Three Cheers for the Volunteers!

Reader Contribution by Sherry Leverich Tucker
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Those of you with well manicured gardens and flower beds, look away. There is good reason to let your favorite flowers, herbs and veggies go to seed: wonderful volunteers!

Parsley is a volunteer that I really appreciate. After many years of growing this herb I have always found it to be a hard plant to germinate. If I leave old parsley, whether curly or flat leaf, to go to seed by that fall or next spring there will be new baby parsley coming up all around. Parsley is a biennial, so it will not go to seed until the second year, and it has no problems overwintering here in zone 6. By self-seeding it will germinate when the conditions are right, and already be acclimated to the area that it’s parent plants grew. How great is that?

Other great self-seeding herbs are dill, cilantro and chamomile. Some wonderful old-timey flowers that will come up as volunteers are holly-hocks (also a biennial), amaranth, spider-plant (or needle-n-thread), snow on the mountain, mexican sunflowers and zinnias (using hybrids may produce varying second generations). My mom loves the old fashioned petunias that come up year after year in colors ranging from white to every color of violet. They come up faithfully every year and flourish in our hot summer weather.

Some volunteers can be tricky. What comes up from what was a hybrid plant is probably not going to be predictable, as well as cross pollinators. If there are tomato plants coming up from where there were a variety of tomatoes growing last year, who knows what kind of tomato will emerge from that plant. Same goes for squash and melon families.

So, take a second look around before mulching or tilling the ground this spring and make sure you aren’t missing out on the bounty of volunteers peeping up, all around. 

If you have a favorite volunteer, please share what it is.

photo credit:  new parsly coming up this spring (top), sunflowers coming up on the south side of my house this spring (bottom)