Best Vegetables that Sow Themselves

by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener

  • Easiest to Grow self-sowing vegetable plants
  • Self-sower Vegetables for early spring gardens
Succession bed

When adding and “turning in” some Barnyard Manure, the ideal soil amendments, and plant nutrients for the perfect garden soil, have you ever wished the garden would merely “come back” by itself? Succession planting is one easy, easy way to have a continual harvest; simply plant short rows of your vegetables every 2-3 weeks. But, planting self-sowing vegetables is an even easier way to have early spring vegetables replant themselves in the garden.

Bolting Lettuce

Early spring vegetables that bolt are often looked at as a bad thing.  If a plant isn’t harvested often enough, it can go far beyond a flavorful harvest quality to an unpalatable bitter or spicy. So a natural inclination is to rip these plants out of the garden and plant something else in their places. If you have enough garden and space, resist that temptation and let the seeds ripen and drop, and the plants automatically will succession-plant  themselves!

The weather dictates when plants go to seed. If temperatures soar before early spring crops have time to grow, vegetables like spinach, lettuce, and corn salad give up and bolt into seed stalks. Biennial crops like broccoli and kale that experience a sudden dip in temperatures may think they’ve gone through winter and are entering their second growing season, and go directly to seed. The weather controls much of our gardening, and when plants bolt into seed, it’s merely within their nature; it eventually happens to all plants.

Controlling Self-Sowing Vegetables – Vegetables left to themselves go to seed as soon as possible, especially leafy crops like lettuce, kale, and herbs.  Being harvested delays seed production. When their leaves are heavily harvested plants focus on regrowing new leaves rather than seeds. 

Get plants to come up in other garden spaces by waiting until the seeds have dried and are ready to drop. Scatter the seeds or cut off the entire seed head and toss it onto a new garden space.

Self-sown plants are not good at spacing themselves for optimal growth, so some thinning may be required.  Thinning can be tedious, but just remember that most of the thinned plants are edible and can be added to salads, soups, and other dishes.

Bottom line is, if you allow some randomness and serendipity in your garden, you’re apt to be pleasantly rewarded.

Early spring vegetables best left to bolt, seed, and self-sow for summer or fall include:

Clockwise: Arugula, Collard Greens, Carrots & Borage (Bottom Left)

Arugula is one of the first vegetables of spring. It tries to go to seed quickly, as soon as the temperatures begin to warm.  You can keep it growing longer by planting taller plants on its south side to provide shade.

Borage often self-sows. Since it is the flowers we harvest and use, you will need to hold off on harvesting if you want perpetual sowing, but there usually are plenty of flowers to fill gardeners’ needs.

Carrots can have a long growing season so not everyone will have enough time to ssee self-sowers mature. But if you choose shorter, fast-maturing varieties, like the small, round carrots, odds are improved. A bonus of letting carrots go to seed is the beneficial insects their flowers attract.

Collards can be large plants, and you may not have the room to let one idle until it drops its seeds, but if you do, go for it.

Clockwise: Fennel, Lettuce, Radishes & Dill (Bottom Left)

Fennel  likes to re-seed,  especially leafy fennel.   Like carrots and dill, fennel has flowers that beneficial insects can’t resist.  You may want to harvest every last fennel seed, but allow a few to re-seed and you’ll be endowed with fresh, new plants.

Lettuce will continue growing throughout the summer if given plenty of water.  Sooner or later a plant or two or three will manage to bolt.  If not pulled out too soon, most varieties of lettuce are only too happy to self-sow.

Radishes need to reproduce, or they become woody or unpleasantly hot. Most gardeners lose a few radishes to bolting and quickly pull them out. If you let the seeds fall, you will get volunteers, but you will need to keep them cool with plenty of water or they will become unpleasantly spicy hot!

Spinach plants are one of the fastest to go to seed. If spring is long and cool, edible volunteers could appear right away. Most years, we  have to wait until fall for temperatures to cool down enough to see new plants emerging.

Until next issue, I’ll be here at Watters Garden Center helping local gardeners with their vegetable gardens.

Ken can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd in Prescott, or contacted through his web site at  or .