Self-seeding annuals save time, money and effort
The first things to show their faces in the garden weren’t from seeds I planted this spring; they were from seeds that fell from last year’s plants. They were mustard, one of my favorite greens. And they’re everywhere!
The other plant that has graced me with its presence – everywhere – is borage. And I’m not complaining about this one either. Borage is an excellent garden companion, and always finds a place in my gardens.
Advantages and disadvantages of self-seeding annuals
Self-seeding annuals have many advantages, with only a couple of disadvantages.
Let’s start with the advantages:
- Free seeds! Each plant that goes to seed produces many seeds, so even if you only let 3 or 4 plants go to seed, you are likely to get hundreds of seeds.
- Free labor! Planting a few seeds isn’t all that much work. But planting an entire garden can be. If you have plants that love to self-seed, they do the work for you.
- Stronger plant varieties! Year after year, if you let the strongest and best plants go to seed, you will be creating a strong variety that loves to grow in your garden. This is the passive way of creating your own varieties of plants. Just let the biggest, strongest and most productive plants go to seed, and soon that is all you’ll be growing. Weed out the rouges and the weaklings that occasionally pop up, and you’ve got a variety that you can call your own – literally. Name that baby!
- Sometimes you might have to weed a few out of places you don’t want them growing, but that’s not so hard. And the benefits of self-seeding far outweigh the small amount of labor needed to pull a few stray mustard greens. Besides, you can eat them as you weed them!
- If you have a few things in the same family in flower at the same time, you might get some crazy crosses happening. For instance, I had mustard greens and rapini (broccoli raab) blooming at the same time, in close proximity to each other. So the mustard greens that are popping up all over could very well be crosses. Whatever they are, they’re delicious!
5 Self-Seeding Annuals for the Garden
The first self-seeded crop that popped up in the garden was mustard greens. Last year I planted quite a bit of mustard, which went to seed rather quickly. Along with the mustard, I also planted rapini (aka, broccoli raab). Both of them were in flower at the same time, and may have produced crosses.
It’s hard to tell, but it seems like there are two different types of mustard greens growing this year: One seems like the original one I planted, and one seems to have a smoother leaf, much like rapini.
Plus, the mustard greens – which I have been eating since mid April – are showing no signs of going to seed yet. And they are bigger and more lush than last year. That tells me that they are a slightly different variety than was planted last year – meaning, there has been a cross somewhere. And it’s mighty tasty.
The best and biggest crop of mustard is in the tomato planter on the shop roof. That is the area that gets the first of the spring sun, so they kicked in quickly, and have been happily growing ever since. As you can see from the photo, we have quite a healthy crop.
This first round will be eaten fresh (I regularly graze there – and even the dog loves it!) and then, when it looks like it’s wanting to bolt, it will be harvested and made into ferments. That should be right around the time the tomatoes will be needing more room in the planter. So the timing should be great.
There is also plenty growing around the main garden, and in the greenhouse, so we definitely won’t be lacking in our mustard greens this year.
This makes me very happy. And I’m looking forward to seeing what the mustard greens will be like next year. Because, of course we’ll be letting them reseed again!
I love growing borage. It’s one of those plants that I just love to see in the garden. Its pretty blue, star-shaped flowers are always a magnet for bees, and bees are the best of friends with the garden. You never see a borage plant that isn’t covered with honey bees. It’s not surprising that another name for borage is ‘bee bread’.
But borage has more uses in the garden than just attracting bees. For one, it is edible. The flowers are a tasty way to add color to summer salads; and the leaves, with their mild cucumber flavor, are good in salads, as well as added to stir-fries or soups.
Another great way to use borage in the garden is as a chop-and-drop mulch. Borage is thought to be what many call a ‘nutrient accumulator’. This means that it’s long roots bring nutrients up from the subsoil, and store them in their leaves and stalks. When the plant breaks down, the nutrients are released into the soil, in a bio available form, meaning that it’s now in a form that plants can use.
There are other plants considered nutrient accumulators, the most famous of which is comfrey. As a matter of fact, borage and comfrey are related. So it’s not surprising that borage is so useful in the garden. Another great one is yarrow, which is also a good compost stimulator.
Borage is a plant that puts on a LOT of growth throughout the growing season. This makes it extremely useful as the above mentioned chop-and-drop, as well as a great addition to the compost pile.
