11 Self-Seeding Vegetables to Save You Time and Money
Do you love those little volunteer lettuce plants that come up early each spring? What if most of your garden could plant itself? With self-seeding vegetables, you can set up your garden to let you spend more time harvesting and less time planting.
Self-seeding vegetables are vegetables that come back on their own each year from the seeds that were dropped by the last year’s plants.
This is how plants in nature naturally reproduce, but most of the time in our gardens we tend to interrupt this cycle and instead sow the seeds ourselves. We like control, but this control comes at a cost—it requires that you do the work of collecting or buying seeds, and then sowing them.
Plus, you need to get the timing right. Which is why people come up with complex formulas to help figure out when exactly when you should plant each vegetable and which vegetables are right for your garden.
An easier way is to let nature do all that work for you. That’s where self-seeding vegetables come into play.
This blog post covers the basics of gardening with self-seeding vegetables to help you get started. It’ll give you all the information you need to hit the ground running with 11 different self-seeding vegetables.
11 Self-Seeding Vegetables Covered in This Post
- 6Swiss Chard
- 7Mache (Corn Salad)
- 9Vegetable Amaranth
- 10Mustard Greens
There’s a lot to remember, but don’t worry about taking notes. You can grab a free and easy-to-print cheat-sheet with all the information you need to get started with self-seeding vegetables. Sign up to get your copy today!
Techniques for Gardening with Self-Seeding Vegetables
Gardening with self-seeding vegetables is a bit different than regular gardening, where you sow the seeds yourself or plant vegetable starts right where you want them.
You don’t have that control with self-seeding vegetables. They tend to come up where they please. But there are several techniques you can use to help you garden with self-seeding vegetables.
4 Techniques for Gardening with Self-Seeding Vegetables
- 1Create a garden bed just for self-seeding vegetables. This way you can let the seeds fall where they please, without causing problems in your main garden.
- 2Harvest the volunteers when they’re little. If you let your vegetables self-seed, you’ll get a good number of volunteers. Often, they won’t be where you want them to be. But if you heavily harvest them as “micro-greens,” you can get a great harvest without getting overwhelmed. Often these volunteers will come up earlier than if you tried planting them yourself. Head’s up—this only works with the greens, not with other self-seeding veggies. Also, you may need to pull the whole plant up to keep up with all the volunteers.
- 3Treat the volunteers as weeds. Just like you would remove unwanted weeds, you can just pull the volunteer vegetables that come up where you don’t want them. I recommend dropping them in place to help mulch your other plants. This can work great for volunteers that don’t produce edible greens, like tomatoes. Leave a few with good spacing, and grow them like you would if you had planted them yourself.
- 4Plant perennial vegetables and let the self-seeding vegetables come up around them. Another great option is to plant perennial vegetables as the main crops in your garden. Then plant annual and biennial vegetables around them. If you pick annual and biennial vegetables that self-seed, then these can come up around the well established perennial vegetables and should not bother them. This can also be done around other perennial plants like fruit trees!
In general, the key to gardening successfully with self-seeding vegetables is learning to be okay with a bit more chaos in your garden. They won’t come up in nice rows, but this chaos provides you with “free” harvests and can even help minimize your pest issues.
I don’t know about you, but I would love to have all my “weeds” be self-seeding vegetables.
Over time, you can start being selective about which plants you let go to seed, and improve the quality of the volunteers in your garden. You can choose to favor the best-tasting veggies or the biggest producers, or the ones that handle water stress, letting your true gems pass on their seeds while nipping the others in the bud.
You can do it by watching the plant and learning to recognize when it’s close to dropping its seeds.
11 Self-Seeding Vegetables to Get You Started
This is not a complete list of all self-seeding vegetables, but it should be enough to get you going. You’ll find a brief description of each vegetable and a video to introduce you to the plant. You’ll also find links to help you grow it, understand its process for dropping seeds, or buy it when you’re ready to get it in your garden.
Some of the links focus on saving seeds. You might be wondering, why is there info on saving seeds for self-seeding vegetables? Saving seeds is a more common practice than trying to get vegetables to self-seed, so these seed-saving links are often the best resources to learn when the vegetable will produce seeds.
If you know when you could harvest seeds, then you’ll know when the plant will start dropping its seeds.
Head’s up—some of the plants here are biennial plants, which means they won’t produce seeds until their second year.
If you live in a cold climate, biennials may not survive over winter, so they won’t work as a self-seeding vegetable. In this case, I’d stick with the annuals on this list.
I’ll be sure to tell you if the vegetable is an annual or biennial plant, and help you figure out whether a biennial would survive your winter. The USDA plant hardiness zone (also called the USDA climate zone) is a standard indicator for gauging whether a plant can survive your winter. So for the biennials, I’ve listed the safe plant hardiness zone for the plant.
You can find your own zone here and compare it to the safe zones for the plant.
