Volunteer Vegetable Plants



Do you ever find volunteer plants growing in your garden? Usually the seed sprouts from produce that was left on the ground the previous gardening season.

The most common volunteers I find in my garden-are tomatoes. If the seed that sprouted came from a hybrid tomato-the plant will produce small cherry tomatoes-or tommy toes as we call them. Since a hybrid plant is made from 2 ‘parent’ plants-the seeds that come from their ‘children’ revert back to one of the parent’s characteristics.

Even though-I know most of the time the volunteer plant won’t be true to form-I find it hard to pull them up. The process of that little seed laying out there all winter and then sprouting-seems miraculous to me.

This year-I had a few volunteer tomato plants-and one squash/zucchini plant. I did pull most of the tomato plants-cause I need the room. But I’m letting the squash plant grow-it’s huge already. I’ve read that the squash will turn out to be a misshaped hard globe-but I’m going to let it grow and see what happens.

I’ll leave you with 2 questions:

~Do you let volunteer plants grow or pull them up?

~Hopefully some of you are more experienced with growing heirloom varieties than I am-can answer this one-if the seed that sprouts came from a heirloom variety does that mean it will be true to form?



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  • Reply
    Sunny Rivers
    May 30, 2014 at 1:18 am

    This is my second year of container gardening. Much to my surprise and glee, I have a number of volunteer plants appearing.
    We live in a “hard to garden” almost desert environment. Using containers, on my front porch, only exposed to 6 hours sun, last year I got results.
    This year, I have expanded the containers. I have reused planting soil from last year, plus compost. To my amazement, I have at least 15 volunteer plants. I am making new containers, and transplanting them. I think I have either zucchini, butternut, or cukes.
    If I can get volunteers to grow and produce fruit, I don’t care what they are. I will consider each and every one a gift.
    I am creating a couple of self-watering containers of volunteers, and will give a couple to my daughter.
    In these days of higher food costs, and all the issues with GMO, I highly value volunteers. I consider them gifts from mother nature, and can’t wait to see the final products.

  • Reply
    May 19, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    Thanks so much for your reply. Two are in a whiskey barrel that I may keep (added a little teepee for them to grow up). But I think we’ll go ahead and pull the ones that have taken over a raised bed!! The joy of composting!!

  • Reply
    May 19, 2013 at 9:31 am

    We have an entire bed of volunteers that look just like the plant in your first picture. Is it squash? How did it turn out?

  • Reply
    Lori in RI
    July 8, 2012 at 1:18 am

    I let ’em grow. In fact I’ve got some volunteers I can’t identify. I just posted a pic on my blog this morning, can anybody tell me what this might be? They looked like cukes or squash when they first came up, but not now. Thanks!

  • Reply
    June 11, 2010 at 10:01 am

    If I’ve got the room I let volunteers grow, but then I let weeds grow if I’ve got the room!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 11, 2010 at 8:48 am

    My grandmother always had a Tommy Toe section in her garden. She never planted them the whole section came back every year. She didn’t tie them up either, just let them run. I think that section was mostly for the kids….and we sure did enjoy them!

  • Reply
    June 10, 2010 at 10:19 am

    We always have volunteer tomato plants come up, we pull some and keep some. WE had a couple of volunteer plants come up that I wasn’t sure if they were cucumber or squash. I pulled them up and put them in big flower pots. We’ll know soon what they are. We sometimes have volunteer black eyed susans and sunflowers come up around our burn pile.

  • Reply
    June 8, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    How I could go for some volunteer tomatoes! I love your gardening stories. You inspire me. I passed the baton to my daughter because my luck is so bad. I follow your stories and encourage her, and it’s working out.

  • Reply
    Fishing Guy
    June 8, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    Tipper: Sometimes you can get bad results from volunteers if they were hybrids and they revert back.

  • Reply
    Jennifer in OR
    June 8, 2010 at 3:30 am

    I have some volunteer somethings growing – we’ll see! Yes, I let them grow, I’m curious. 🙂

  • Reply
    June 6, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    I have plenty of space so I let everything grow that comes up. Sometimes I might move something to a better spot. If it’s more than we can eat, I give away to neighbors & to the local food bank. The food bank customers especially love getting fresh produce.

  • Reply
    June 6, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    I don’t usually have any that come up. Maybe it’s because I mulch my beds and I just plant vegetables in my flower beds.

  • Reply
    June 6, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    I let them grow as long as their not in the way of something else. I love volunteers. It proves the determination of nature to survive. Right now I have a squash plant growing in the compost pile.
    Can’t help you with the heirloom thing. This is the first year I started tomato plants from heirloom seeds. I can’t wait to see how they turn out.
    Exact what is the definition of heirloom? Hmmmm…..

  • Reply
    June 5, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    we usually pull up the volunteers that come up in the garden especially the potatoes because of the “tater bugs” that love the volunteers so well that after they destroy the volunteer they will move on to work on the real crop, but usually we try tolet the volunteer taters grow until we can have a mess of new potatoes out of them.
    The heirloom question is that they are suppose to be true to form…..
    The Farmers Market was a success today even though we only had 2 folks selling including us, Its still a bit early for the gardens to be coming in but we sold all the onions that we had taken Thanks to the slugs we had no lettuce to take this week to go with the onions.
    Some lady gave me some Amish tomato seeds down there today and I came straight home and planted them in the greenhouse so hopefully they will do good and maybe I can share some with you this fall.
    I enjoy this blog sooooo soooo much THANKS!!!!!

