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Want free seedlings next spring? Let spinach and lettuce self-sow this fall.

 Vegetable garden seen in front view, with small seedlings of lettuce, cabbage, lettuce, onion and fennel.
vitranc/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Try letting your lettuces bolt and go to seed late this summer, then they will self-sow. It's like gifting yourself free seedlings next spring.

Late summer in the garden means you can reap the harvest of your earlier work. If things have gone well this growing season, you're probably slicing fresh tomatoes on everything and you've got cukes up to your ears.

This is also a good time to think ahead towards spring and how you can save yourself some time and effort in next year's garden.

Though the instinct to "clean up" your garden as crops are done growing is strong, resist it! Instead, try letting certain vegetables, like lettuce, spinach, radishes and fennel, self-sow.

The idea is to let some of these plants bolt - this happens when the plant is done growing. It sends up a tall stalk with flowers. Inside those flowers are seeds and those seeds grow more plants.

This late summer, as you see this happening in your garden, decide which crops you'd like to grow again and let them bolt and self-sow their seeds. Then, this fall, cut down the stalks.

When spring comes and the environmental conditions are perfectly right - think adequate warmth, sunlight and moisture - those self-sowed seeds will begin germinating.

At this stage in your early spring garden, this is when you can go out to your garden and "edit out" any seedlings you don't want, leaving the strongest ones. You'll have a lettuce (or radish or spinach) crop before you know it and you haven't even planted!

This technique of letting certain plants bolt and then set their own seed also serves as an indication of when you should be planting other crops.

When the self-sown seedlings begin to germinate, that's when you should be planting your other greens, like kale and swiss chard.

Q: I've gathered a bunch of lupine seed pods that were about to open. Do I need to scarify the seeds? Can I just broadcast them and rake them in? - Kenneth, in Peacham

A: When it comes to lupine seeds, you've got options!

This time of year, the lupines are dropping their seeds and you can just collect some and sprinkle them around and let nature do the rest.

Another method is to collect the seeds, ensure they are thoroughly dried out, then put them in a plastic bag or a little glass jar. Place that in the refrigerator till spring.

At that point, you can nick the lupine seeds with a nail clipper or file them a little bit. Then soak the seeds in warm water to get them to germinate.

Next, grow them indoors till they sprout as little seedlings. And once they're big enough, transplant your lupines outdoors.

Q: "There was a question about how to preserve garlic scapes for a wedding bouquet that was coming up in September. Garlic scapes keep for months in the fridge! - Brigid, in Middlebury

All Things Gardening is powered by you, the listener! Send your gardening questions and conundrums and Charlie may answer them in upcoming episodes.

You can also leave a voicemail with your gardening question by calling Vermont Public at 1-800-639-2192.

Hear All Things Gardening during Weekend Edition Sunday with Vermont Public host Mary Engisch, Sunday mornings at 9:35.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch by tweeting us @vermontpublic. We've closed our comments. Read about ways to get in touch here.

Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.