The pleasure of finding volunteer plants

Recently, as I was showing the garden to our daughter and son-in-law who were visiting us from DC for the day, the interesting subject of volunteer plants came up when they asked the name of a pretty plant in full bloom. Proudly, I explained that the cleome, an annual, that looked so much at home in the flower bed, was kind of an “uninvited guest” since it came on its own. It is evidently the result of seeds dispersed from last summer’s plants that overwintered in the soil, and the only thing I have done is dig from the place I first found it and plant at the present location. Nevertheless, regardless of the way the cleome has found the way in our garden, I am happy to have it.

Volunteer plants are a gardener’s perk or freebies, so to speak; they are tough, carefree plants and usually fare well since they show up at places that are well-suited for their existence. For instance, there is a particular basil I been having difficulty raising all summer long, but now I see small plants growing in the area it was planted the previous season. As I don’t want to disturb the delicate root system by relocating them, I have put markers at the site for identification.

In the garden in general, there is no dearth of volunteer plants unless one is meticulously tidy, and plants that are considered unnecessary are not given a chance to survive by regular cultivation and weeding. An average gardener like me, on the other hand, weeds to a limited extend only, hence finds it exciting to run into volunteer plants at all kinds of unexpected places.   

In order to assure the return of self-sown plants the following year, such desired plants need to be allowed to go to seed during the current year, although at times, due to cross pollination, the outcome might be different from the original parents. Also, go easy on the use of a pre-emergent weed controlling agent; granted that such practices might bring more of the “unwanted guests” than one can handle. But then again, who said life is fair.

Gita’s Tip of the Month: Deadhead annuals to prolong the flowering period; also, ones that have started looking unruly, can be pruned and given a light dose of fertilizer to promote new, more neat-looking growth.


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