Seed the Spring

Look ahead to seed the spring

Our youngest granddaughter ran through the garden last week with our heartiest blessing. In response to a passerby’s query (“What are you doing, Bree?”) she replied with great enthusiasm at cheerleader volume, “I’m making MORE FLOWERS!”

Indeed she was. Given several heads of globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) and instruction on freeing the seed, she was making sure that pretty, drought tolerant, long blooming, sun-loving annual is waiting to grow in every bare spot in the front garden.

Globe amaranth

Globe amaranth provides lots of color without deadheading, as long as you do not mind its return the next year from the scale-like seeds that fall.

 

Merrily making more flowers.

Merrily making more flowers.

All this color from volunteer globe amaranth 'Strawberry Fields' dropping seed the year before. The gardeners thinned the seedlings and 'Voila!"

All this color from volunteer globe amaranth 'Strawberry Fields' dropping seed the year before. The gardeners thinned the seedlings and 'Voila!"

Seed-rich older flower on the left, new bloom on the right.

Seed-rich older flower on the left, new bloom on the right.

Seeds flake away from the base of the flower structure.

Seeds flake away from the base of the flower structure.

Choose your weeds

A friend calls this “Choose your weeds,” a strategy of filling bare space with plants you like well enough to allowing to seed around. Each spring your chosen ones will sprout and by their simple, desirable or temporary presence will shade out at least some of the “real” weeds. An important consideration in choosing your weeds is to use species you can easily remove, should you so decide. No fast, deep tap roots allowed!

Self-sowing annuals

The more often used name for this category of plant is "self-sown annual." Place the seed in fall, mark or remember the spot and come back after the seed germinates. Thin, remove or transplant as you wish.

X marks the spot

We’ve developed a marker system we can both read, no pencils or labels involved. Where we sow the seed, we place a stalk of that plant on the open ground and peg- or pin it down. In the spring we will see the stalk and be reminded to leave that area clear of mulch – which would discourage or derail the planting – and to look there at intervals to see what sprouts.

Do we always recognize the seedlings? Not always, but we are familiar enough with the usual weeds, and assured by the pegged-down stalk we can give strange seedlings a chance to prove themselves.

A dill seed stalk marks where we scattered seed. Two bits of wood peg it down as a reminder to leave the soil bare and watch for seedlings.

A dill seed stalk marks where we scattered seed. Two bits of wood peg it down as a reminder to leave the soil bare and watch for seedlings.

Of interest to those who wonder if they will be able to identify the seedlings: Every plant has distinctive markings, even as a seed. Here is a seed from scarlet campion...

Of interest to those who wonder if they will be able to identify the seedlings: Every plant has distinctive markings, even as a seed. Here is a seed from scarlet campion...

...and snow on the mountain (right) quite different in size and hull. Your gardener’s eye will find telltales in the seedlings, too.

...and snow on the mountain (right) quite different in size and hull. Your gardener’s eye will find telltales in the seedlings, too.

A chance to sign on for the long term

We often start a self-sower in just one spot, chosen because it offers what the new addition might like in terms of sun, shade, moisture, etc. If the plant does well there, chances are good it will scatter its own seed to adjacent areas and gradually find its own best places in the garden.

Regrets

Have we ever let things loose in a garden in this way and later regretted it? You bet. Love in a mist (Nigella damascena) has become something of a thug in our son and daughter-in-law’s landscape. It’s not yet reached the level of Terrorist To Be Ousted but we feel that coming. Its faults? Overabundance. It has a seed pod kids love to pop, so the seed falls thickly. Also, the resident gardeners take a relaxed approach to maintenance, letting plants remain in place to ripen seed (rather than pulling or cutting the plants as they fade). Seedlings grow so thickly now that none can bloom well without the extra step of thinning.

Regrets? Sure, but stories, too. Scarlet campion (Lychnis coronaria) is a short-lived perennial we have grown in other gardens – Steven has a special love for its bright flowers. We weren’t going to include it in our new gardens, just on the basis of “Been there, done that.”

Regrets? Sure, but stories, too. Scarlet campion (Lychnis coronaria) is a short-lived perennial we have grown in other gardens – Steven has a special love for its bright flowers. We weren’t going to include it in our new gardens, just on the basis of “Been there, done that.”

However, after posing some of its seeds and a seed stalk on one of our patio stones for potential inclusion in this article, Janet absentmindedly brushed the seeds away… into the spaces between stones and  garden. So it sows!

However, after posing some of its seeds and a seed stalk on one of our patio stones for potential inclusion in this article, Janet absentmindedly brushed the seeds away… into the spaces between stones and garden. So it sows!

Starter list

Here are self-sowers to consider. All are annual species or perennials fast enough to bloom in their first year and short lived so they can be treated as annuals. Most will probably naturalize if growing conditions are good. That is, they will scatter enough seed on their own so that you will not have to sow again.

Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima)

Bread poppy (Papaver somniferum. Of questionable legality but long tradition)

Calendula/Pot marigold (Calendula officinalis)

Dill (Anethum graveolens) guaranteed to bring in black swallowtail caterpillars

Garden balsam (Impatiens balsamina)

Globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa)

Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) 6’. Part shade. Hummingbird-approved

Johnny jump-up (Viola tricolor)

Snow on the mountain (North American prairie native, annual Euphorbia marginata)

Verbena bonariensis

 

 

Snow on the mountain:

Snow on the mountain (Euphorbia marginata) shares a common name with an invasive groundcover. Not to worry. This native prairie annual with striking foliage is a charmer.

Snow on the mountain (Euphorbia marginata) shares a common name with an invasive groundcover. Not to worry. This native prairie annual with striking foliage is a charmer.

Its seed pods ripen as maples begin to color. Cut the plants now to control how much seed falls, where.

Its seed pods ripen as maples begin to color. Cut the plants now to control how much seed falls, where.

Or snip seed pods to give to neighborhood gardeners who will admire it in your yard.

Or snip seed pods to give to neighborhood gardeners who will admire it in your yard.

And now over to the Forum

This is a good topic to leave open via this link to Self Sowers on our Q&A Forum, as we can add photos at our leisure there and there are many other plants people will add to our list – with our blessing!

It’s also time to kick-start our revamped Forum. For too long we have avoided posting there because we were transplanting content from old- to new forum. Now we’d like to return to or old ways and continue conversations there.

https://forum.gardenatoz.org/index.php?/topic/1027-self-sowers/&tab=comments#comment-2861

(Note: You may notice the Forum is slow to load at first, a condition the programmers tell us is temporary until traffic returns.)