  • Reply
    Pat in east TN
    June 5, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    I usually pull volunteers in my gardening areas because I have limited space, but I have found some in other areas that I’ve left and have been tickled with the end results, especially pumpkins one year.

  • Reply
    June 5, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    Up in northern lower Michigan, were we lived for 40 years, there were not volunteers, the ground was so poor it was hard to get the things we cultivated to do well. The second year of our garden here in southeastern lower Michigan, I had volunteer tomato plants come up, and I was so amazed ans surprised that I couldn’t pull them. We got so many tomatoes that I didn’t know what to do, and I learned to pull out what I didn’t plant. Sometimes I transplant an individual plant into a row if it is nice and I need it, but no more letting whatever wants to grow hang around for the summer.

  • Reply
    Julie at Elisharose
    June 5, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    I let just about anything grow as long as it is not in the way of something. The only volunteers we have this wear are some pumpkins. We bought a lot of pumpkins last fall. Some got shot up in the backyard. Some rotted in the flower bed. A few have come up. Some have been mowed. Some have been left to their own devices. I don’t expect any of them to survive, much less produce.

  • Reply
    June 5, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    I’m not much of a gardener so I was surprised a few years ago to see a small plant growing in my front yard. My grandson, who was about 5, and I watched this plant grow and wondered what it could be. Finally, we recognized the pumpkin growing on the vine.
    Just think – if I had pulled it up I would have missed a lot of fun with him watching and wondering…. I will ALWAYS let a volunteer grow.

  • Reply
    Helen G.
    June 5, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    If I recognize the plant as I sometimes do I will usually let it grow and go just to see what happens but we know that I am a curious person…
    As to the second part of your question I haven’t a clue…
    Put up my first report of the 2nd Annual Good Day/Bad Day Squash Experiment today.
    Have a great weekend and I’ll check back to see if you get an answer on the heirlooms…

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    June 5, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    I thought I was some kind of obsessive/compulsive (and I am regardless) because among my quirks is the inability to destroy volunteers. One year, this insanity led me to have a hundred and five, that’s 105, tomato plants … it made a big garden … because I let the volunteers (I don’t use hybrids because of this quirk, I use heirlooms like Marglobe and Brandywine)get big enough to transplant and I put them in rows of plants, and we still have canned stuff from that crop.
    Here’s a funny thing: I had to wait until the “good days” of late May to plant the crookneck squash you sent; it has been muddy out there. So I planted the “good day” seeds, three seeds in a hill, and the next day, which was a “bad day” I planted the remaining seeds, four seeds, in a hill right next to the “good day” hill. Within a very few days …5 or 6… the “good day” squash was up and now it’s about 3 days after the “good” sprout, and no sign of the “bad” sprouting. Must have some thing to do with the tug of the moon, or something. Next good day for topside crops, I’m rubbing Rogaine in my scalp.

  • Reply
    Brenda Kay Ledford
    June 5, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Looks like your garden is doing well. We have two gardens this year and they are doing well, too. Yes, we have had volunteer plants to pop up in our garden. We have some tomatoes that have come up on their own. I enjoyed this posting. I look forward to gathering fresh vegetables from the garden. Have a great weekend.

  • Reply
    Will Dixon
    June 5, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    Yes, we give a few of the volunteers a try. We had a Sweet Meat squash cross with a (we think) giant pumpkin. The result was a pale green 26lb fruit with a very small seed cavity. We took it to a Salvation Army homeless shelter and they served it as squash soup at their lunch.

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    June 5, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    I mostly let them grow — this year I have volunteer tomatoes, basil, dill, and something that may be a pumpkin.

  • Reply
    June 5, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    I do pull volunteers, though it causes me a pang everytime! I’m sure no expert, but it seems to me that heirlooms are not hybrid and would hopefully reproduce true to form.

  • Reply
    June 5, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    Well, I don’t know if this is really a true ‘volunteer’ plant but…the birds decided to give me blackcap berries from seeds in the front of my house last year. I could not pull them up…growing wildly this year…hoping for berries!

  • Reply
    June 5, 2010 at 11:44 am

    we let our volunteers grow. we now have a wonderful very large bush, a minature powder puff bush, that we think a bird must have dropped a seed, our volunteer bush is 7 years old and blooms year round. We have several volunteer plants that bloom and we don’t even know what they are. if my husband spies a volunteer, he transplants it into a 5 gallon bucket and waits to see what comes up, i like the name volunteer, we have called ours gifts, but volunteer is better.

  • Reply
    Just Jackie
    June 5, 2010 at 8:48 am

    I had a grape tomato plant come up in my compost heap one year. I transplanted it and it produced hundreds of wonderful fruit. The next year, the same grape tomato plant sprouted by my back door in a flower bed. I trellised it up the porch and it out produced the one the year before. I had a potato plant come up one year but Casper thought it was a weed and pulled it up. (I have better luck growing things in a compost heap than in my garden. LOL)

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