How can I care for my volunteer plants?
May 15, 2009 4:08 PM   Subscribe

How do I care for and encourage my volunteer plants?

Early last summer while mowing the lawn, I noticed an unusual seedling and on a whim, mowed around it instead of over. It turned out to be lemon balm, a fantastic lemony mint plant which tastes great in potato salad!

Cut to this year, and already the lemon balm plant is two feet across with big tasty leaves that go great in potato salad. My lawn also came with a wild strawberry patch that seems to be spreading very slowly.

Both of these plants (I assume) were accidents, volunteer plants that just happened to take root in my lawn. I'm not obsessive about having 'the perfect lawn', and I'd just as soon have a backyard full of productive, edible things that I don't have to mow. Other than clearing out any dandelions that try to take over, how can I encourage these plants to grow as big and wide as possible? Should I be fertilizing and/or watering them or just leave them to grow naturally? (I have read that I should NOT fertilize the strawberries during their fruiting phase - but most info online seems to treat these delicious plants as weeds that should be hammered with pesticides!).

And are there other volunteer plants that I should watch out for - or can I fake it by throwing some basil or mint seeds on the ground and letting nature take its course? I do have a small herb plot and some pots, but the lemon balm is putting to shame anything I've ever tried to grow on purpose.

(This is in Kitchener, ON, hardiness zone 5A).
posted by Gortuk to Home & Garden (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Lemon balm's pretty invasive and hardy. It'll take over large chunks of your yard without your having to do a damn thing about it. Mint will do the same thing. Get a couple of starts from a nursery and plant them. In a year or two, you'll have volunteers a-plenty.

Don't dis the humble dandelion, either. Baby dandelion greens are tender (and tasty!) enough to eat raw in salads, and the older ones can be cooked or wilted like spinach.

Chives may not spread as easily as lemon balm, mint, or dandelions, but they're a perennial that's almost impossible to murder, so that might be another option for you.

If you're patient you could dig and plant an asparagus bed. It'll take a couple of years for asparagus planted from seed to start bearing edible shoots, but after that you'll have something that keeps coming back every spring.

Blackberries are another invasive edible, but you almost certainly don't want to go down that route. If you've ever had to clear a blackberry patch you'll know what I mean.
posted by dersins at 4:22 PM on May 15, 2009

Other reseeding or hardy edibles and savories-- cilantro (coriander), fennel (especially the "seed" variety), lovage (use in soups and stews in place of celery), chives, green onions, all mints. I wouldn't let them just go wild though. Define a bed for them and know what they look like, or you'll be letting all sorts of potentially undesirable things grow as well, like people's discarded Bittersweet, which is beautiful but will kill everything around it, including small dogs that don't move fast enough. I disagree about the blackberries (also raspberries). Yes they're aggressive, but with vigilance can be tamed/confined. The great thing with self-seeding is the plants are going to self-select for good seeding ability. You should pull out ones that aren't behaving the way you like (wrong color, bad taste, insufficient fruit or whatever) to encourage this process.
posted by nax at 8:15 PM on May 15, 2009

If you're planting mint, do your neighbours a favour and plant it in a large clay pot without a hole in the bottom. Sink the pot into the earth. If you don't, it will travel underground until it hits pavement, popping up wherever it feels like. I spend half my summers ripping out mint that's choking my flower beds. Blackberries can be trained up a wall. They give wonderful fruit, and are hardy, but you pay for them with the thorns. How lucky you are to have useful things wander into your garden! Usually all I get are strange weeds from the winter bird seed mix.
posted by x46 at 11:38 PM on May 15, 2009

Geez, you poor person. For the sake of your next-door neighbors, please consider the advice given above and uproot and pot that bad boy. My mint and lemon balm problems stem from a neighbour two doors down who didn't bury her mint and lemon balm in their pots. Now the whole row of houses gets to deal with the problem, and I have half a front lawn that is choked out by lemon balm plants.
posted by LN at 5:55 AM on May 16, 2009

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