Often we fuss over newly planted seeds and plants, making sure they have optimal conditions – preparing the soil with lots of organic goodness, monitoring the water (not too much, not too little), checking if the sunlight is sufficient, and adding nutrients to coax them towards productive happiness.
Sometimes, plants just pop up in random places and quietly get on with surviving, indeed thriving, in their locations with little help from us gardeners. These are the happy lucky moments for a gardener.
Some of these self-seeding plants are my absolute favourites, it is nice to be surprised when wandering around the garden, suddenly noticing a new little plant boldy growing in their own spot as chosen by the fate.
Many of the self-seeding plants I have are flowering annuals, falling into the “cottage garden” style – these are the ones that seem to pop up the most consistently each year.
- Borage (the Bees love it)
- Nigella or Love-in-a-Mist (white and blue)
- Cornflower (mainly blue, though I get the occasional pastel pink)
- False Queen Anne’s Lace
- Johnny Jump-up Violets
- Columbines, also called Granny’s Bonnets
Luckily they all blend together very nicely, here is a photo of the beautiful mess that I get with Borage and the False Queen Anne’s Lace – it is a pollinator’s paradise!
While many of these flowers are edible and can be used to decorate salads and cakes, they really are just decorative (apart from feeding the bees that is) in my garden.
On the edibles side, the top self-seeding plants are within the herbs category, and are:
- Coriander / Cilantro
- Rocket / Arugula
While the Coriander has a reputation for running to seed too fast for our liking in the warmer months, if you grow it in an area that doesn’t get disturbed (i.e. you are not digging the soil over all the time) then you can benefit from having new Coriander seedlings growing throughout the year.
Parsley is definitely a “plant once – harvest forever” plant in my garden. Sometimes there are SO MANY seedlings coming up I just have to plough them in so they don’t take over.
Have a look at this photo where my grass lawn has become about 50% Parsley!
When does a self-seeding plant become a weed?
In the gentle sense, assuming it is still contained in your yard – the answer is when it is either growing in the wrong spot or inhibiting other plants from growing. This means you should remove them at a young stage, as you would a thistle or some other weed that has moved in.
If it has the potential to go feral and move into native grasslands, creeks or forests then you need to make sure to collect the flowers before seeds can form – or safer still, don’t plant anything that can spread too quickly. Your local department of agriculture can provide a list of ‘declared plants’ and ‘noxious weeds’ – so you can make sure.
How to encourage self-seeding plants
When you think about it – most seeds need warmth, moisture, and a stable place to get themselves started, after they germinate they need all of that plus sunlight.
Seeds do better in fine rather than coarse soils, but can still pop up in a fresh layer of mulch – don’t underestimate their will to live!
I find that the areas that receive regular mist or spray type irrigation have more success with self-seeded plants, also areas alongside raised beds as they have higher moisture levels at the surface.
They will grow in soils that are undisturbed as they can get established, they’re less likely to survive if they pop up in pathways where they are stepped on at a tender age.
And of course, you have to leave the flowering plants in place right through to the end of their life cycle to make all of this happen.
So if you are a “neat & tidy” gardener (I am not) then you will have to resist the urge to deadhead all the flowers and remove plants that are browning off – at least until you can see the seed pods and cases have browned off and emptied.
Of course, you can assist with the self-seeding…for example, the Nigella (love-in-a-mist) seed pods are easy to collect and shake around the garden as you walk about. Coriander seeds are also easy to collect and spread around the place.
So go ahead and grab some seed packets to get started with some of the beautiful self-seeding plants, give them a good environment to go through their lifecycle and see if they drop seeds throughout your garden for the following season.