Self-Seeding Perennials

Fill your beds with self-seeding perennials and let them do the work for you year after year.

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by Flickr/Michael Barret
Poppy seeds have filled this meadow with their glorious blooms without any intervention by man. The poppies may have been sown by wind dispersal or bird droppings but however it was done it is glorious.

Perennials: Thriving Flower Gardens in Every Type of Light (Hobble Creek Press, 2018) by Nedra Secrist, is a useful guide for both beginning and expert gardeners alike. Secrist filled the pages with a wide variety of flowers to choose from. Find the perennials that will best fill your beds. This excerpt is located in Chapter 1, “Full-sun Perennials.”

Without the seeds of autumn, there would be no next year’s gardens. In the challenging Rocky Mountains, gardeners fight to grow.

Western perennials never reach the heights or dimensions that wetter, warmer gardens do, with one exception, the self-seeding perennials. Self-seeded starts like malva have a vigorous hardiness and natural beauty that compliments the mountain gardens far better than many of the new pricy hybrids.

Add to this the satisfaction a gardener feels when nurturing those funny little hard brown seed nodules into the brilliant colors and breathtaking fragrances that flowers become! What a rush! Besides, it’s a great deal! Few things in life are free, especially something as special as perennials!

Perennials that readily self-sow or naturally propagate themselves are the backbone of a garden. Fall dropping or sowing of seeds mimics nature by allowing plants to germinate in spring after being subjected to the cold temperatures and moisture of winter or vernalization. These seeds are so anxious to germinate they will sprout in the spring garden, eliminating any worry of hardening off or sun burn that greenhouse plants deal with.

Most seeds come from the center or end of a perennial that has finished blooming. Seed heads hold thousands of seeds within their dried blooms. Perennials with daisy-shaped blooms hold their seeds in the middle disk of a flower. Stem-type perennials form their seeds on the end of the stem.

The sowing of seeds is done in three common-sense approaches. For one, the gardener can collect, dry to ripen fully, and spread the seeds. Another option is to relax and allow the perennials to do their own sowing. Many will be lost to wind or birds, but this can be a blessing unless a garden has room for thousands of malvas! The usual method of sowing is a combination and has been performed since the dawn of gardening, so let’s get started!

Enjoy this look at some of the easiest self-seeding perennials. They are all easy to seed, easy to germinate and easy to grow. The examples shown are just a small minority of self-sustaining perennials and know there are tons more to try.

These are just a sampling of perennials that are easy to self-sow. If you are uncertain about a plant, experiment and allow the seeds to dry and fall to the ground off the plant. If you want seedlings in your garden do not use pre-emergent herbicides for this chemical does not allow seeds to germinate.

Chemical fertilizers sprinkled around the parent plant often kill germinating seedlings.

As the mustard seed symbolizes that all things are possible, seeds have the same purpose that of replenishing the earth. Seeds are a powerful symbol for the beginning of everything.


plate with dried white flowers with a sign reading alcea rosea

Alcea rosea or Hollyhock seeds form round pods that are full of seeds. The seeds are large and easy to handle. They yield a high germination rate even when the seeds are not fresh. Grow seed lightly covered.

dried orange flowers sitting in a white bowl with a sign reading music red and gold

Aquilegia or Columbine seed pods form on the ends of stems and must be used immediately or it will go dormant, so fresh seed is mandatory. Seed germinated columbine will be stronger and hardier than the parent. Grow seed uncovered.

dried red ball like flowers sitting on a white plastic plate with a sign reading goat's beard

Aruncus or goatsbeard seeds true but are slow growing. Fresh seed is imperative. If seed is held, the germination rate drops by a fourth. Grow seeds uncovered.

dried plants with blue and pink flowers sitting on top of a white bucket with black seeds in the bottom with a sign reading blue butterfly delphinium

Delphinium grandiflorum is short and bushy and could be called an annual/biennial/perennial, but whichever it is called, it’s a first class self-seeder. Sow fresh seed lightly covered.

dried pink flowers with large spiky seed pods sitting over a white plate with a pile of seeds and a sign reading magnus coneflower

Echinacea or purple coneflower and Rudbeckia are in the same family so are seeded the same. They are easily propagated from seed either exposed or lightly covered.

dried flower heads with a healthy yellow flower sitting over a white plate with seeds piled on it and a sign reading gaillardia arizona apricot

Gaillardia seed forms round balls of seed. It is such a friendly seed that it can be sown anytime with excellent results. The seed needs to be exposed to light so grow uncovered.

dried yellow flowers sitting over a white plate with seeds on it with a sign reading summer sun

Heliopsis or ‘Summer Sun’ germinates reliably at about 70 percent from a fall self-sowing. Grow seed uncovered. New seedlings will bloom the first year.

dried white flowers and one healthy white flower sitting over a white plate covered in seeds with a sign reading becky shasta daisy

Leucanthemum superbum, or shasta daisy, form seed in their circle disk. They are easily propagated by seed. Grow seed lightly covered. Hybrid seed will not germinate successfully.

dried purple flowers sitting over a white plate with seeds in the middle with a sign reading nepeta

Nepeta or Catmint, almost seeds too easily, so keep the perennial deadheaded unless you choose to seed the entire United States. Grow seed uncovered.

dried flower heads with some dried blue petals scattered and a plate with seeds and a sign reading scabiosa caucasica

Scabiosa caucasica, ‘Fama,’ or pincushion plant, is a premier perennial for western gardens but the seed and plants is not readily available so I harvest the seed carefully. Cover the seed lightly.

dried blue flower with dried stems and seeds scattered around a sign reading crater lake blue speedwell veronica

Allow Veronica ‘Crater Lake Blue’ to sow itself. As soon as the seeds are ready they will fall naturally off the stem. Leave the seed exposed.

Photo © Nedra Secrist and Cedar Fort, Inc. Used by permission.

Text From Nedra Secrist’s Perennials: Thriving Flower Gardens in Every Type of Light (Springville, Utah: Cedar Fort, Inc., 2018). Used by permission.

book cover with a close up of pink flowers with orange centers and a green border