When Does a “Volunteer” Plant Become a Weed?

When does a plant go from being a welcome  volunteer in the garden to a dreaded weed?

I remember the moment — early in my gardening life — when I discovered that if you left tomato fruits in the garden over winter, they might grow the next year. Amazement! Thrill! Whether the tomato grew to produce the same tomatoes it did the year before, however, depended on the type of tomato (hybrid or heirloom) and its parentage. I still get volunteer tomatoes — tons of them this year because of our near perfect winter in Minnesota. And, occasionally, I let them grow just to see what they produce.

pink cosmos bloom
Cosmos are pretty, but sometimes too persistent.

The volunteers that have veered toward weeds tend to be flowers: morning glories (arrghhh!), coneflowers, and this year, a patch of cosmos. I’m letting them go for now, because I like the lacy foliage of cosmos and they provide a colorful edge to my front garden. But will I let them seed? Everyday as I walk through that garden pulling up morning glory seedlings (and maple seedlings from a nearby tree), I think a severe pruning before seed setting might be in order.

What plants do you let go to seed?

4 thoughts on “When Does a “Volunteer” Plant Become a Weed?

  1. I love getting the coneflowers popping up everywhere. There great to stuff in a big planter if they get in my way where they pop up in the garden. I’m a fan of volunteers!

  2. Almost every year it seems a different self-seeder dominates: one year it was johnny jump-ups; one year Queen Anne’s lace; another year malva ‘Zebrina’. Some I welcome, like the rudbeckia triloba I have had now several years-I always let a good bit stay, I like the tiny bloom, and the goldfinches do, too. I do have to pull alot of it out. It is fun to see what will come back on its own from self-seeding!

  3. I can’t seem to get much of anything I deliberately plant to self-seed, not even the cosmos and morning glories. Sigh. The weeds and wild violets, however, are very active. I end up using someone else’s self-sowers. Volunteering to pull weeds at the local botanical garden not only gets me free entry, but I sometimes get to take “volunteers” home, if they came up in the wrong spot. 🙂

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