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How would you like a garden or landscape filled with plants for free?
Rather than buying seeds and seedlings, digging furrows, rows, and hills, planting and watering those seeds and seedlings, and hoping for the best, you can let nature takes its course and grow a surprising number of self-seeding vegetables, herbs, and flowers without any help from you.
What is self-seeding?
Plants classified as self-seeding are usually annuals or biennials that tend to produce a large number of viable seeds, pods, or capsules. These seeds fall to the ground, where they then start a new crop of the same plants (called volunteers) within the immediate (and not-so-immediate) area, during the next growing season. All this productivity occurs without any human intervention. As an added advantage, self-seeding plants provide more pollen and nectar for local pollinators and other beneficial insects than would otherwise be available, and for a longer period of time.
Self-seeding plant selection and placement
Self-seeding plants come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. Aeoniums, borage, marigolds, nasturtiums, poppies, snapdragons, sunflowers, sweet alyssum, and zinnias and are all self-seeding. Before installing a self-seeding plant, however, be sure to check with your local extension service to make sure it is not an invasive plant. Also, be sure to select a location suitable to long-term growth. You can introduce self-seeding plants into your garden for free simply by tossing a seed head from a mature plant into the area. The seeds will take care of themselves, providing a new crop during the next growing season.
Allowed to follow their natural lifecycle, many popular garden vegetables will bolt and produce hundreds of seeds. While many of these seeds will rot or be eaten by birds and other critters, you will end up with more seedlings than you know what to do with. (Give them to neighbors, family, and friends, Plant It Forward style). A surprising number of vegetable plants readily self-seed, as long as your winters are not too cold:
While these offspring are not always true to their parent plants, especially in the case of hybrids (names that include F1), I have found they are always delicious and edible! Open-pollinated (OP) heirlooms are more likely to look, grow, and taste like their parents.
I have maintained the same four beet plants, two yellow, one white, and one red, for several years, for seed production. As a result, I have beets turning up everywhere! And the parent plants add changing shapes, sizes, and colors throughout the seasons. Endive and several lettuces are now naturalized in my foodscape. By naturalized, I mean that the plants turn up wherever they take hold. At first, they are low-growing mounds of salad deliciousness. Then, in mid-spring, a central stalk appears, drawing the plant upward in a cone shape that ends up bearing lovely blue and white flowers. After the seeds have been dispersed, I cut the plants off at ground level and feed them to my chickens. Next winter, new crops of endive and lettuce appear like clockwork, with no effort on my part. I transplant some of these volunteers to create lovely borders and accent plants. And they don’t cost me a dime.
Many herbs are also self-seeding. Basil, chamomile, chives, cilantro/coriander, dill, fennel, lemon balm, oregano, parsley, and sorrel, are just a few favorite herbs that willful an area without any help from you. Parsley, in particular, is a super seed producer. A single parsley plant can produce the equivalent of 10 seed packets! For free!
The very characteristics that make self-seeding plants so successful can also make them troublesome. Some self-seeding plants can take over an area, much the way mint plants do. Also, if a plant is prone to certain diseases, such as powdery mildew or blight, or susceptible to insects commonly found in your garden, you might need to incorporate crop rotation to break the disease triangle, or insect life cycle. If you really want them, these self-seeding plants are best corralled into containers and deadheaded frequently.
If your self-seeded volunteers turn up in undesirable locations, you can always transplant them into a more suitable or convenient spot, pull them by hand as seedlings, or mow any that turn up in a lawn. If your winters are too cold to allow self-seeding to occur naturally, you can always collect seeds from these abundant producers and use them to start next year’s crops.
Lighten your work load and increase biodiversity in your garden and landscape with self-seeding vegetables and herbs!
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