Spring is one of my favorite times of year. Winter is finally over, the garden is growing, and new surprises come to light in my beds. Every spring, as I begin working in the garden, I keep an eye out for any volunteers, new and unexpected plants.
What is a Volunteer Plant?
A volunteer is the best kind of spring surprise. It’s anything the gardener didn’t intentionally plant, excepting weeds, of course. A volunteer is a freebie, and you never know what you’ll get, so it’s also like Christmas morning in spring.
Volunteers can come from plants that reseeded without your intervention or knowledge, seeds from vegetables you composted, and animals bringing seeds to your garden from the neighbor’s yard. These are just a few of the volunteers I have discovered and enjoyed in my garden over the years.
One year, I found a patch of strawberries right in the middle of the grass in my backyard. Shorter than the grass, the little leaves initially avoided getting cut by the lawn mower.
I spent weeks avoiding mowing over that spot so they could grow. The diligence paid off, and I had a harvest of fresh berries that June.
I stopped growing vegetables years ago. Lacking the time and the right space for a vegetable patch, I struggled to grow a few specimens in containers that the wildlife didn’t destroy.
One year, after having given up on tomatoes, a volunteer showed up in one of my beds. I left it to grow and did get a decent harvest from it before the local foxes and groundhogs got their share.
Many consider this to be a weed. It grows quite readily around other plants in the garden and can be tough to dislodge. It’s also edible, so when it finally showed up in my beds, I simply harvested it and ate it. Purslane is tasty in salads and also highly nutritious, so I choose to call it a useful volunteer, not a weed.
Because I feed the birds in my yard, I always find volunteer sunflower sprouts. They mostly pop up under the feeder and get mowed down eventually. Sometimes, though, they show up in other places.
Last year I had a few in containers that I hadn’t yet used for spring annuals. I let those sprouts grow and I got some type of small sunflower with cheerful yellow blooms later in the season.
Volunteers are the best kinds of surprises in the garden. If you don’t want them, you can simply pull them out of the ground when small. If you’re like me, curiosity wins out and you’ll wait to see what new treasure grows.