How to harvest Echinacea coneflower seeds

Starting in mid-August, coneflowers like purple coneflower (Echinacea) will move into seed production. The flower petals will turn black and fall off. Stems will also turn black and become brittle. The color of the cone portion of the plant changes from burnt orange to black. When all three of these events occur, it’s time to harvest coneflower seeds.

Snip the blackened stem about 8 to 12 inches down from the cone. Pull off any leaves or petals that remain. The cones need time to dry and drop seeds. You can assist this process by placing the stem and cones in a paper bag or wrap the cone end loosely with a paper towel or newspaper. Hang the bagged cones and stems upside-down in a warm (room temperature) dry place. When using a paper bag, you can periodically shake the bag to help seeds to loosen and fall as well as to hear if any have fallen.

I waited until early October to harvest the cone below. Notice the black tips have fallen off, leaving just the coneflower seeds, which are about 1/4 inch long.

 
Hanging time

The time it takes for the cone heads to dry indoors will vary depending on how humid it is. Expect two to three weeks. You may need to pull some seeds from the cone.

If desired, you can leave the cones on the coneflower plant to dry outdoors. Drawbacks to drying the seeds outdoors on the flower stem include losing seeds to birds and seeds falling (or floating on the breeze) to self-plant.
 
Additional dry time

Dump the seeds onto a paper towel or newspaper to dry for 3 days. What you will have left is seed with chaff (seed covering). For most of us, telling the difference between the seeds and chaff is difficult. As long as you are not selling seeds by weight, the best thing to do is to save both the seed and the chaff.

Storing the seed

Store the dried seeds and chaff in a sealed plastic bag or container in the freezer until spring. Cast the seeds in the prepared garden in the spring and then lightly pat down. Keep the soil moist

Tip from Mother Nature

Taking a tip from Mother Nature, you can also snap off the cones in the fall that dried on the plant and toss them into an area of the garden where you want more plants to grow. And if your current garden is full enough with coneflower, be sure to pop the cones before they have time to mature and drop to self-seed.