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Self-seeding vs mulching

Something I've wondered about for a while: if you want to encourage self-seeding, surely mulching will prevent this? Is there a way to manage your mulching without suppressing those things you want to self-seed?

This isn't based on experience, you understand, as this is the first year I've actually started mulching. At the moment it's just a hypothetical question I'm confused about. I've avoided putting anything down where I know there are small seedlings coming up, but I want to encourage my foxgloves etc to self seed around the place. I've had some nice surprises of violets, aquilegia and foxgloves that I haven't planted coming up, and would like this to continue!


  • punkdocpunkdoc Sheffield, Derbyshire border.Posts: 9,392
    You are right.
    If you want to encourage self seeding, you need to change your approach to mulching , either doing it before plants drop their seed, or mulch throughout the year, when you can see where self seeded plants are.
    I tend to do the latter, it is more labour intensive, but allows me to get the full benefit of self seeders.
    Too many hands in too many pockets
    Not enough hands on hearts
    Too many ready to call it a day
    Before the day starts
  • JennyJJennyJ DoncasterPosts: 3,929
    edited October 2018
    I have lots of self-seeders - forget-me-nots, foxgloves, honesty, aquilegias, knautia, sweet-williams, linaria, anthriscus "Ravenswing", Chaerophyllum "roseum", and probably more that I've forgotten -  and like to encourage them (lazy gardening :)). I always aim to mulch in spring when the ground is still damp and the self-seeders haven't finished flowering, but it usually doesn't happen in time so I mulch around selected plants that I don't want to be swamped by over-enthusiastic self-seeding.
  • AndyDeanAndyDean Posts: 157
    Mulching when you can see what's growing sounds sensible. although I guess you don't get so much benefit of weed suppressant then. I only have a small garden, so weeding is not a huge job.

    Would most self-seeders germinate the same year, or would they overwinter as seeds and germinate in spring? I guess my foxgloves, forget-me-nots, etc do the former, so I can see where they're growing come autumn, but I'm worried that mulching late autumn or early spring would bury dormant seeds from other plants that would otherwise germinate.

    Or am I just overthinking it looking for a hard-and-fast rule, and it's more a case of knowing what your specific plants do and not hindering them? 
  • TopbirdTopbird Posts: 6,151
    It is a bit of a dilemna!

    'They' say it is better to mulch a smaller area more thickly rather than try to eke out mulch by putting a thin layer over the whole garden. My mulch is mainly home produced compost and 4 large bins produce enough to do about 2 thirds of the garden to a depth of about 4".

    I mulch late winter / early spring when I can get into the borders more easily and when the soil is nice and damp (we live in East Anglia and the soil is too dry to mulch for several months of the year). I operate a sort of rotational mulching system. Some bits get mulched every year (where there are hungry plants or where the soil is particularly prone to dry out) and the rest is mulched alternate years.

    For plants which I want to seed every year (such as foxgloves) I wave the wands of seed heads over an area which won't be mulched next spring and then just transplant seedlings as necessary. Aquilegias and other plants get to self seed every other year. It helps to keep some of the potential thugs under control. 
    Heaven is ... sitting in the garden with a G&T and a cat while watching the sun go down
  • JennyJJennyJ DoncasterPosts: 3,929
    AndyDean said:
    Would most self-seeders germinate the same year, or would they overwinter as seeds and germinate in spring?

    Most of mine germinate the same year, overwinter as small-ish plants, flower in spring/early summer the following year then set seed and start the whole cycle again. 
  • BobTheGardenerBobTheGardener Leicestershire, UKPosts: 10,727
    Or collect the seeds from the things you want and sow them in pots.  Then you can mulch when you like.
    A trowel in the hand is worth a thousand lost under a bush.
  • LG_LG_ gardens in SE LondonPosts: 3,178
    Very glad it's not just me who agonized over this! I thought I must be missing something but it sounds like it's just a matter of a bit of a messy compromise.
    'If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.'
    - Cicero
  • AndyDeanAndyDean Posts: 157
    Thank everyone, that's really helpful! That's really helped me get a better idea of how to balance things.

    Great in principle, but I'm afraid I already have enough things I'm planning to sow in the spring, don't have the time or space to add to my workload. One of the reasons self-seeders are so attractive! I'm with @JennyJ, lazy gardening is the way forward, at least while the kids are small...

    Ha, me also! 
  • JennyJJennyJ DoncasterPosts: 3,929
    Most of my self-sowers are biennial (or behave that way anyway) and I always forget about sowing seeds in summertime - much easier to let the plants do it themselves and then transplant or pull out the ones that are in places where I don't want them. 
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