waste not, want not: dill and other volunteers

WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH ALL YOUR ‘VOLUNTEERS,’ the self-sown plants that sprout from seedheads of last year’s adults? I have to confess I let most of them get big enough to be useful (like this dill, above, now uprooted and on my windowsill, about to spice up some dish or other), and here’s how:

I’ll admit it freely; I am messy here and there. Yes, I clean up and edge and mulch…most places. But not all. There’s no better way to get good germination, I’ve found over many years, than to simply let certain plants sow themselves where they wish to grow, and then be very careful during spring cleanup to leave their chosen playpens alone.

There’s a spot beside my patio where Nicotiana and annual poppies like to propagate–don’t ask me why–and I’ve learned to let them do so, above, until they’re just big enough to move around where I want them. (This means we each get our way half the time, I guess you could say.) In the driveway gravel, wonderful sedums like ‘Matrona’ sow all the time, and I’m happy to have the freebies to add to the garden.

If the colony of volunteers is in the right place but just too thickly sown, I edit (with repeated pinches of my fingers, removing enough to allow the survivors good spacing). If the colony isn’t where I want it at all, I scoop up trowelfuls (above, with Nicotiana) and move them, above, or sometimes even individual young plants.

This is my system with not just the poppies and flowering tobacco, but with tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis), and would be with Nigella and larkspur and other things I no longer grow (though who knows why?).

I know, I should neaten up my act–how messy to let the dill grow 6 inches high before weeding it out? But what a good salad tonight’s will be, and truth be told, there’s a few more young stashes out there in very wrong spots that will be on the kitchen windowsill a day or two or three hence.

P.S.–I am ruthless on tomato volunteers, as I have mentioned.

18 comments
May 18, 2010

comments

  1. elizabeth says

    ah, a trowel! (feel like hitting my head and saying “doh”) I tried moving a few poppies around but they really were unconvinced by the new spots. I will have to try again first thing tomorrow.

  2. Heather @ what's blooming this week says

    Your post is so timely – I just spent today “thinning” out the selfseeded forget-me-nots so that they could blanket an area next spring with their little blue blossoms. The trowel is a great idea – will use it NEXT time.

  3. Jane says

    Very timely observations on self sowers for me too. Dill, v. bonariensis, and cleome are what is coming up thickly in places. I worry that sometimes they choke out the slower growing perennials. But I love having the freebies to spread about the other garden beds.

  4. says

    I’m having trouble getting even my best reseeders to do so. My soil is not the best, but I hope it will improve as time goes on. My dill did not reseed, nor did the seed I put down take.

    My fennel reseeded – but not in the soil where it was, it somehow managed to reseed itself 10 feet UPWIND in my basil patch! LOL

    Well, I’m just getting to really know herbs in the last couple of years, so it’s all a learning process. :o)

    ~Faith

  5. bavaria says

    I love it when nature takes over and makes more plants for me to have and share with my friends. Those seedlings start very well in my gravel pathways for some reason. In his beautiful book, “Making More Plants”, Ken Druse shows how he covers the surface of his newly planted pots with light gravelly substances. Seems to work well in nature and in the nursery.

  6. Kelley says

    Glad to see there are so many like-minded people. Why fight nature, right? But I am looking for a suggestion. Anybody know anything like Verbena bonariensis that is white? I need something that grows like V. bonariensis but that will set off all the other purples and pinks I have in one particular bed.

  7. says

    It’s just so hard to leave the beds alone in the spring when i want to clean up! But i know that my v. bonarariensis and cosmos are late to come in–so i must wait. It’s interesting as you begin to learn who’s who in the little seedling game. Each year I seem to recognize more little guys, but it’s still hard, and now I have some really huge weeds that I thought might be something good. Sigh.

  8. Maggie says

    I’m having fun with the black-eyed susans that are showing up all over the place this year. It’s never happened before (10 years at this location), but they’re going crazy and I’m not complaining as there are lots of bare spots that can use some filling!

    • says

      Welcome, Edwina. Yes,hard to resist tidying up, I know. But worth it. And yes, some little devils do fool me, too, and turn out to be monsters in disguise. See you soon again, I hope.

      Welcome, Maggie. That sounds like a nice serendipity; and the butterflies and then birds will like them, too, I bet. Don’t be a stranger; see you soon.

  9. says

    I do the same. Messiness can be a virtue sometimes. I also leave some of the pretty ones in situ in the garden so that the butterfly babies have something to feast upon before changing and taking flight. Dill, parsley, bronze and green fennel, etc. Excellent post.~~Dee

  10. CalGalinMichigan says

    Over Memorial Day weekend a neighbor of mine holds a three day plant sale. She asks neighbors for thinnings from their gardens. I pot up as many “volunteers” as I have leftover pots for, along with starts from my herb garden and workhorses like hosta and iris. This year I’ve potted extras of coreopsis, yarrow, cranesbill, bellflower and loads of dill. My neighbor gives the proceeds of the sale to our local high school. I get rid of my extra pots and plants, and others get a great deal on some new greenery!

  11. Naomi says

    This being my first spring with this yard-turned-garden, I’m finding that all sorts of things are popping up in the newly turned beds – a combination of volunteers from goodness knows where (I’m not even going to /ask/ where the stray.. ahem… hemp, seedling, originated; the morning glories, a couple of odd looking ferns, a tomato plant, and a strawberry of some sort are more my style) and stalled gardening attempts by past owners, I think.

    I’ve been torn between pulling them up and sticking to my Overall Garden Plan, and wanting to adopt them into the garden. Glad to get an experienced vote in the keep-and-relocate column! :D

  12. says

    Cleomes will take over my gardens if not kept in check. I simply remove handfuls as well. Love the nigella, columbine, larkspur and forget-me-nots who seem to be less invasive and re-seed just right! I also noticed that the 2009 parsley has re-seeded which I am so thrilled with.

  13. Wendy R. says

    AHH The volunteers! I’ve ALWAYS had trouble pulling and tossing the “extras” or volunteers.. and my gardening space is not all that spaceous.. So when I found the semi local plant swap group on Yahoo.. I was thrilled! Now I can save the babies in pots and take them to swaps all summer long and get something new and different.. OR just donate them to community gardens!!

  14. Liz Stein says

    I have lettuce seedlings all through my rose beds; my composting leaves something to be desired. But lettuce is yummy, and gone soon, so, all good, right? But the fennel is everywhere. So is the garlic mustard, but that’s another problem.

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