Too Busy to Deadhead - The Payoff

You know what I've realized of late - I'm horrible at multi-tasking.  I'm not referring to doing multiple things at once, which I'm also horrible at, but doing multiple things in one day.  More often than not, when I'm doing one "thing", such as working in the garden or sorting through the gazillion photos I took in Denver (still on the to-do list), everything else gets put on the back-burner.

This weeks time guzzler was stage 1 of restoring an invasive infested border
that's been on the to-do list for years.

Often it's the everyday chores that end up slipping through the the basket of laundry that's been sitting in my bedroom since last Friday can attest to.

Family member:  When's dinner?
Me:  What time is it?
Family member:  5:00
Me:  Soon (delude myself into thinking I still have a bit of time)
Family member:  What are we having?
Me:  I haven't decided yet (realize that I really should get cracking on dinner, set aside what I'm doing and try to come up with a meal that can be ready in 30 minutes.  We end up eating at 7 'cause I'm no Rachel Ray.)

Much like everyone else, I'm afflicted with "too much to do, too little time" syndrome and the garden is no small part of that.  Certain garden tasks that go undone, however, end up being blessings.  I'm talking about deadheading, or lack thereof, and the self-seeding that results.  And while some of the self-seeded surprises in my garden may be "same ol', same ol'" for someone in a more southerly climate, around here (in Canadian zone 5/6, U.S. zone 4/5)  they are truly something to celebrate 😃

A couple of repeat performers in the garden are calendula and California poppies - I’m always happy to see them come up each spring:

Self-Seeded Calendula

Self-seeded California Poppy

I’ll weed them out if they are in a bad spot, but otherwise, I let them be.  I’ve been much too busy to plant up the bed beside the shed, for example, and the self-seeded calendulas have taken over which is just fine by me.  I’ll probably plant up this bed "intentionally" at some point, but in the meantime, the calendulas make me happy with zero effort.

This season, I had a few new self-seeders that I’m totally relishing.  Last year, I planted cosmos along the edge of the veg garden and this spring, I was rather surprised to see a grouping of them come up right in the middle of the veg area:

Baby cosmos in mid-July with one solitary bloom

Since this is an otherwise barren area of the veg garden (which will house a bed at some point in the future), I didn't bother moving or thinning them and now have a sea of cosmos:

Cosmos are large but wispy plants so walking through this "meadow" is not an issue.

Self-seeded alyssum was another first & a few came up in unexpected places.

The self-seeded alyssum is doing MUCH better than
those I started in the spring (but that's a whole other story...)

On the hilltop, a few sunflowers have made an appearance in an area that was mulched this past spring.  I haven't grown sunflowers on the hill in a few years so I'm thinking the seeds were either mixed in with the mulch or deposited by birds or squirrels.

Sunny surprise on the hilltop

Flowers weren't the only self-seeders on the ornamental front - a couple of tree seedlings also made an appearance in the mulch including this pine:

Notice the strategic circle of rocks so that I don't accidentally step on it.

I'm planning on potting it up soon & it will then join the baby spruce that I found in the spring:

Growing a tree from this stage will be a fun experiment, if I manage to keep them alive, and that's a BIG if 😉

I also had a couple of surprise self-seeded edibles in the vegetable garden.  Last year, I let the lettuce that I planted in the early summer to go seed.  I was actually hoping that they may end up giving me a fall harvest, but by the time the plants flowered, the seeds matured, fell off and germinated, it was too late in the season.  I did end up with seedlings but they were still tiny by the time the cool weather rolled around and didn’t end up amounting to anything.  I thought that was it but fast forward to spring and this happened:

Self-seeded lettuce
Say what?  What’s interesting is that the "early" lettuce I purposefully started indoors and transplanted, ended up being harvestable at the same time as the seedlings that came up on their own.  I’m letting the lettuce go to seed again this year – if I have a repeat performance next year, I may be able to forgo the early indoor seeding.  Now THAT would really be something!

This year's lettuce starting to bolt

Another self-seeder was the cilantro:

Cilantro going to seed...aka coriander
(which is such a delicious spice, btw)

I grew some last year and just left it once it bolted but was nonetheless surprised when a bunch of seedlings came up in the beds this spring.  They have now bolted and while I've harvested some of the seeds for my spice rack, I've left quite a lot on the plants in the hopes they come up on their own again next year.

Of course, the self-seeding strategy sometimes backfires as in the case of the Dah-Ye garlic chives I sowed a few years ago.  I LOVE them and their blooms are absolutely amazing.

The pollinators love them too...

I didn’t bother taking off the seed heads even though, in the back of my mind, I knew this may be a mistake.  And it was.  I had dozens of seedlings come up in both the adjacent beds as well as the pathways.

I've removed well over a hundred seedlings & I have a feeling 
I'll still be pulling stragglers next year

Yup – won’t let that happen again.  I'll be popping off those heads as soon as they start fading.

The dill has also gone crazy.  The bright side – I haven’t had to plant dill in about 4 years & swallowtail caterpillars love it.  The negative – I’m constantly weeding dill out of beds and pathways and this year was particularly bad.

