Our Garden Gang's
Many gardeners feel that annuals have limited value in the garden. Sure, they were great for filling in gaps until the more worthy perennial plants filled in, or to add a punch of color when the perennial blooms began to fade. The problem with an annual flowerbed is the extra work – the entire bed has to be replanted every season, and in today’s busy world, that can become burdensome, not to mention expensive.
But many of us have discovered, to our delight, that cosmos, forget-me-not, larkspur and more from the year before (or a neighbor's garden) are sprouting up early in spring. These eager volunteers self-sow, both annuals and perennials. Not only do their offspring save time and money, but they tend to be more vigorous growers than the nursery transplants. A self-sowing annual isn’t that much different than a perennial, at least in the respect that it comes back year after year. These plants work 9-5 so we don't have to!
Besides, there’s something to be said for the sheer delight of discovery – that is, discovering which flowers are suddenly going to crop up, and where. However, like anything else in your garden, self-sowing plants are more likely to succeed with a little help from you. Follow these steps to give your self-sowers a fighting chance.
1. Determine the hardiness of the plants and their seeds. The seeds of a tender annual may not survive the winter in a region with below freezing temperatures. Choose half-hardy or hardy annuals when applicable. You can help nature along by harvesting seeds and sowing them in spring.
2. Choose plants that are best suited for your environment. Textbook descriptions of self-sowers often contain the qualifier that “this plant self-seeds when it is happy with the growing conditions”. Look for native plants, or plants that come from climates similar to your own.
3. Ensure the seeds can make contact with the soil. In other words, don’t use bark chips or other heavy mulch around the plants. Lightweight, organic compost material is fine, and will retain much needed moisture to help with germination.
4. Deadhead for more blooms, but leave a few seedheads. Deadheading will extend the blooming season for many plants. However, make sure to leave a few of the flowers so they can develop into seedheads near the end of the growing season.
5. Lightly rake the soil around the self-sowers. Soil can become hard and compacted during the growing season. Lightly rake the soil around flowers that are going to seed, enabling the seeds to embed themselves into the dirt.
6. Water the area carefully. You don’t want to wash the seeds out of your flowerbed and down the driveway. After plants have started going to seed, use a watering can or a diffuser on your garden hose.
7. Offer some winter protection. Once the growing season is over, spread a lightweight, organic mulch over the flower bed to protect the seeds from winter extremes.
8. Don’t hesitate to transplant volunteers. Let’s say you followed all of the preceding steps, and the following spring you have self-sown seedlings popping up everywhere – just not where you want them to be. Don’t worry - it’s okay to move them. Just make sure you wait until the seedlings have grown two to four “true” leaves (these do not include the first two “seed” leaves which appear when the plant first emerges from the soil).
Although most self-seeding plants are annuals, several perennial types exist as well. Listed below are some annuals, perennials, and herbs that are considered to be reliable self-seeders, given the proper conditions. Keep in mind that some offspring, such as hollyhock, impatiens, flowering tobacco, and wild columbine, may not resemble the original hybrid, but will instead have traits reverting back to the parent plants of the hybrid.
Annuals and Biennials
Baby’s Breath, Gypsophila elegans
Bachelor’s Button, Centaurea cyanus
Bells of Ireland, Moluccella laevis
Blanketflower (annual), Gaillardia pulchella
California poppy, Eschscholzia californica
Chinese forget-me-not, Cynoglossum amabile
Cosmos, Cosmos spp.Dahlberg
Daisy, Thymophylla tenuiloba
Dame’s Rocket, Hesperis matronalis
Flossflower, Ageratum spp.
Flowering Tobacco, Nicotania alata
Forget-Me-Not, Myosotis sylvatica
Four o’clock, Mirabilis jalapa
Foxglove , Digitalis purpurea
Globe Amaranth, Gomphrena globosa
Globe candytuft, Iberis umbellata
Hollyhock, Alcea rosea
Honesty (Silver Dollar), Lunaria annua
Impatiens, Impatiens wallerana
Johnny –jump-up, Viola tricolor
Larkspur, Consolida spp.
Love-in-a-Mist, Nigella damascena
Love-Lies-Bleeding, Amaranthus caudatus
Marigold, Tagetes spp.
Melampodium, Melampodium cinereum
Morning Glory, Ipomoea purpurea
Moss Rose, Portulaca spp.
Nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus
Perilla, Perilla spp.
Pot Marigold, Calendula officinalis
Sapphire flower, Browallia spp.
Snapdragon, Antirrhinum spp.
Spiderflower, Cleome spp.
Sunflower, Helianthus spp.
Sweet Alyssum, Lobularia maritima
Virginia Stock, Malcolmia maritima
Balloon Flower, Platycodon grandiflorus
Bear’s Foot Hellebore, Helleborus foetidus
Blackberry Lily, Belamcanda chinensis
Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta
Bleeding Heart (Common and Fringed), Dicentra spectabilis and D. eximia
Campion (Rose Campion and Maltese Cross), Lychnis
Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis
Columbine Meadow Rue, Thalictrum aquilegifolium
Garden Phlox, Phlox paniculataHardy
Geranium, Geranium sanguineum
Jupiter’s Beard, Centranthus ruber
Lady’s Mantle, Alchemilla mollis
Lungwort (Pulmonaria), Pulmonaria saccharata
Milky Bellflower, Campanula lactiflora
Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea
Siberian Bugloss, Brunnera macrophylla
Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia pulmonarioides, syn. M. virginiana
Virginia Spiderwort, Tradescantia virginiana
Wild Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis
Anise Hyssop, Agastache foeniculum
Borage, Borago officinalis
Caraway, CarumClary Sage, Salvia sclarea
Chamomile, Matricaria recutita
Dill, Anethum graveolens
Garlic Chives, Allium tuberosum
Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
Feverfew, Chrysanthemum parthenium
Salad Burnet, Sanguisorba minor
Sweet Cicely, Myrrhis odorata
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