In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
June, 2001
Regional Report

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This old-fashioned self-seeder, Malva sylvestris, thrives in an abandoned garden.

Self-Sowing Plants

Plants that produce an abundance of seed and readily self-sow can be a blessing or a curse. Such prolific plants bloom their heads off so they can set seed and multiply. The seeds spread all around the garden, so new plants pop up in unexpected places next season. Sometimes they arrange themselves to perfection, fitting in nicely with existing designs. But mostly they are all over and have to be weeded out diligently. They often become too crowded or crowd out more purposeful plantings. But you can have the best of both worlds by gently transplanting the out-of-place seedlings while they're small.

Common Perennial Spreaders

Certain perennial plants seem to be particularly good at spreading themselves around the garden. Early in the season I find plenty of Johnny-jump-ups, the little tricolored violas with their faces turned to the sun, blooming throughout the garden. Later in spring its bachelor's buttons, sporting large, jewel-toned blue blooms with violet accents. Now California poppies (Escholtzia) seem to have exploded in my garden with their wispy gray foliage and copious blooms in bright yellow, orange, and occasionally pink flowers. All of these will spread seed and pop up everywhere again this fall and next spring.

I particularly like my larkspurs. They're a less imposing relative of the stately delphinium. In my garden, these lanky plants look great in a narrow strip between perennials or grown in a mass planting. They work well in mass plantings. As they fade, I replace them with a late-season annual such as sunflower or just let a neighboring perennial fill their space.

Self-Sowing Annuals

For a second surge of later-blooming annuals, try letting cleome and cosmos go to seed. Plants grown this year will provide the seed for next year's show. Be aware that certain colors within flower mixes are more aggressive than others, so your rainbow of white, pink, and lavender cleome may just produce all lavender flowers next year.

Reblooming Malva

Another old reliable among self-seeders is Malva sylvestris (or M. zebrina), a short-statured hollyhock relative. This plant is charming, prolific, and wonderful in a cottage garden setting or in a garden where pinks and purples predominate. Sometimes it acts as an annual, sometimes a biennial, and sometimes a perennial. It faithfully blooms and reblooms in flushes from June until frost.

Self-Sowing Reminder

Let a few self-seeders go this summer and observe the results in your garden this fall and next year. Remember to thin religiously, transplant if you must, and enjoy the designs Mother Nature creates in your garden.


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