1. Orach (Mountain Spinach)
Orach is one of my favorite vegetables, but it’s a bit different than regular greens. For one thing, it can get 6 or even 8 feet tall! But it’s very tasty, and it can replace spinach in your salads or for cooking. While orach will germinate early in spring, it can handle the heat of summer better than other early greens. I’ve also found that it still tastes good even after going to seed. Orach works great as a self-seeding vegetable—almost too well!
Info on Orach
The classic lettuce—not much to say about this one. Just make sure to let it flower and produce seeds if you want it to work as a self-seeding vegetable. Volunteer lettuce will sometimes become bitter after a few generations. One way to avoid this is to let only the lettuce plants with the best flavor go to seed.
Info on Lettuce
Arugula can be a great self-seeding vegetable. For better for worse, it’s another that almost works too well—I had whole carpets of it coming up in some of my beds! The flowers also tend to flop over in the rain or wind. But if you have the right space for it, arugula can be an easy self-seeding vegetable for your garden.
Info on Arugula
This one can be a bit tricky. Try to stick with non-hybrid varieties, because self-seeded tomatoes will often be small if the parents were hybrids. Keep in mind that in some climates there is just not enough time for volunteer tomatoes to produce much fruit.
If you’re in it for the long haul, then over time, you might be able to develop a variety of tomato that works great in your climate as a self-seeding vegetable. This is called developing a landrace. Follow this link to learn more, and if you have questions, the forums at Permies.com are a great place to start. Good luck!
Info on Tomatoes
What is a flower doing in this list? Well, in addition to being a very lovely flower, nasturtiums are also edible! The flowers and leaves add a nice peppery flavor to salads. I love growing these in my garden! They also tend to self-seed easily, making them a great self-seeding vegetable.
Info on Nasturtiums
6. Swiss Chard
Swiss chard is one of my favorite vegetables to grow. They are resilient, and in my climate they can overwinter without any protection. If your winters are mild enough, then Swiss chard will continue to produce through the winter and then generate seeds the following summer. If your winters are too cold, then I’m afraid Swiss chard won’t work as a self-seeding vegetable in your garden, since most of the time it won’t go to seed during its first year.
Info on Swiss Chard
7. Mache (Corn Salad)
Mache, (pronounced like “mosh,”) is a cool-weather vegetable that will go to seed as soon as the temperatures start getting in the 80s (F). But if you let it go to seed, you may get a nice fall crop coming up without even having to plant! Mache is a salad green with a mild, nutty flavor. Popular in Europe and becoming more popular here in the United States, this is a great fall, winter, and spring green to grow in your garden.
Info on Mache (Corn Salad)
Like Swiss chard, kale needs to overwinter to be able to go to seed. But if your climate is warm enough, this is a great plant that can give you harvests all winter and then drop seed once summer comes. The new volunteer kale plants will pop up the following fall.
Info on Kale
9. Vegetable Amaranth
This is amaranth that’s grown for its tasty leaves instead of as a cereal crop for its seeds. Tall like orach, you will need a good spot to grow it where it won’t shade out your other plants. The flowers and seed stalks of amaranth can be very beautiful, making a nice addition to the look and feel of your garden.
Info on Vegetable Amaranth
10. Mustard Greens
Spicy mustard greens are a great addition to your garden, and if you let the plants go to seed you will get quite a few volunteers. (The seeds can also be harvested and used to make mustard!)
Info on Mustard Greens
Radishes are a fun, fast-growing vegetable that can easily be mixed into your garden. They have a bit of a bite to them but they can be great in salads, and of course, they make themselves right at home on any vegetable platter. If you want your radishes to self-seed, you’ll need to leave some of them in the ground. The same goes for any self-seeding root crop. (Don’t worry. With all those seeds, you should get even more back the next year without having to replant.)
Info on Radishes
Next Steps for Your Garden
So are you ready to try out self-seeding vegetables in your garden? A great first step is to just pick one—say lettuce—and let some of the plants go to seed.
Lettuce won’t take over, and you’ll get a great early harvest of young lettuce leaves.
Once you get used to lettuce, then add another, and then another. Before you know it, you’ll be getting a free harvest from your self-seeding vegetables each year!
As you start growing more self-seeding vegetables, remember to use one (or more!) of these 4 techniques to make it easier to manage your garden.
4 Techniques for Gardening with Self-Seeding Vegetables
- 1Create a garden bed just for self-seeding vegetables.
- 2Harvest the volunteers when they are little.
- 3Treat the volunteers as weeds (but still use them!).
- 4Plant perennial vegetables and let the self-seeding vegetables come up around them.
Self-seeding vegetables can be a huge time-saver and give you great free harvests. If you work with these plants, your garden will be more productive than ever.
But I know this is a lot to remember, so before you go, make sure you get the companion cheat-sheet! You can grab your free and easy-to-print cheat-sheet with all the information you need to get started with self-seeding vegetables. Sign up to get your copy today!