The Stopwatch Gardener

A gardening blog from Sheila M. Averbuch

Self-seeders versus the weeds


Click for larger imageOne of my biggest confusions when I started gardening was about mulching. I grasped that mulching my borders with a good thick layer of compost, especially home-brewed, would put goodness back into the soil, keep moisture in the ground and suppress weeds. My conflict was that I also loved the idea of self-seeding plants like foxgloves and nigella, whose bursting seedpods would drop their wares about the place and effortlessly (hah!) furnish me with a flower-packed garden. How could I mulch and not smother self-seeders trying to do their thing? Some might still come up, but I hated to take any chances.

The answer I eventually came to was mulching late and being selective about the seedlings I keep. I initially went overboard and let everything grow (“it could be a weed, but maybe it’s a rare orchid…”). Most of the self-seeders turned out to be hairy bittercress, creeping buttercup and poppies. It’s only time, and the fabulous Seed Site, that’s helped me recognise the good stuff. This year it’s been great to see self-seeding cerinthe — a truly beautiful, dusky blue-green annual — come up to join the other self-seeders like biennial wallflowers, nigella, nasturtiums, alchemilla mollis, verbascum, lychnis coronaria…and the superabundant aquilegia and foxgloves. I relocate or compost anything unwanted or in the wrong place, and I mulch around the keepers with compost now, when the soil is good and wet, to give the worms and the frost the whole winter to break it all up and pull it down below.

If you want to sort the weeds from the keepers, the Seed Site has an encyclopedic weeds section, with descriptions and pictures organised by flower colour. It does the same for hundreds of desirable plants and flowers, including popular favourites. Brilliant.

9 Comments to

“Self-seeders versus the weeds”

  1. On October 28th, 2009 at 9:57 pm Deborah at Kilbourne Grove Says:

    Great to know about this site. I do mulch very heavily, as it is a weekend garden, but I would love more selfseeders in there.

  2. On October 28th, 2009 at 10:40 pm liz Says:

    Great post and link! I’ll most certainly be checking it out! 😀

  3. On October 29th, 2009 at 7:48 am Sisah Says:

    I found your interesting blog via Blotanical and will definetly return. If you don’t mind I’ll set your “garden” into my blog-links.
    I know the problems with self made compost, I never succeed to have compost rotting hot enough to kill all seeds of weeds. To me compost is always the best to supply my sandy garden soil with humus, “mulchen” (the german word) to me means to use organic material which is not rotted yet.
    Viele Grüße

  4. On October 29th, 2009 at 8:36 am The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    Sisah – I finally have a compost bin that’s big and hot enough to kill weed seeds but I’m pretty selective about what goes in…annual weeds only if they’re not in seed, and no perennial weed roots. A few weeks ago I was stripping off individual leaves from my nettles to put them into the compost…probably unnecessarily cautious, but I’m a bit compulsive! I also mulch extensively with store-bought compost, as my bin can’t produce enough home-made yet, even for our tiny garden.

  5. On October 29th, 2009 at 12:14 pm Helen at Toronto Gardens Says:

    Good point about the self-seeders. Many of the hardy annuals and self-seeding perennials or biennials need light in order to germinate. You can always snip some of the ripe seed heads and sprinkle after mulching. They’ll be there on the surface to set down roots through that lovely compost.

  6. On October 29th, 2009 at 12:15 pm Helen at Toronto Gardens Says:

    And, by the way, thanks for the Seeds link!

  7. On October 29th, 2009 at 3:58 pm The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    YIKES! Sorry, all, I messed up the web address on first and second reference. Now corrected. The right site is — with ‘the’ in the web address itself. The original address I typed leads to a purely commercial site that’s neither encyclopedic nor particularly helpful!

    Make sure it’s the correct site you visit.

  8. On October 30th, 2009 at 12:01 am Mary Delle Says:

    I love self-seeders. They are always such a wonderful surprise.

  9. On October 30th, 2009 at 3:27 am Sylvana Says:

    I have had the same conundrum about mulching. I don’t mulch much for that very reason — and besides, the weed that gives me the most trouble, Creeping Charlie/ground ivy, laughs at mulch!

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