Volunteer Plants Bring Surprises to Gardens – Lawrence County Press

Volunteer Plants: Unexpected Gems in the GardenVolunteer Plants: Unexpected Gems in the Garden Introduction Periwinkles, coleus, and gaura are just a few of the delightful plants that can spontaneously emerge in gardens, adding unexpected beauty and a sense of wonder. Periwinkle: Tenacious Blooms These resilient plants thrive in nooks and crannies, sprouting from seeds left behind by previous year’s plants. Their vibrant red and pink flowers create cheerful splashes of color in unexpected places. Coleus: Vibrant Foliage Known for their striking leaves, coleus plants pop up in gardens, showcasing a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns. Their bold hues and intricate designs enhance the aesthetic appeal of any landscape. Gaura: Graceful Elegance With airy clusters of delicate flowers and slender stems, gauras bring a whimsical touch to gardens. Their butterfly-like blossoms and gentle swaying in the breeze create an enchanting spectacle. Begonias: Unexpected Oasis Begonias can also appear spontaneously, transforming ordinary spaces into miniature gardens. Their bright green leaves and pure white flowers create a charming oasis in unexpected places. Origin and Diversity Volunteer plants often differ from their parent plants, as hybrids bred for specific traits can produce seedlings with unique genetic expressions. This diversity adds to the fascination and uniqueness of each volunteer plant. Importance of Seeds Volunteer plants primarily spread through seeds, and letting some garden plants go to seed ensures a continuous supply of these unexpected treasures in future seasons. Conclusion Volunteer plants are delightful surprises that enhance gardens with their spontaneous appearances and unique qualities. They create a sense of wonder and continuity, adding unexpected beauty and reminding us of the ever-changing and fascinating nature of the gardening experience.

These periwinkle seedlings emerged from a crack in the floor of a greenhouse, germinating from seeds left behind by the previous year’s plants. (Photo by MSU Extension/Eddie Smith)

By Eddie Smith, MSU Extension Service

One of my favorite gardening experiences is seeing plants spontaneously pop up in different places in my yard and landscape.

I love these volunteer plants and let them bloom in unexpected places in my garden. Their surprising appearances make the garden feel alive and ever-changing.

I once wrote about a periwinkle whose little volunteer seedlings emerged from a crack in the floor of my greenhouse, sprouting from seeds left by last year’s plants. These little surprises, with their vivid red and pink flowers, made quite an impression with their tenacious growth and cheerful flowering.

I often see periwinkles growing in crevices and along paths, their bright flowers adding a splash of color to otherwise drab spaces. Their ability to thrive in less than ideal conditions makes them a welcome addition, and I look forward to seeing where they pop up next.

Another plant that grows spontaneously and brightens up my garden is coleus.

Known for their striking, colorful leaves, coleus plants tend to pop up in unexpected places, adding vibrant splashes of red, purple, green, and yellow to the landscape. Their large, velvety leaves come in a variety of patterns, from bold stripes to delicate veins, making each coleus unique.

I enjoy their surprising appearance, as their bold hues and intricate leaf designs enhance the overall aesthetic of my garden, transforming ordinary corners into stunning displays of natural art.

Gaura are graceful plants with airy clusters of delicate white and pink flowers and a knack for popping up in unexpected places. (Photo by MSU Extension/Eddie Smith)

One of the most beautiful spontaneously growing plants in my garden is the gaura.

These graceful plants have airy spikes of delicate white and pink flowers and a knack for popping up in the most unexpected places. Their slender stems and butterfly-like blossoms add a whimsical touch to the landscape.

I often find gaura nestled amongst other plants or even in the cracks of paths. Their delicate beauty adds elegance and movement to the garden, while their flowers sway gently in the breeze.

On a recent Southern Gardening scouting trip, I noticed begonias growing out of cracks in a concrete and brick staircase. The year before, begonias had been growing in a tray on the staircase, and the seeds were falling into cracks in the brick and concrete.

These begonias, with their bright green leaves and pure white flowers, transformed an ordinary staircase into a miniature garden oasis, showcasing the resilience and beauty of nature.

What is fascinating about all these flowering volunteers is that they often differ from their parent plants. This is because most flowering annuals from garden centers are hybrids, bred for specific colors, growth habits, and other characteristics.

When hybrid plants are pollinated, it is like rolling the genetic dice. The result is seedlings that often display different traits, reflecting the genetic diversity of their breeding history. This genetic variation makes each volunteer plant unique.

These begonias growing from cracks in a brick staircase were seeded from begonias that grew in a nearby container the year before. (Photo by MSU Extension/Eddie Smith)

Watching these volunteers develop and reveal their unique qualities is like discovering a hidden treasure. Each one is an extraordinary masterpiece.

An important thing to know about volunteer plants is that they spread mainly through seeds.

I always let some of the flowering plants in my garden go to seed. I collect and scatter these seeds or simply let them spread by nature and the wind. This natural method of propagation ensures a continuous supply of delicious surprises in the garden.

Dr. Eddie Smith is a garden specialist and Pearl River County coordinator with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. He is also the host of the popular television program Southern Gardening.


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