Getting greens to add to the compost pile might be tricky sometimes, so it’s great to grow plants that keep putting out the greenery all season, like borage and comfrey.
I love calendula. I love its sunny flowers, and the lovely oil it makes for my skin. And it is a very prolific self seeder. Even though I gather the flowers to dry, some get missed, and inevitably go to seed.
But that doesn’t bother me. When it comes to calendula, the more the merrier. I’ve got quite a few coming up in the garden this year; and even though some are in a place I don’t want them, they are easily moved.
Calendula-infused grapeseed oil is the base of the skin cream I make. It’s a very simple cream, with simple ingredients: calendula-infused oil, lemon balm-infused oil, plantain-infused oil, beeswax, and your choice of essential oils. Warm infused oils and beeswax just enough to melt the wax, mix, cool slightly, and then add in your essential oils. Easy peasy. Might be a little oily for some, but my skin loves it.
Anyway, where were we? Oh, yeah . . .
Calendula is another plant that puts out a lot of greenery throughout the growing season, so it can be chop-and-dropped to a certain extent. It also stands well into winter, so makes a rather good addition to a cover crop mix.
Lettuce is another salad green that is known to self seed freely. If you grow a variety of lettuces, and let them all go to seed at the same time, you might get some crazy hybrid crosses. But if you only let one variety go to seed each year, that might work out better.
I had one variety (and I don’t know what it is!) from a salad greens mix make it through the winter garden, and is now getting ready to flower. I figured if a plant was tough enough to put up with the winter, it deserves to have a chance to make seeds. They’ll obviously be great for winter and early spring salad greens.
I’ll let you know how that goes.
We’ve got chervil everywhere this year! And I do mean everywhere. But that’s perfectly fine. Not only is it a tasty garden treat, it goes to seed quickly, and the flowers of chervil are very attractive to many beneficial insects.
Chervil is also extremely nutritious. So having it growing all over the garden is a great way to be able to munch on this herb all summer long. It readily reseeds, so you will never run out.
This year’s self-seeding experiments
This year, I’ll be letting a few other things go to seed in the garden, to see how they come up next year.
The beets that overwintered are starting to look like they’re going to bolt. I’ll let some of them go to seed, and will harvest the rest for fermenting. I’m curious to see if the seeds will give me a fall crop of beets, or if they’ll lay dormant until spring.
The overwintered kale is already bolting. Right now I’m eating all the tasty flower buds, but eventually I’ll let a couple set seed.
I’ll let some of the summer celery that overwintered set seed as well. Most of it will be coming out soon, as it is growing where the zucchini will soon be planted. But hopefully one or two plants set seed.
All of my lemon balm plants overwintered, and are growing beautiful big leaves. I’m going to let only one plant set seed this year, as they can get kind of weedy, and I don’t want that many right in the garden.
But I’ll spread the seeds in other areas, and they can grow to their heart’s content. I’ll even let some grow in the lawn – it smells soooo good when you mow it!
I’m also going to let some parsley go to seed. I’d be happy to have loads of that growing all over my garden.
Other popular self seeders
If you leave an over-ripe zucchini in the garden, come spring you’ll find a nice little cluster of baby zucchini plants. You can separate these and transplant them into the area you want them to grow. And you’ll probably have plenty left over to give to friends.
Tomatoes are prolific self-seeders, but it’s important to grow open pollinated varieties, if you want them to grow true to seed. Treat them the same as the zucchini above; just move them to where you want them. If you feel it’s too early for them to be outside, just pot them up and put them somewhere warm until the weather is good.
And that goes for just about anything else that has decided to self-seed in the garden. If it’s growing where you want it, let it grow. If you want it growing somewhere else, move it. Easy peasy. : )
Growing a self-seeding garden
The tradition of starting seeds and planting a garden is a wonderful thing, and I wouldn’t want to do anything else in the spring. But there is much to be said for the self-seeding garden.
Letting your favorite vegetables go to seed and reseed in the garden is a way to save yourself money by not having to buy seeds, and time by not having to plant them.
If you have a favorite herb or vegetable, it’s going to be the one you want to grow the most of in your garden. Letting it self-seed is the best way to do that. And if it’s something like our mustard greens, it will be the first thing up in the spring, and will provide an abundance of food before anything else is up and producing.
I hope you enjoyed the article, and learned a little bit about how great it can be to have a few herbs, flowers and vegetables-self seeding in your garden.
If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to pop them into the comments box below.
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