self-sowns and overgrowns: use-what-you’ve-got gardening

I KEEP SAYING: Eliminate the polka-dot look of onesies by repeating the best plants. Happily that doesn’t always mean big purchases. In early spring, it means a sharp hori-hori knife or my favorite trowel (above) and an even sharper eye. I’m scouting the garden for self-sowns and overgrowns, and they’re getting moved into spots where they can add up to more impact.

The plants are generous to produce these “extras” in coming years, but they don’t put them where I want them. That’s my job–to reorganize and make pictures with their serendipitous bounty.

Seedlings scored and replanted in a half-hour in April:

Even at $5 apiece (a conservative estimate if they were potted up and allowed to grow a month at a nursery): 47 plants, or $235. Free, thanks to shopping in my own garden.

That’s just a very few of many self-sowns littered around the place that I can poach (or share with friends); I haven’t even started dividing most of the big clumps of overgrown perennials.

Another recent haul (seen standing in a bucket of water that’s standing inside a big, empty pot; above) was a side-effect of needed pruning, with a different tool in hand.

hellebore seedlingsSoon to emerge or get moved:

  • Nicotiana and Verbena bonariensis seedlings galore (both self-sown annuals)
  • Some of thousands of hellebore babies (various ages, above)
  • More of all of the above perennials and biennials

seedling and knifeThe process: With a tray (or the saucer from a large pot) to put things in, pop them out, preferably on a morning after a rain. Poke them in their new homes, and puddle them in with a gentle shower from the adjustable sprayer nozzle. Got it? Pop, poke, puddle.


Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Final tips: Look for seedlings too close to bed edges for their own good, where letting them grow would mean they ended up spilling over the boundary. Also scour the cracks in the pavement, or in the gravel areas. That’s where things like to sow—and where the weeding knife really comes in handy.

  1. SandyG says:

    Thanks for the reminder, Margaret. We moved a couple of years ago and still own the house where I had spent the last 30 years working at making a nice yard and gardens. Tons of plants there that need to be divided and the beds at this house are pretty barren. Looks like I have my work cut out for me! Love your blog BTW!!!

  2. Carol Shannon says:

    Although i just moved & into a place where no one has gardened for ever, I’m discovering the difference between gardening in small spaces (my former apartment, where I gardened all over the grounds) & having more space. I’m definitely moving small clumps to create bigger ones!

  3. Laura Poulette says:

    I love this post!

    My hellebores make babies too, but they seem not to bloom. (The ones I’ve transplanted are 3 years old, but still much smaller than their nursery sourced neighbors…) Do the babies several years to grow large enough to bloom?

  4. M. says:

    Love, love, love my Hori-hori knife! I’ve tried Hellebores but they just don’t seem to do well for me. Jealous of your babies!!!

    1. margaret says:

      Have you read up on making them happy, M.? I think a key is watering well the first year int he ground, and also to start with small plants, not blooming size, or just in their first year of bloom (so not giant root systems yet).

  5. Love this! I’ll also add: don’t be afraid to just pull out seedlings that you have too many of already or that have formed a “carpet”. I know I get caught up in the “must save every plant” frame of mind and the next thing I know I have 300 tiny pots with nowhere for the plants to go.

  6. Erin says:

    OK, but how do I know what are baby seedlings of things I want and what is a horrific weed seedling? Let them grow until I can positively identify them?

  7. Deborah Banks says:

    Alan makes a good point. I have a hard time tossing any of the babies. Such abundance! Primula japonica produces SO many seeds, and I think every one germinates (Note to self: Must deadhead more this year.) And if you don’t move the hellebore babies, they die out in 2 or 3 years.

  8. anne sickinger says:

    This I so Me! And you’re right about the speed at which you can accomplish the tasks! Until you spy that next patch that has more babies!!! And on and on…..

  9. Nisha says:

    The new video ad is making this blog impossible to read for me – keeps scrolling the screen to position the video where I can see it!!!

