Self-seeding crops

VermontCathy Posts: 1,920 ✭✭✭✭✭

The easiest and cheapest way to plant crops is to let the plants do it themselves!

The best example from my garden is claytonia.

Claytonia, also known as miner's lettuce, is a green vegetable with long stems and many small round leaves. It grows extremely well in cool to cold weather, and dies off when it warms up. The plants are covered in tiny white edible flowers every spring, and if just leave enough of those flowers be, they will drop seed for next year. The seeds are so tiny they would be difficult to collect by hand and store.

I pull and compost my claytonia at the end of spring, turn the soil over, and plant quick growing summer crops there. When fall comes, I harvest the summer crops and turn the soil over again, and once temperatures drop the self-sown seeds sprout, looking like tiny grass or spinach plants, growing as a thick mat that covers the soil.

I plant lettuce, spinach, and mustard in the bed, and let the claytonia fill the gaps. These will grow slowly under a cold frame all winter, then shoot upward in early spring. We'll be eating loads of salad and sandwiches with fresh greens when neighbors haven't even planted a garden yet.

What useful crops self-seed effectively in your garden?


  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,920 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Another form of self propagation is sending out runners that form new plants, instead of seeds.

    Strawberries, raspberries, and sunchokes all do a good job of this. Once you get them established, you will need to do some maintenance to keep them under control, but you shouldn't need to buy them again.

    Still another type of propagation is used by plants that divide to form several new plants. Examples include potato onions, shallots, spring onions, and I'itoi onions. They produce free plants, but you have to do more to separate and thin them or they can choke themselves out.

    Yet another example are plants that produce bulbils instead of seeds. These spread more slowly because the plant produces a few large, healthy bulbils instead of hundreds of tiny seeds, but the bulbils are more likely to successfully grow the next year. Walking onions are extremely good at this. The tall stalks die at the end of the season and fall down under the weight of the bulbils, "walking" far enough away to start a new plant that isn't right on top of its parent. Since walking onions are perennials, the parent plant will come back next year too.

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,517 admin

    I planted Giant Red Mustard one year and now have it coming back every year in various spots in my garden. I weed out the ones (for dinner) that are crowding out other plants but leave the rest.

    Same for borage. Just keeps coming back.

    I have one lovage plant that consistently has babies coming up all around her.

    Oregano is another one that easily seeds.

    Valerian usually self seeds but I didn't have as many this year. I will have to protect any babies I find next spring.

    Dill didn't do very well for me this year. Not even from the planted seed. Usually I have dill coming up everywhere.

    Lemon balm has seeded itself before in my garden but not every year. This year I have many babies.

    I have two kinds of sorrel. The regular green one and the Bull's Blood variety. Both will seed themselves but the green is much more prolific.

    Once I had sage set seed and had a couple of babies the next year and once that happened with horehound.

    Sometimes there has been a zucchini or pumpkin seedling appear in the garden beds that must have come from the compost pile.

    This doesn't count as self seeding but I have 4 cherry trees that send out runners every year. Two were purchased at a nursery but the other two are heritage trees that were salvaged from a pioneer garden. So I dig them up and share them in my community.

  • marjstratton
    marjstratton Posts: 1,132 ✭✭✭✭

    Calendula and squashes like to volunteer in my garden. I would like to get a lot more variety in my volunteers.

  • JodieDownUnder
    JodieDownUnder Posts: 1,482 admin

    @VermontCathy this season I seem to have plenty of calendula, plantain, cucamelons & tomato’s. This year I have transplanted the strongest volunteer tomato seedlings, I don’t really know what they are, probably cherry toms but I don’t mind, as long as they produce.

    I also have plenty of sorrel, strawberries, oregano & lemonbalm. They just multiply or spread by runners & when they get a bit full on, I dig them up & pot them up & give away. I hadn’t heard of Claytonia before, so thank you.

    Here’s an interesting article on perennial tropical/sub tropical salad greens, that I’m interested in adding to my garden.

  • dipat2005
    dipat2005 Posts: 1,226 ✭✭✭✭

    This conversation gives me lots of ideas! Thanks!

  • JennyT Upstate South Carolina
    JennyT Upstate South Carolina Posts: 1,273 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I agree @dipat2005! So many great ideas!😊

    So far on my property the things I see spreading are mullen, curly dock, burdock root and wild black berries. But I'd love to add those you all have mentioned.

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,375 admin

    I was also going to add tomatoes (mainly cherry, but others too), since that was the overwhelming volunteer this year. Everything that I've had grow volunteer has already been mentioned, except...

    I had seed potatoes grow where the little seed balls fell last year. We did till, so they did get mixed up and spread a bit further, but they produced surprisingly well. My problem is now overwintering them for next spring. It will be my own variety, suited to my climate & soil type.

    If they get softer, or start to grow before winter is through, I plan on starting them indoors.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,920 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @LaurieLovesLearning I will be interested to hear how your potatoes from true seed perform. I want to experiment with this, but it's never been a priority and there is always other stuff ahead of it.

    I've had maybe one year out of ten when tomato volunteers took over a bed and produced a lot of fruit. Even then, most of it had to be picked green and ripened inside because of the lateness of the season.

    Tomatoes are very happy to sprout on their own from seed. The challenge for those of us in cold climates, like Laurie and myself, is getting edible fruit before frost kills the plants. I've never heard of a tomato variety with the slightest frost tolerance.

    The one good year I had for tomato volunteers had an unusually late first frost.

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,375 admin

    @VermontCathy I have also wanted to do this for years. I guess that I just needed "help" getting through the first year. 😆 I'm glad that they planted themselves!

    That's also a reason why if they go softer, & if I am able, I will plant them indoors. I don't want to waste this wonderful gift that I was given.

    It would be great if a tomato could be developed for frost tolerance, but I won't expect it.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,920 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @LaurieLovesLearning I have gotten as far as saving true potato seeds, but I never get around to planting them. Eventually they get tossed in a cleanup.

    I've read some interesting discussions on breeding frost-tolerant tomatoes. The problem is that you have to start with the genes for frost tolerance, and then breed them into your desired tomato variety. But as far as I know, there is no relative of the tomato that is both close enough genetically to cross with a tomato AND has frost tolerance.

    Tomatoes were originally native to the dry Andes region of South America. I would have thought that area can be pretty cold and that would encourage frost tolerance. But apparently wild tomato ancestors grow in the parts of that region where frost is not a problem.

    It doesn't help that modern domestic tomatoes have lost 95% of the genetic diversity of their ancestors.

  • kbmbillups1
    kbmbillups1 Posts: 1,318 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited November 2022

    I had a lot of tomato volunteers this year. They even came up in grow bags that I got this spring, so they weren't in my yard last year for a stay tomato to fall into. In fact, I had 3 come up in another part of my yard a good distance from any bed I've ever planted them in. I let some grow where they were and transplanted some of them. I still have one outside getting flowers.

    I planted horsetail in one of my beds a couple years ago. Now it comes up all over that bed wherever it wants. It has even come up in my yard!

    Raspberry Rumex makes babies very easily, but it has a very long tap root so it's hard to move it if it grows where you don't want it.

  • gardneto76
    gardneto76 Posts: 528 ✭✭✭✭

    I am going with borage, red Malabar spinach, fairytale eggplant & white current tomatoes, possibly knows as champagne tomatoes. They seem to self seed and spread every year. I easily add basil to this list as well. I know have 3+ different varieties going in various places around the yard.

  • nicksamanda11
    nicksamanda11 Posts: 721 ✭✭✭✭

    My egyptian onions will take over the world.