Saving seeds is a fun and economical way to produce plants for the next year. There are concerns however when saving seeds about seed-borne diseases. Seed-borne diseases are pathogens such as bacteria, fungus, or viruses that can live on the surface or interior of the seed and have the potential to spread the disease to the next season’s crop. Seed-borne disease infection varies widely by crop, disease, and location.
The health of your seeds begins with the plants that produce them. Seed producing plants should be robust and disease free. Strong, healthy plants produce healthy seeds and seedlings that are larger, more viable and more-vigorous than seedlings produced by weak, diseased, drought stressed or chronically-hungry plants. Small or misshapen seeds are shorter-lived under storage conditions than larger, better formed seeds.
Small seeds contain less stored food to help them emerge from the soil and produce healthy seedlings. Although small seeds may show as high an initial germination rate as larger seeds under ideal conditions, they may lack the strength to emerge from the soil, particularly under less than ideal field conditions.
Pathogens can adversely affect germination, cause seedling infection and damage mature plants. The transmission of fungal and bacterial pathogens from seed to crop can vary considerably depending on growing conditions. Diseases caused by viruses usually have higher transmission rates than those caused by fungi or bacteria and are less affected by seasonal conditions.
Seed-borne diseases often strike early in the growth of a plant causing poor crop establishment and reduced plant vigor which results in lower yields. It is important to remove diseased plants as the parent plants' health is not only important to the health of the seeds they produce but can affect succeeding generations as well. Diseased plants pass disease pathogens to new plants through their seeds. Do not allow diseased plants to produce seeds; remove them from the growing area so they don't pass their diseases on to their seeds or infect healthy plants.
Seeds can be treated for viability and disease control. Seeds can transmit diseases from parent plants to succeeding generations, lowering their productivity and even completely preventing them from producing. Simple treatments exist, however, for controlling many seed-borne diseases.
Keeping the parent plants healthy and rogueing out any diseased material will help to ensure a quality seed for the next growing season.