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Reseeders: Plants That Keep On Giving

By Vera Strader

Are you looking for easy care and free—yes free–flowers to fill empty garden spaces? Give reseeders a chance. Reseeders are those plants that sow themselves and come up anew each year. Seeds of these garden gems are routinely deposited by gravity, wind, rain, or birds, requiring little encouragement from you.

You may already have reseeders or potential reseeders in your yard. Most are annuals since annuals come preprogrammed to regrow each year. A few perennials also reseed yearly.

Self-seeded plants are often more vigorous than transplants or even plants grown from seeds you spread. Perhaps Mother Nature knows best when it comes to doing it just right?

Your first step is to get some of these flowers started in your yard. Initially you may need to buy plants or seed packets from the nursery. Take a look around your friends´ yards too; often they have plants to divide or seeds to share. Once you´ve readied the soil and gotten these starter plants blooming, you´re set to enjoy flowers that grow almost without your help. Many of these flowers attract beneficial insects and birds too.

The longer I garden, the more reseeders I discover. Allysum, borage, clary sage (Salvia sclarea), columbine, cosmos, fennel, foxglove, four o´clock, hollyhocks, larkspur, love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), lupine, morning glories, annual poppies (California, bread seed, and shirley), spider flowers, and zinnias all self-sow readily in my flower beds. Volunteers of native purple needle grass (Nassella pulchra) are establishing themselves on our slopes–where native grasses once grew before being crowded out by weedy grasses.

A few of my favorite hummingbird flowers also obligingly reseed. These include Verbena bonariensis—a very tall, lavender-bloomer—and popcorn impatiens (Impatiens balfourii). Cerinthe major purpurascens blooms early in spring when little else is providing nectar. Watch hummingbirds and other pollinators flock around this plant and you will know why cerinthe is commonly called honeywort.

Come fall, put tidiness on hold by foregoing deadheading your flowers. As the growing season wanes, leave seed heads on many of your plants, not only to encourage reseeding but to also provide food for birds.

Gravity, wind, and rain tend to move seeds downhill from the mother plants. I often help seeds establish where I want instead. To do so, move heavy mulch aside and lay the old seed heads directly on the soil surface. This allows the roots of the new seedlings to reach the soil and begin growing with the rains. You can then thin out the weaker plants.

Note what the seedlings of each plant look like so that you can easily weed out the surplus and stragglers early on before they become established. Weed control is also a must for most reseeders.

THINK-TWICE PLANTS. Depending on your growing conditions, some flowers may simply be too rambunctious. I´m taken with love-in-a-mist´s charming blue flowers and striking seedpods, so to control its wandering ways, I´ve banished it to a well-removed and little watered bed where its spread is limited. I´ve done the same with four o´clocks. Others like cerinthe reseed with unfettered enthusiasm but hoe out with such ease I let them go—initially at least.

Under certain conditions, some self-seeders can be downright invasive. Fennel, a butterfly favorite, spreads to roadsides and ditches, though the bronze fennel in my yard seems to be a reluctant reseeder. Verbena bonariensis has invaded waterways in some areas but I rarely see it beyond my regularly watered planting beds. These plants and others like them should be grown with care, away from natural water sources.

Warning: Pampas grass, a rambunctious reseeder, is a noxious weed that has spread far and wide into beaches and roadsides across much of the state; fortunately many nurseries no longer sell it.

FALL IS PRIMO PLANTING TIME. Plant cold-tolerant perennials and seeds now to give them time to establish before next summer´s heat strikes. Check out the California Native Plant Society´s sale Saturday Oct. 15th at the West America Bank parking lot for native plants, seeds, and good advice too.

See you in the garden.

Master Gardener Vera Strader uses many reseeding plants in her wildlife-friendly yard.