Saving seeds from Black Eyed Susan (or any Rudbeckia) is easy and economical. My method for harvesting the seeds is different from all others, as it removes nearly 100% of the chaff, leaving pure live seed!
How to save Black Eyed Susan Seeds:
- Remove seed heads when the blooms have faded and turned brown.
- Dry the seed heads in a paper bag. For about a week.
- Separate the Chaff.
- Knock the seeds off of the seed head using my patented 2-step method.
- Store the seeds.
The seeds will remain viable for a few years, with the viability decreasing a bit each year. Store them in a sealed plastic container / baggy once completely dry and store in a cool dry location.
Process to save and harvest Black Eyed Susan Seeds
1 – Find some plants
This may seem like an obvious step, but locating and positively identifying your flowers is the most important step. You don’t want to grow the wrong plant……….
Once you have identified some plants, if they are in the wild then they are most likely true native species, or cultivars.
However, if you are going to save seeds from a neighbor’s strange colored “Black-Eyed Susan” then you should be aware that the plant is a hybrid, or not the plant you think it is. Hybrid seeds will grow a different flower. Additionally, cultivars and hybrids aren’t always ‘attractive’ to pollinators.
2 – Collect seed heads
A few weeks after the flowers have bloomed, seeds will form. I generally return and start checking about a month after blooming.
After the seed head is starting to turn brown / dry out you can harvest the Rudbeckia Seed Heads. You should cut the seed head off either a couple of inches (5 cm) below the seed head. Or, carefully hold the seed head and cut just below it. Place these into a paper bag.
You should allow the seed heads to fully dry out before harvesting, or allow the seeds themselves to dry for a week after you have separated the seed.
3 – Remove chaff from the seed head
Here is where my process for saving Black Eyed Susan seeds is the BEST! As you will know by now, the disc or cone of the seed head is just black and smooth. It would take a long time to just pluck all the black stuff from the seed head by hand. Furthermore, the black stuff that comes out is about 50% chaff and 50% seed. So…………..
Get a container that is at least 6” diameter by 6” tall, like an old plastic coffee can. Fill the container between 25-50% full of seed heads. Then, SHAKE IT!
After about 10-20 seconds of shaking most of the chaff and some of the seed will be released.
Dump the contents through a strainer onto a paper plate.
The contents on the plate will be a mixture of chaff and seed. Roughly 70-80% chaff and 20% seed. So, not worthless, but not the most desirable. This seed/chaff mix can be used for direct sowing on disturbed areas, or over seeding of a meadow.
Remove the seed heads from the strainer, set aside for reuse later……
***Secret note – Rudbeckia Seed Heads hold their seed MUCH tighter than most other species. Even though we’ve shaken the heck out of them, they still hold a lot of live seed. In the next step we will extract that seed!
4 – Remove Seed from Seed Head
Now, here is where my process is the BEST. Take the seed heads that you’ve already shaken up, and put them back into the plastic container. Then add some small, heavy and hard objects to the plastic container. I use a 3/8 bolt, washer, and nut.
You could use a rock, or some large coins even. But, the main point is that you’ve already removed most of the chaff. So, putting the seed heads back into the plastic container with these hard objects will result in pure seed once they’ve been shaken up!
Shake the contents again, making sure to hold the light tight. After 30 seconds of vigorous, variable shaking, dump the contents through the kitchen strainer again, onto a clean paper plate. The result should be 95% pure live seed!
5 – Store the seed
I store my Echinacea seed in random plastic containers or jars. Plastic baggies or zip-lock bags work well too. In my experience, the seed will be viable for several years after harvest. But in each passing year the percentage of seed that will sprout decreases a bit.
Also, I made a video describing the process a while back on Youtube. I’ve linked to the video below, so you can see the whole process from start to finish in action.
Want to learn the best ways to germinate Black Eyed Susan? We wrote a detailed guide on how to grow Rudbeckia from seed below answering any/all questions (stratification, planting depths, etc).
Also, you may want to view our comprehensive video on Black Eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta.
What plants does this process work on?
The seed saving method described above will work on just about any member of the Rudbeckia genus. This would include the following common named flowers:
- Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia Hirta)
- Brown Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia Triloba)
- Sweet Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia Subtemosa)
- Perennial Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia Fulgida) / Goldstrum
Why you should save your own seed
Black Eyed Susans are beautiful native plants with high wild life value. And any gardener with a hint of do-it-yourself ethos in them should save seeds from Rudbeckia to propagate more plants! One single Black Eyed Susan plant can yield 1000 or more seeds depending on the available number of blooms in a growing season.
Your only competition for harvesting the seed is the birds, particularly gold finches who love to land on the seed heads and pick out the seeds. You can then grow as many plants as you want, or your garden can handle for basically no money!
Black Eyed Susans typically cost between $10-$20 in a garden center. Well, by saving your own seed you can propagate hundreds of plants for little to no money.
I generally grow 10-20 plants per year and it doesn’t cost me anything. I’ve shared them with family and friends, as it is a great way to increase the number of native plants. People are very open to natives once they find out they can get them for free from me
Why you shouldn’t save seeds from Hybrids
If the plant is a hybrid, then the seed produced may either not be viable, or will germinate some other flower. That is because hybrids are produced by cross pollinating two different species of plants.
Most often the seeds from a hybrid will either be sterile or produce one of the parent plants. So, if you are ‘borrowing’ some seed from a neighbor, be sure to get an actual ID on the plant before you save the seeds.
And before you go…
You may want to check out our comprehensive guide on saving flower seeds! I collect a lot of my seed from the wild, as that is the cheapest way to get seed. It also ensures I am growing plants that are well adapted for my local ecosystem. Check it out for some more tips!
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