10 Welcome Self Sowers In My Garden

Ilona Erwin

There are times when nature offers unexpected gifts, and we can capitalize on that generosity when we find desired plants that multiply themselves in our gardens. From a single planting of seeds or when a shrub is allowed to set seed, we may find that our garden has the perfect conditions for baby seedlings that grow into a bountiful blessing.

Not every garden will be the ideal seedbed for every plant mentioned here, some of mine reseeded in some years and then not in others. Find what grows in this way in your own garden, and be prepared to be delighted. This is a good way to fill in spaces between newer plantings that could look a bit bare without the bounty of some sef-seeding squatters.

  1. Bronze Fennel

    Bronze Fennel

    Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’ bloom

    The finely cut, coppery brown, foliage and chartreuse flower umbels are an eyecatching combination on the four foot high plant.<

    It tends to reseed in areas around the original plant, and the tenaciously rooted plant is attractive to bees and butterflies. Snip some for your cooking. Foeniculum vulgare

  2. Calendula

    pot marigold

    Calendula officinalis

    Don’t expect the subtle colors and doubled flowers of the seed packets. When Calendula resows it reverts to the orange and yellow semi-double ray flowers. It still has the oblong, rough leaves. Very long blooming in the garden. Calendula officinalis

  3. Dames Rocket

    Hesperis matronalis - flowers

    Planted for it’s fragrance, I later noticed Hesperis matronalis often turned up out in the fields around old, sometimes long gone homeplaces. Not native, it has a wildflower look with tall spikes of purple to white mustard family flowers. Hesperis matronalis

  4. Dill

    dill flower

    As long as they have sunshine and decent drainage, the dill weed seeds will germinate every year. They love to turn up in tilled soil and are viable for a number of years. The tall plants produce plenty of flower heads which can be harvested for seeds. Anethum graveolens

  5. Johnny Jump Ups

    Johnny Jump-ups

    These small flowers are sometimes referred to as “weavers”, for the way they weave themselves through other plants and peek out. This adds texture to a planting, and these violas are so charming that you never get enough of them!. One caveat is that they may be lost to heavy mulches, etc. Their seeds need light to germinate, so they appear in soils that are regularly cultivated. Viola cornuta

  6. Shirley Poppies

    Bloom, bud, and seedhead

    Bloom, bud, and seedhead

    These cool season annuals produce plenty of tiny seed and they thrive in cold climate conditions. Like other self-sowers they are most likely to pop up wherever the ground is freshly worked. Their hardiness guarantees lots of lavender, pink, white, and orange flowering plants year after year. Papaver rhoaas

  7. Love In A Mist

    Nigelle de Damas / Love-in-a-mistThis plant may run out after a few years, but it is likely to reseed itself throughout the cultivated soil in the garden, near where former plants have bloomed. It isn’t far ranging, but its delicate blooms produce balloon shaped seed heads that can be harvested or allowed to scatter their progeny for next years show. If you plant selected blues, they will have mostly the same color come true. Nigella damascena

  8. Columbines

    Aquilegia canadensis

    Aquilegia canadensis

    Aquilegia canadensis Is the native, wild type, and there is a cultivated one with curled spurs. Both will self seed, but not prolifically.

    The Grannies bonnets seem to be stronger spreaders, and like many other flowers that come true from seed, you can select so that you have more of the colors you like.

  9. Lambs Ears

    Wet Lambs Ear.jpg

    This can spread or it can seed itself. Butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds like it. The soft felty gray leaves are always welcome and create interest in contrast with all the green. While they self-seed, I never find them difficult to control, simply pull them out easily from where they are unwanted. Stachys byzantina

  10. Feverfew

    2014.08.29_11.01.30_IMG_0489I used to have both the double and single types, but the doubles disappeared after awhile. Feverfew is one of those plants that bring cheerful bloom to those in-between time when little else is going on. It is prolific, but just cut off the flowers if you want to control the self-seeding. Tanacetum parthenium

Surprise Plants

Don’t expect these to appear annually, but you may get surprised by some reappearances in coming years if the conditions suit them.

Plants I didn’t expect to self-seed

There are some plants that I didn’t expect to show up in subsequent years, but nevertheless they did.

Salpiglossis

Only showing up once, I didn’t expect it, but perhaps the mild winter lead to the reseeding success.

Dahlberg daisy

The diminuative, darling Dahlberg daisy, of the tiny yellow discs and ferny foliage might like the cracks in your walk or if you have sandy soil. They take awhile to come to bloom size, and you will see them midsummer if they take hold.

Hostas

I have a number of new hostas from an area where the seed heads were left to germinate under the leafy shade of their parents. while they don’t come true to the cultivars they sprang from, they were very nice additions to the garden, anyway.

Rosa Glauca

It produced the most beautiful globular pink rosehips, so of course I encouraged a winter feature of these fruits rather than trim the plants down for winter. The next year there was an appearance of tiny little plummy leaved seedlings, which eventually grew into shrubs like their parent. They do not otherwise spread and are easily controlled.

Self Seeding Success

⇒Through the years I found one thing that often made the difference between plants that returned and those that no longer self-seeded: cultivation.
The year I decided to cut down on weeds by putting mulch into the flower beds was the year that began the demise of many of my “volunteers”. The first to go AWOL were the viola family- pansies and Johnny Jump-ups. Slowly there were less and less of Nigella and even Shirley poppies, if I did not do the spring weeding in the places they like to grow.
Some of the problem is competition, but many of these annuals like light for germination.

If you love to have volunteers, be sure to stir up the soils and remove the competition.

⇒Choose those plants which are likely to set seed and survive the winter. Perennials, and half-hardy or hardy annuals, some biennials.

Nigella Sativa Seed Capsules

Nigella Sativa seed capsules

Seeds and Helping Self Sowers Along

Allowing self seeders to form seedheads requires some tolerance for “seedy” looking flowerbeds, and a cessation of bloom. Deadheading is for prolonging the bloom times. Be sure to leave some plants looking less than perfect so that you get plenty of seeds for the coming year.

It helps your plan along if you collect and disseminate seed where you would like more plants. You may also be interested in only collecting seed from certain colors.

Would you like to find out more about those plants which spread and self-sow?
Plantiful
Plantiful: Start Small, Grow Big with 150 Plants That Spread, Self-Sow, and Overwinter

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.