If you appreciate the convenience and affordable luxury of growing your own herbs, keeping a garden of self-sowing herbs may be perfect for you. Not only can growing herbs that sow themselves be quite easy, it can make keeping an herb garden more affordable.
Instead of spending money each year to replenish your seed supply, you can just let your little seed makers do what they do naturally, and then harvest their hard work before the birds do. Plus, no more trips to the grocery store for fresh herbs.
Keeping a Self-Sowing Garden
One thing to keep in mind if you’re considering growing self-sowing herbs is that a self-sown garden will never be the neat and tidy affair that a carefully cultivated and hand-planted garden is. If you enjoy the straight lines and color blocks of a micromanaged vegetable garden, a self-sown garden is not for you. If, however, you’re the sort who loves the uncontrolled spontaneity of a wild flower prairie and all of the local wildlife that it brings, a lush garden full of self-sown herbs may be just right for your nature-loving heart.
For the most part, growing herbs that self-sow is pretty easy. Depending on where you live, you may be able to just let the healthy herbs that you do have go to seed and watch the “chips fall where they may.” Depending on your climate, the following spring you may find self-sown, free-range herb seedlings dispersed throughout your garden (if not your lawn). Carried by the wind, by birds, and by other wandering diners, seeds have a way of going everywhere.
If, however, you want (or need) a little more control over the whole affair, it’s really not much more work. When your herbs go to seed, just collect the ones from your healthy herbs and disperse them the following season on your own. Once they sprout, you may need to thin out your seedlings (to help control aggressive herbs or those that germinate a little too readily), but, if you’re comfortable letting your garden grow relatively free of design and intervention, that’s really about it.
A Few Self-Sowing Herbs to Avoid
Although it’s great to have herbs that will do the work for you, some herbs grow a little too freely, and will readily take over your garden if you let them. Of course, one gardener’s weed is another gardener’s wild flower, so, what one person considers a “weedy herb” another person may just call a “prolific grower.” It really comes down to how much space you have, and how much of a given herb you’ll use and enjoy.
If you’re concerned about self-sowing herbs that get out of hand, however, you may want to tread carefully with the following:
Also known as Oriental garlic and Chinese chives, garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) are similar to standard chives in how they grow and are used, but they have a distinct flavor that sets them apart. Like other Allium, they’re fantastic for attracting beneficial insects.
Mint is notorious for self-seeding and spreading. Unless you really love mint, and have no problem with it taking over your garden (and your lawn … and your beds), consider confining mint in containers to reduce spread. This includes herbs related to mint, like lemon balm (Melissa officinalis).
I admit it: I love chives (Allium schoenoprasum), which is probably why I write about them so often. And why shouldn’t I? They smell great, they deter pests, they taste lovely, and they have medicinal qualities (like so many other Allium). That doesn’t, however, negate the fact that some people dislike them. Why? Because chives will readily spread if they are not contained.
Prolific Self-Sowing Herbs
Luckily, many of the most popular and versatile herbs will self-sow if given the opportunity. Here are just a few self-seeding herbs that are crazy-easy to grow:
Delicious in salads, soups, Latin dishes, Asian recipes and more, cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) doesn’t just taste great, it’s a super source of bone-boosting vitamin K. It’s incredibly easy to grow too—just be sure to keep it from overheating if you don’t want it to go to seed.
Dill (Anethum graveolens) is a handy herb to keep in your garden because (like cilantro) you can use both the plant and the seeds in cooking. Make your own marinades and pickles with the seeds or use the actual herb for knock-out fish and salads.
If you like to cook, then you know there’s no substitute for fresh basil (Ocimum basilicum). And, when you grow basil in your garden, you’re likely to always have enough of this versatile, prolific herb on hand.
A favorite with medicinal herb enthusiasts, chamomile (Asteraceae) self-sows freely and can be used to make tea, facial cleansers and poultices.
For more information on growing a self-sowing garden or any of my other favorite garden goodies, check out my Gardening Guides page.