Help keep One Green Planet free and independent! Together we can ensure our platform remains a hub for empowering ideas committed to fighting for a sustainable, healthy, and compassionate world. Please support us in keeping our mission strong.

To get that perfectly manicured veggie or flower garden, a lot of work has to go into weeding and mulching. Over the season, hours can be spent pulling out pesky unwanted plants and diligently deadheading flowers for fear of self-seeing.

There are many ornamental flowers, such as columbine and forget-me-nots, that famously self-seed and can quite frankly take over if deadheading doesn’t occur.

But what would happen if you did let your edible plants mature and self-seed? Free plants? Free food? Check out these common edible and medicinal plants that are ever so willing to do the hard work for you and keep you in seedlings year after year.

What Exactly is Self-Seeding?

Self-seeding occurs when plants are allowed to go through their natural seasonal cycle. Plants may produce seed heads or pods that, when left on the plant to fully mature and dry, drop to the ground and naturally disperse. Depending on the time of year, those seeds may leap into germination right away or stay dormant in the soil over winter, ready to appear the following spring.

Many gardeners dread the thought of self-seeders and want much more control over where and when plants pop up. And that’s great! However, if you are up for a few surprises in your garden, letting plants go to seed can be a great way of getting free and often more vigorous plants all over your garden effortlessly.

Lots of edible and medicinal plants do just that. They are ready and willing to become volunteer plants, leaving you with nothing to do but seek them out and enjoy them the following year.

What About Cross-Pollination?

Source: Roots To Sprouts/YouTube

Self-pollinating plants have flowers that contain both male and female reproductive organs. This means that pollination happens within the same flower. Orka and tomatoes are great examples of veggie plants that self-pollinate.

Cross-pollination occurs when plants have distinctly male flowers and female flowers. In this case, pollinators carry pollen from male flowers to female flowers on the same plant or neighboring plants of the same species and pollinate them.

Common veggie plants that cross-pollinate are the plants from the cucurbit family. These include cucumbers, melons, watermelons, pumpkins, and squash. If you have cantaloupe and honeydew melons growing next to each other in your garden, these plants can cross-pollinate. The seed that comes from these plants will be a hybrid of the two types of melons. It is not to say that what is produced is not a delicious melon, but it won’t be the same as its parent plant.

The same goes for the cross-pollination of summer squash, such as zucchini and yellow squash. Different varieties of cucumbers will also cross-pollinate as will varieties of pumpkin. The best thing you can do is research the variety of seeds you first sow to find out if they will cross-pollinate with other plants in your garden. If you do allow them to self-seed, who knows what you might get!

Which Plants Can I Leave to Self-Seed?

If you are ready to let go a little and have your garden do a bit more work for you, you can start by allowing some of them to go to seed. This doesn’t mean that you have to allow all of your plants to flower. If you have a lettuce patch, just leaving one or two plants to mature will give you more seeds than you could ever need. If you have allowed a few of your plants to mature, you can tie them together to keep them from falling all over the rest of your garden.

  • Brassicas– Plants from this family self-seed really well. They produce seed pods along their stems that dry and burst open, shedding seed within the vicinity. You will need to check on cross-pollination here. Brassica oleracea plants such as cabbage, kale, collards, and kohlrabi can all cross-pollinate with each other. However, arugula (Eruca sativa), also in the brassica family, will only cross-pollinate with other varieties of arugula.
  • German Chamomile– If you are looking to keep yourself in sleepytime tea for the winter, allow some of your chamomile (Matricaria recutita) flowers to dry and drop seed. This plant is an annual, unlike its perennial friend, Roman chamomile.
  • Lettuce– Imagine not having to fiddle with tiny lettuce seeds again. Allowing your lettuce to self-seed will keep you in salad for seasons to come. The great thing about lettuce seedlings is that they transplant really well. If they have taken over your pathways, simply dig them up and move them to a better spot.
  • Herbs– Annual herbs, such as dill and cilantro are ready self-seeders. The great thing is that, though they may cross-pollinate between their different varieties, the result is rarely too different from the parent plant.
  • Tomatoes– Don’t harvest all of your tomatoes. Allow a couple to drop to the ground and disappear until next spring. That one tomato will sprout into a dense cluster of seedlings. Wait until they have gotten a few inches tall and thin them out. You can transplant some and leave the others in situ.

Related Content:

Easy Ways to Help the Planet:

  • Eat Less Meat: Download Food Monster, the largest plant-based Recipe app on the App Store, to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy. You can also buy a hard or soft copy of our favorite vegan cookbooks.
  • Reduce Your Fast Fashion Footprint: Take initiative by standing up against fast fashion Pollution and supporting sustainable and circular brands like Tiny Rescue that raise awareness around important issues through recycled zero-waste clothing designed to be returned and remade over and over again.
  • Support Independent Media: Being publicly funded gives us a greater chance to continue providing you with high-quality content. Please consider supporting us by donating!
  • Sign a Petition: Your voice matters! Help turn petitions into victories by signing the latest list of must-sign petitions to help people, animals, and the planet.
  • Stay Informed: Keep up with the latest news and important stories involving animals, the environment, sustainable living, food, health, and human interest topics by subscribing to our newsletter!
  • Do What You Can: Reduce waste, plant trees, eat local, travel responsibly, reuse stuff, say no to single-use plastics, recycle, vote smart, switch to cold water laundry, divest from fossil fuels, save water, shop wisely, Donate if you can, grow your food, volunteer, conserve energy, compost, and don’t forget about the microplastics and microbeads lurking in common household and personal care products!