According to Wikipedia, the word volunteer may have several different unrelated meanings. It can refer to volunteerism, which is the practice of people working on behalf of others without being motivated by financial or material gain. That’s something I enjoy doing. It can refer to a military volunteer, one who freely signs up for military service as opposed to being drafted. That is something I did not do, as Vietnam was not a place I cared to visit in the 1970’s.

To a child of the 60’s and 70’s like me, it can also be the name of a Jefferson Airplane album and song by the same name. “One generation got old, one generation got sold, one generation got no destination to hold…got a revolution got to revolution”. 40-something years later after first hearing that song, and especially when my back is aching after a day in the garden, I feel like it’s my generation now got old!

volunteer potato (click on any photo to enlarge)

To a gardener, a volunteer is a seedling or plant that comes up on its own, instead of being purposely sown there. I look around and we got volunteers everywhere here at Happy Acres.

another potato volunteer

Last year when I dug potatoes I missed a lot. I got a surprise harvest of quite a few when I turned over the soil in that bed. But I guessed I missed more than I thought, because this spring there’s a dozen or more potato pieces that are sprouting everywhere in that bed! “Can’t you just let then grow?”, my wife asked. Well, I could, but they’re right where I want to put some tomato plants this year.

volunteer tomato

And speaking of tomato plants, where I had cherry tomatoes growing last year I planted a bed of kohlrabi and radicchio this year. Guess what’s coming up there. Yep, lots of little tomato seedlings! We definitely don’t want those growing there.

Sweet Annie comes up every year

Some volunteers aren’t unwelcome at all. We’ve had Sweet Annie (Artemisia Annua) volunteering around the yard ever since we moved in. This year, with our giant elm gone, they’re getting more sun and there’s more volunteers than usual. We’ll let some of these grow, but even if we don’t, there’s likely enough seed in the soil to last for many years.

coneflower volunteers

Our coneflowers make volunteers too if we don’t deadhead the flowers and keep them from going to seed. A few extra coneflowers isn’t a bad thing though.

lemon balm can be a pest

Some volunteers are really pests. I let some lemon balm go to seed in the herb garden a couple of year ago and I’ve been paying the price ever since. Volunteers are everywhere! My wife will dig up some of these and donate them to the MG plant sale coming up. Too much lemon balm is NOT a good thing! Garlic chives are also coming up in that bed, but I think they are under control. I think. Hopefully they are!


poison ivy vine is most unwelcome here

One volunteer that is really not welcome here is poison ivy. “Leaves of three, let it be” is our motto, or else we’ll be singing “gonna need an ocean of calamine lotion”! Note to self: tell wife I found the PI in the Rose of Sharon hedge. She’ll want to avoid that for sure!


Virginia creeper vine

Its similar looking but benign cousin Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is also in the Rose of Sharon hedge. I don’t think it’s going to help the hedge any, so it needs to go too. Even if it does have five leaves!

With all these volunteers coming up, perhaps I need to volunteer to do some cleanup work. Since my wife is a lot more sensitive to it than I am, I get to do most of the poison ivy eradication. I do wish the birds would do their part and volunteer to quit dropping the seeds all over the place!

My wish for you today is that all your garden volunteers be welcome, and not pesky or pests!


This entry was posted in Gardening and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Volunteers

  1. Daphne Gould says:

    This year I will miss my typical volunteers. Usually I have dill, cilantro, chamomile, and parsley volunteer in the garden. But with a new garden, that just won’t be happening this year. Next year though. I’ll have to scatter the seed far a wide so it comes up all over.

    • Villager says:

      I do have a lot of dill and fennel volunteers, but not so much as to be a real problem. I usually get the cilantro picked before the seeds get ripe.

  2. Deb Fitz says:

    I’ve had a lot of volunteer tomatoes coming up…and glad you mentioned that about lemon balm…I’m about to put in two plants and didn’t know that they would reseed…I may change where I put them now…Thanks!

    • Villager says:

      The lemon balm is ok IF you remember to clip off the flowers. But I get busy, and you know how that goes. Catnip is bad about reseeding too. I have it in a special place, away from the other herbs.

  3. Kit Duffield says:

    Don’t put tomatoes where the potatoes or pepper eggplant were, they are all the same family and will share diseases.

    • Villager says:

      Thanks Kit, that’s a good point. But with only potatoes planted there last year in a brand new bed, and tomatoes this year, I’m willing to take my chances. Especially since I have no disease problems at the present time. All my vegetables are on a 5 year rotation plan. I’ll plant another family in that bed next year, perhaps cucurbits.

  4. I’ve planted beets/spinach/kale/turnips in last year’s potato bed. I found a lot of small potatoes when I dug the compost in, so I expect to see more volunteers soon. My biggest problem is with lilac suckers that reach clear into my vegetable plots. I think keeping them at bay is just about my biggest gardening chore. I’m so very tempted to remove the tree, as much as I love it and its flowers.

    • Villager says:

      We’re overrun with lilac suckers too! My parents had a lilac bush and I don’t remember it having suckers, but then they mowed around the base of the shrub. If you find an answer to this I’d love to hear about it!

  5. kathy says:

    Poison ivy grew up in my Rose of Sharon too…had to get rid of the whole thing…

  6. kitsapFG says:

    I always (ALWAYS!) have potato volunteers because I never find all the spuds when I do the potato lift. I have had ground cherries prolificly self seed and cherry tomatoes as well.

    Sometimes the volunteers come up in an older compost pile too – a had a lovely winter squash that grew on a compost pile many years ago… a volunteer from a bit of rotted squash that had been thrown on the pile in the late winter.

    • Villager says:

      I had some volunteer winter squash come up on our compost pile. Only thing, it was a variety we don’t grow or buy! Some hybrid must have reverted, is all I could come up with.

  7. Pingback: All volunteer | Eat The Yard

  8. Megan says:

    Tomato volunteers always seem to tickle me (even if they have to get pulled). I think it has something to do with knowing how much time I spend to make new starts, and really, they do it on their own. It does make it hard to pull them! We’ve got some sort of mint looking volunteer in our yard that looks similar to your lemon balm. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but it won’t go away, even though we mow it down pretty low!

    • Villager says:

      You’re so right about the tomato volunteers. I think about how I coddle my tomato seedlings, and the volunteers come up in April when it’s still too cold to plant them!

  9. Shanon says:

    Very neat, I learned something new today. I’ll have to keep an eye out in our garden to see what comes up on its own accord this year! Thanks.

  10. Pingback: All volunteer | Eat The Yard

Thanks for leaving a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.