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Reseeding good to create a wild, natural look

Q: One of my gardening friends told me not to plant a certain plant because it reseeds. Is this a bad thing? I don’t want it to take over.

— Jen from Struthers

A: To re-seed or not re-seed. That is the question. I get more people asking me about deadheading to prevent reseeding or let nature take its course.

I have areas in my garden where I let some plants reseed as I like the unplanned natural look. Allowing plants to self-seed is “planting” a garden on automatic. The less you do the more they grow, and they are free.

Allowing plants to reseed can result in you increasing the amount of plants in your garden, although it will require a watchful eye if you want to keep the spread under control.

I especially like the look of letting Brazilian verbena (Verbena bonariensis) reseed where it wants to as its tall branching stems gracefully sway above the plants below. The clusters of tiny purple flowers are a magnet to bees and butterflies.

Another plant I let reseed because I love the way it towers above my rhubarb, kniphofia (red hot pokers) and yarrow bed is fennel. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is an annual that’s anise-flavored leaves are used with fish, soups and salads. The seeds are used in cakes and cookies also with fish and egg dishes.

Plants can reseed heavily, so you need to be alert to what the seedlings look like and pull out any unwanted starts when they are young. This is one plant that you should let flower, as the small flowers serve an important function as being a host for beneficial parasitic wasps. These wasps help control caterpillars, aphids and other soft-bodied pests.

When working with fennel it can cause phytophotodermatitis in some people. This is when the plants juice gets on the skin and its exposed to the sun, which can cause a reaction blister.

Others I allow to reseed are columbine (Aquilegia), love-in-a-mist (Nigella) as well as the biennial sweet William (Dianthus).

Another plant I let reseed, and often cut back the stem with dried seeds to scatter is my Japanese primrose (Primula japonica). This is a shade-loving plant that I love to let spread just to fill in as under-plantings.

Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) is another plant that just seems to replant itself. It’s a nice filler, so I usually leave it go.

Leaving the seed heads on coneflowers (Echinacea) and black-eyed-susans (Rudbeckia) adds winter interest and birds will flock to them. I love watching the birds swaying on the flowers as they feast on the seeds, with the leftovers growing into more plants next year.

So choose to take something that re-seeds. It makes gardening more fun, fills your garden and benefits our pollinators.

To learn about self-seeding perennials, go to http://go.osu.edu/selfseed ingperennials

Pam Baytos is an Ohio State University Mahoning County Extension Master Gardener volunteer. To get help like this in the extension clinic, call 330-533-5538.

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