Self-Planting Gardens

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Self-Planting Gardens

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

Verbena bonariensis
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

Coralbells, Heuchera


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 


Calamint, Calamintha 

Caraway, CarumClary Sage, Salvia sclarea 

Chamomile, Matricaria recutita 


Dill, Anethum graveolens 

Garlic Chives, Allium tuberosum


Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare 

Feverfew, Chrysanthemum parthenium 


Parsley, Petroselinum


Salad Burnet, Sanguisorba minor 
Sweet Cicely, Myrrhis odorata



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