-ups don’t occur on our watch!
Does seed purity matter?
Seed purity is important for gardeners who want to cultivate healthy, disease-free flowers and vegetable crops successfully. Purchasing or saving seeds with a high percentage of pure seed provides gardeners with the confidence that the seeds have a high germination rate and do not contain non-viable seeds or are mixed with the seeds of invasive plants and weeds.
Read on to discover how to maintain seed purity in the home garden resulting in high-quality flowers and vegetables that meet your green-thumbed heart’s desires!
Seed Purity in the Home Garden
Every gardener, whether a professional or beginner, is keen to grow only the best, robust flowers and vegetables in the neighborhood. This ultimately means the seed they use must be high-quality and free from disease and low germination issues.
What Is Meant By Seed Purity?
Seed purity is the percentage of seed within a selected seed batch. For example, if you bought a packet of seeds that stated the seed purity was 90%, this means 10% of the seed packet is made up of weed, chaff, or other crops.
Importance of Seed Purity
Good quality seed that isn’t contaminated with unviable seed or soil can increase your vegetable or flower yield by as much as 20%. In addition, your new plants (seedlings) are stronger, grow better, and are more resilient to pests and disease.
It also means your plants grow, develop and ripen at the correct rate. In the seed-producing world, fat, heavy, and mature seeds are considered better quality than their skinny counterparts!
How To Maintain Seed Purity
Using fresh, high-quality seeds when planting your tasty vegetables and flowers is important for plant health. Quality seed guarantees higher germination and stronger plants.
In contrast, impure seed batches containing inert substances such as stones, soil, or weeds typically have a slower germination rate.
The weak seedlings produced also grow with less vigor, taking longer to mature for harvesting. Use the below steps to ensure your seed harvest remains pure.
1. Limit the Number of Varieties
Seed contamination can occur by simply planting certain plants too close together. This is known as cross-pollination. Limiting the number of varieties you have growing together will prevent mother nature from happily mixing up your plant varieties.
A good rule of green thumb is to grow only one variety of plant species at a time.
2. Maintain Proper Distancing When Planting
Follow the recommended planting spacing for each variety. This will encourage growth and good plant health. If plants need to flower before harvesting, then the proper planting distance will stop disease and reduce the risk of producing sub-standard saved seeds.
3. Stagger Planting Times for Certain Crops
When growing plants of the same species, staggered planting methods can prevent cross-pollination of different varieties. First, you will need to determine the time it takes for each variety to mature, then plant these at the appropriate time intervals to prevent cross-pollination.
For example, when planting corn, plant each variety at 2-4 week intervals to avoid the varieties from mixing.
4. Hand Pollinate When Possible
Hand pollinating, while time-consuming, can be a lot of fun! It also helps avoid the risk of cross-pollination and maintains seed purity. Use clean hands and sterilized tools to collect the pollen and transfer it to the stigma.
5. Isolate Individual Plants or Rows
You can isolate and protect plants from potential cross-pollination by caging them with window screening or bagging them with muslin, paper bags, or cheesecloth. This prevents insects from visiting and aiding the pollination process.
But, of course, this also means you will need to hand-pollinate your plants unless the particular plant variety is capable of self-pollination.
6. Clean Seeds Before Storing
Once you have collected your seeds, clean any plant material and debris off them. If seeds are not cleaned properly, the attached plant material can cause them to develop fungal diseases and rot.
In addition, non-viable seeds and chaff should be removed by hand as these can harbor pests and mold. Finally, allow wet seeds to air dry completely before storing them in an airtight jar or bag.
7. Clearly Label All Seeds Before Storing
When saving seed, it’s important to label each packet or container clearly and precisely; this prevents mixing plant varieties and maintains seed purity in the future. Information on your seed label should detail the plant species, type, and seed collection date.
How To Store Seeds
Storing surplus seeds is a great way to become a more sustainable gardener. By saving seeds, you can grow your favorite plant varieties each season. One word of warning, though, saving poor-quality seeds will result in weak plants for the next growing season.
Therefore, purchasing your primary seeds from a reputable supplier is important. In addition, check the seed packet label for the percentage ‘pure seed’ before purchasing. The higher the percentage of pure seed, the better the seed quality.
- Collect and clean the seeds, removing debris, soil, and non-viable seed.
- Allow the seeds to air dry on a screen or cotton towel. Don’t try to speed up the process by placing them near radiators or in the oven. This can damage the seed and prevent it from germinating.
- Select a storage container for your seeds; this could be a glass jar with a lid, paper bag, or ziplock bag. The storage container you use should not allow moisture to enter or build up inside, as this can cause the seeds to rot or develop fungal diseases.
- To kill unwanted pests that may be lurking in your seed, place the seed container in the freezer for three days. Then remove any bugs that appear and the damaged seed they were hiding in!
- Seeds should be stored at 45-55 F with a humidity of 25%.
How Long Can You Store Seeds?
The method you choose for storing your seed will determine how long you can store them. For example, you can store viable seeds in the fridge for more than ten years if the temperature is kept at 5 degrees Celius.
However, you can also store your seeds in a plastic bag containing a damp mix of vermiculite or sand for up to several months.
Germination Test for Seeds
Doing a germination test is the only way to measure the viability of older seeds. This defines the success of your crops in the future. You can carry out your own germination test using the simple steps below.
- Place a damp piece of coffee filter paper on a plate and sprinkle a small number of seeds over it.
- Cover the plate with cling film or plastic wrap and keep it in a warm place, preferably indoors.
- Keep a note of the start date of the test.
- Ensure the seeds remain moist and regularly check to see if there are signs of germination.
- Note the date when you start to see signs of sprouting or germination. This will allow you to determine how long the seeds took to germinate.
- Germination times can vary depending on the plant; however, most viable seeds will sprout within two weeks.
- The more seeds that sprout, the higher the seed viability.
The first step to becoming a sustainable seed-saving gardener is ensuring the primary seed you purchase has a high seed purity percentage. Good seed only comes from good seed!
Maintaining the purity of your seeds will keep future plants strong and healthy and prevent your carrots from ending up in your Dahlia patch!
But more than simply preventing seed mixups, when you protect the purity of your seed, it means future plants won’t be weakened by accidental cross-pollination resulting in disease and poor flower or vegetable yields.