Unlike in previous years where it was a free-for all seed fest,
I'll only be allowing a couple of dill plants go to seed this year.

I've made a concerted effort to weed out most of the dill before it goes to seed and am planning on "harvesting" the few heads that are left and purposefully placing them where I want dill to come up next year.  We'll have to see how well this strategy works.

Borage is another rampant self-seeder that I’ve learned my lesson on – I planted it 5 or 6 years ago and it has come up ever since.  I usually pull most of them up as they tend to grow in the most inopportune spots such as the middle of a pathway or an occupied bed.  Borage is a large (and prickly!) plant but the pollinators love it and the flowers are so pretty so I'll leave one or two if they won't get in the way.

Another pollinator favourite, which is why I always leave a couple to flower
(although I do try to pull them up as soon as the flowers start to fade

And lastly, another first was the lone Swiss chard plant that came up this spring - by the looks of it, the variety is "Peppermint":

Overwintered Peppermint Chard

Unlike the other plants in this post, however, this would not have been due to self-seeding (as the chard, which is biennial, did not go to seed last year), but rather overwintering.  Chard has never overwintered in my garden before and we had just as severe a winter last year as we normally have, so this is definitely something I have ⭐ in my notes.

Peppermint chard is an open-pollinated variety so I decided to forgo harvesting leaves in the hopes that I can harvest some seed instead.  So far, it shows no signs of bolting but I've not given up just yet.


  1. You've got a great selection of self-seeders. I tend to be overly tidy and struggle to get the plants I'd like to self-seed, although the Centranthus on my neglected back slope has managed to run amok. I haven't been able to get our native California poppies to spread down there, however!

    1. Isn't that the way it usually goes. I'm trying to "guide" where I want self-seeders for next year by placing spent heads in those areas, but we'll see how successful these efforts are. BTW - I do envy how on top of things you are in the garden & I aspire to that someday :)

  2. This year on my North of England allotment the best radishes were the self seeders ,earlier and less woody than anything that I sowed.Now in late summer self seeded rocket herb is appearing in some gaps.All good news which could be claimed as planned permaculture but is really down to happen chance.Unfortunately over the years I too have "tidied" round the plot edges and have lost most of the borage and nasturtiums.

    1. So funny that you mention radishes as I have a grouping of those flowering right now - I've been meaning to pull them but now I think I'll leave them be, although I think our season may be too short for anything to come of it. P.S. If you let even one borage plant go to seed, you should be set for years to come!

  3. That's awesome! Just as it happens in nature. I have several areas in the garden where I encourage and welcome self-seeding and spreading. And like you, some of mine are happy, unplanned events. Your sea of Cosmos is dreamy!

    1. Thanks Beth - I love the cosmos (as do the pollinators - so wonderful!!)

  4. Letting plants go to seed can certainly work in your favour, it's just a case of remembering to dead head those which you really don't want popping up all over the place. We always had such a lot of borage on the allotment, all from one initial sowing, but it didn't really matter there if it was growing in the wrong bed, as you say, the bees love it and I was only too happy to encourage them to my plot.

    1. What you mentioned about remembering to deadhead those you would rather keep in check is exactly right, Jo. While I sowed the garlic chives a few years ago, last year was the first time they've flowered and it was certainly a lesson learned. I don't get that kind of aggressive self-seeding from normal chives so I thought it would be ok - boy, was I wrong! I love borage when it's out of the way, but in the confines of a narrow pathway, it's bit too prickly to have to walk by each day.

  5. I think we all wish there were more than 24 hours in a day :)

    You certainly have a good selection of self-seeders, it's good to see and read about your flowers and vegetables.

    All the best Jan

    1. Thanks Jan :) And there really is never enough time for everything we want to do, is there?

  6. Wow! You are blessed that so many things self seeded! I planted some cosmos but they hardly grew and never bloomed. I could not find calendula seed this spring or I would have tried to get that going. I bought a borage plant and it looks dead now. Of course, when I was in the hospital Bob tried to water some but that may have not gotten watered enough. I did manage to get another post on my blog yesterday. My raspberries have grown all over the place in the path. Our son is coming tomorrow so I will direct him! lol Nancy

    1. Mother Nature often does a much better job of things than we do - I also grew some cosmos from seed this year and the self-sown ones are so much larger! I'm glad that you can rest up now and get some help from your son :)

  7. We have lots of self seeders too and like you as long as they aren’t being a nuisance I leave them be. We also have three sunflowers that seeded from some wild bird seed that must gave blown off the bird table too,

    1. I'm thinking I'll place a few sunflower seeds in a couple of areas this fall to see if they come up next spring.

  8. Chives and Rue are both aggressive self-seeders in our garden, but the most aggravating is the River Oats, though it is a beautiful ornamental grass. I'm curious to see if the 'Italian White' sunflowers will self-sow.

    1. Regular chives do self-seed here as well, but so minimally (i.e. a few come up right around the original clump), that it's not an issue. Quite the contrast from the Dah-Ye chives, that's for sure!


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