  10. Linda says:

    I usually have to pot them and let the roots develop more for awhile before putting them into their garden homes. Too many squirrels here like to ‘help’ with gardening chores, and dig up the babies. They seem to have an affinity and good nose for freshly-disturbed soil. I have a couple dozen cheap wire hanging baskets found on sale several years ago (I bought out the two grocery stores that had them for $2.50 each :>) ) When I have some not already in use protecting other stuff, I put them over new transplants for a couple weeks until they’ve had time to knit into the surrounding soil and protect them from repeated uprooting by my cute little garden ‘helpers’.

  11. SalllieRyndd says:

    Haha Margaret, At first I thought the bowl was filled with baby lettuces and I was jealous ! Actually, I have to round up all the volunteers every year; some I give away, some I replant. Unfortunately, I come from the plant collector club and tend to plant one of everything naturally! thanks for all the great ideas!

    1. margaret says:

      You’re welcome, Sallie, and yum, baby lettuces would be nice! Mine are merely tiny sprouts though, having just germinated last week, finally.

  12. Bill Plummer says:

    I can’t believe only one Corydalis solida. I must have hundreds.

    How about Bloodroot, Twinleaf, Trout Lily, etc. etc.

  13. Liane says:

    What a coincidence of timing. After dawdling for an hour at a nursery this morning, I decided to just move “extra” stuff around and divides some plants instead. Japanese ferns (mostly pictum) seem to be sprouting everywhere lately. Unfortunately so does Anemone ‘September Charm’. Must get over enjoying seedheads and ruthlessly deadhead this year! The runners are enough to keep up with, but letting seeds fly was a mistake. Hellebores, I could sell those!

  14. Lee Ann says:

    Such a timely post, Margaret! I’m rejuvenating my back perennial/shrub garden (40 feet long) and will use pieces of lysmachia to fill in the empty spaces between the new plantings and save money on mulch!

  15. Sandra Parrill says:

    My hellebores seedlings definitely don’t die out in a year or two; where they reseed into my patio they just get bigger, pry out the bricks and shove the patio furniture over! Must deadhead or there would be thousands of them.

  16. Mary says:

    If I were to split up just my hosta plants into nursery-sized portions and put a dollar value to them…I’d be a millionaire!!!

  17. Rita Hlasney says:

    I love finding baby Hellebores, corydalis, celandine poppies and dividing whatever is large enough. My garden club has a plant sale every spring, so I have plenty to sell. So of the little stuff, I let grow a year to guarantee a good viable plant. Plus, I give lots away to club members. For the newbies , it takes a little while to recognize baby plants versus weeds. But is so fun. I find annuals that reseed. Look for Impatients, vinca and petunias. Those can also be potted up.

  18. Carole Clarin says:

    Bought a hori hori knife today-loving it already! Not too much to divide here in the berkshires but of course there’s always my exuberant lady’s mantle and using the knife made it so much easier. Will keep looking…

  19. Sarah says:

    So true! Our neighbors hold a plant exchange every year for all those things that just seem to multiply out of control, and it provides a great opportunity to experiment with new plants in your garden without the risk of losing too much money.

  20. Poulsbo Garden Lady says:

    Hi Margaret,
    Thank you again for your reminder to avoid the polka-dot effect. I took your advice to heart a couple of years ago and the look of my garden has been transformed. It looks so much more cohesive and pulled together now. Hellebores do really well here in the PNW, and the babies I transplanted 2 years ago all bloomed this year. I did wait to let them get a bit bigger before moving them…the babies in your photo would take several years to bloom here so maybe that is other readers’ problem? Others I moved around that helped bring my garden together: Japanese forest grass, geums, heucheras, and hostas…they’re repeated in all my flower beds now. I also wanted to share that I was successful in propogating hydrangeas by layering this year (after accidentally making new rhodies a few times)…would love to have your input on the do’s and dont’s of this method…I remember you discussed it a couple of years back but perhaps a refresher? Thanks so much for all the inspiration Margaret!

  21. Leslie says:

    I did a wedding in November and was testing some hydrangeas for the arrangement. When they died, I just threw them out the back door to be picked up later. A couple of weeks later I had a helper here and he just stuck the sticks in the ground–I thought they were long dead! They have all survived and are now healthy 3″ plants. Of course this is the gift of living in Northern California. Not too hot and just the right amount of water and some protection. But really, these cut flowers were DEAD!! WOW! Not just seeds that propagate easily.

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