Self Sowing Volunteer Flowers
Some days you might find me prancing about the garden, waving what looks like a dried up stick enthusiastically through the air. What am I doing? I’m helping mother nature out a little bit and trying to make the most of my self-sowing flowers in the garden. Sometimes it involves a little crushing or a little shaking—you truly feel like a garden fairy—but here’s a little post on the wonders of self sowing flowers and how to use their secrets to create a lush garden with less work!
Have you heard of volunteer plants? Maybe self-sowing plants? Seasoned gardeners will tell you that self sowing flowers are the secret to lush, natural-looking gardens with very little effort. Many gardeners I admire create their whimsical and stunning gardens simply by knowing which plants will self sow, and making those volunteer plant babies work for their space.
Self Sowing Flowers & Volunteers
What are volunteer plants? For those who are curious, volunteer plants are plants that pop up in your garden that you did not intentionally plant. Most commonly, volunteer plants come from self sowing flowers and crops, but there are other ways they end up in your garden too—from wind, birds, composting, and more!
What are self sowing flowers? These are flowers that, if left to go to seed and die back naturally, will drop their seeds. In turn, those seeds will re-grow and populate in your gardens. It’s important to note that this is a natural process that pretty much all plants go through, but the self sowing flowers we are talking about are ones where this happens most easily.
Self sowing flowers usually pop up all around the garden after a rain or when the season is right. Below, I’m going to share which flowers grow for me during the warm and cool seasons here in Southern California, and tips for how I manage these wonderful garden gifts. We’ve recently had some rains here in SoCal, so maybe you’ve noticed some of these self sowing volunteers pop up in your own gardens?
What are some self sowing flowers?
First, I’m only discussing flowers in this post because, in the realm of vegetables and food crops, there are aspects of genetics with hybrids and cross pollination that can be an issue. With ornamental flowers, I’m not concerned about those kinds of issues because the resulting flowers are only for pollinators, beauty, and fun!
Listed below are some flowers (divided by warm season and cool season) that I’ve personally had self-sow all over my garden! You might be interested to know that many of these beautiful flowers also made my list of top 10 flowers for a potager garden and also can be found in my guide to Flowers to Grow Through Winter.
How to encourage flowers to self sow
Self sowing flowers can’t do their jobs if us gardeners don’t let the flowers die and form seeds. Therefore, the first step to encouraging flowers to self sow is to stop picking them near the end of the growing season. Simply leave them be. Naturally, the flowers will die back and begin to form their own seed pods or seed.
Second, you can always grab some seeds and scatter them yourself. Sam knows very well that I enjoy throwing seeds wildly about the garden. Recently, I had picked an old and dried out verbascum stalk and was tapping it around the garden; sometimes grabbing a handful of the dead pods and rubbing them between my hands to fall to the ground. Frankly, attempting to control where your plants grow will be difficult, but that’s the spontaneous beauty of the garden.
Third, something I do often, is cut off dead seed stalks and just drop them on the ground like a “chop and drop” mulch. Letting the pods decompose right there in the soil allows the seeds to drop there and germinate. Who knows, maybe some birds will scratch them into the soil or disperse them further.
Lastly, you can always save the dried seeds yourself and be more deliberate in where you plant them (or start them in seed cells), but to me that defeats the magic of self sowing flowers.
What can self sowing flowers tell us?
While we can definitely encourage self sowing flowers to grow where we want them to (ie. scattering seeds in desired locations), it’s also okay to just let nature handle it. By simply planting a variety of self sowing flowers, you are increasing the chances of getting volunteers all around your garden year after year. If it’s not enough to have free plants, self sowing flowers also provide a REALLY helpful service to us gardeners: self sowing volunteers can also be used as a natural indicator for ideal sowing times in your garden.
For example, I usually start my chamomile in the cool season along with other cold tolerant herbs. So, when I saw that my chamomile from last Summer was starting to sprout in my gravel paths recently (pictured), it was pretty good confirmation that it’s chamomile seed starting time! I bought my chamomile seeds HERE.
Essentially, the garden provides these “hints” if we watch and observe. One of my favorite times of year is watching for the artichokes to come bursting back from their brown, dried states. It’s not surprising that right now my mature artichoke plants are sending up their new pups and starting to grow again. It’s a reminder that artichoke seedlings can be planted in Fall in mild climates for an early Spring production. You can read more about artichokes HERE.
Another method for managing self sowing flowers
Did you know you can move self sown volunteers that have sprouted and grown? Honestly, you can leave volunteer plants right where they are, but I sometimes like to transplant volunteers to a more convenient/useful location. For example, I have a bunch of calendula seedling that popped up in our gravel paths, and I plan to transplant them to the border of my garden beds to create a more formal “hedge” of color.
To transplant a volunteer plant in the garden, I simply take a pointy hand shovel (like this one) and dig around the baby plant. The goal is to get the whole “root ball” and minimize root disturbance.
Once I’ve dug up the volunteer plant, I move it to it’s preferred location and treat it like any other transplant. Watering well is essential after transplanting, and sometimes it’s necessary to cover or provide a little shade until the plant has established and recovered from the move.
Related Article: Fall & Winter Gardening Guide for Southern CA
Volunteer plants don’t always sprout up in the garden right away. Like in nature, sometimes seeds lay dormant and only emerge once rains arrive or the weather is ideal for survival. So, if you scattered some seeds and don’t see anything growing, just give it some time!
Speaking of self sowing flowers, it’s coming upon time to sow some California native poppy seeds. One upcoming garden project will be ramping up the front yard native plant garden with some seed mixes. I hope you’ll join me!