As Ye Self-Sow, So Shall Ye Reap
As winter closes in, I find myself turning more and more to that emotional survival trick of gardeners everywhere: obsessing over what I’m going to plant next spring. As I peruse my books and catalogs, I keep running into an ominous phrase: “self-sows freely”.
Experienced gardeners know what this means. It means that you are bound to a plant in holy and implacable matrimony, no divorces or annulments allowed. It means this plant will be in your garden forever. It means you will be pulling out seedlings far and wide, or watch this plant choke out the competition.
Or perhaps not. “Self-sows freely” is perhaps a phrase that is more ambiguous than ominous, since it does not adequately describe the variety of self-sowing behaviors exhibited by garden plants. To remedy this problem, I provide the following glossary of variations in self-sowing.
Self-sows charmingly. Pops up with endearing randomness around the garden. A good example of this would be Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canandensis). Sure you’ll find seedlings showing up in odd and inconvenient places (in between pavers, for example). But it’s impossible to be mad at a columbine, isn’t it? Of course, it is! Just move the seedling or, if you have to, scratch it out.
Self-sows quixotically. Insists on germinating in places it couldn’t possibly survive for more than a year or two. My Brown-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba), for example, is always emerging in unlikely spots, such as next to the base of a huge Siberian Elm tree. Apparently, it dreams the impossible dream.
Self-sows maliciously. Puts down roots where you don’t want it, AND the seedlings are stubborn little buggers. Example: Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium).
Self-sows perversely. Self-sows, but never in the places where you want it to spread. Example: Calico Aster (Symphyotricum lateriflorum).
Self-sows exuberantly. Every single one of a multitude of seeds germinates, carpeting the land with seedlings. Example: Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum).
Self-sows adventurously. Example: Blue Stem Goldenrod (Solidago caesia). Seeds travel far from the mother ship, I mean plant, boldly going where none of their species has gone before.
So what other types of self-sowing have you seen in your garden, and what are the self-sowing plants you love or hate the most?