Viral Trend: Chaos Gardening

If you spend time browsing gardening sites or scrolling TikTok and Instagram, you may have noticed a trend: chaos gardening. This gardening style is touted as easy, affordable, and environmentally friendly, and all you need to do is toss some seeds. What’s not to love? In today’s post, we’ll explore chaos gardening, its pros and cons, and how to practice it in your garden.

What is Chaos Gardening?

Chaos gardening is a carefree style in which the gardener randomly throws seeds over their selected space. You can use flowers, vegetables, herbs, or perennials and mix them together. There’s no planning a layout or careful seed sowing; just give them a fling!

The idea of chaos gardening is to ditch the idea that lawns and gardens must be highly organized and maintained. You can create a beautiful, full-looking garden without a lot of work or amendments.

Obviously, in this gardening style, some plants do much better than others. Proponents of this garden style enjoy the surprise and thrill of what thrives rather than planning for certain crops. This also means that they don’t use a lot of resources, like water, in dry parts of the country to keep plants alive that just aren’t thriving.

RudbeckiaDoes Chaos Gardening Work?

Yes, chaos gardening does work, but as we mentioned above, some plants will do much better in this style than others. If your goal is large heads of broccoli or killer slicing tomatoes for sandwiches, this may not be the right style for you. Maybe you can try it in one bed or section. 

Here are some of the great things about chaos gardening as well as some of the issues with it:


  • It can take the stress out of garden planning and layout.
  • It can be a great way to support pollinators.
  • You can use up old seeds.
  • These gardens don’t require maintenance. 
  • It may help with pest issues.
  • You can rewild part of your lawn.
  • You can use this style to create pollinator strips within a vegetable garden.


  • It is less productive for certain crops, particularly vegetables.
  • You may still feel the need to weed, and it can be challenging to distinguish plants.
  • You still need to do solid soil prep work. 

Generally speaking, chaos gardening works, but you need to be okay with less production and a garden that tends more toward a wildflower meadow than a vegetable patch.

How to Chaos Garden

While chaos gardening is usually advertised as less work, it’s important to remember that there’s still plenty of work to be done outside of sowing to ensure your plants thrive. Work begins with the soil. 

Choose an area that gets plenty of sun unless you’re working with shade-tolerant seeds. Then, you’ll need to prepare a bed and keep it free of weeds and grass. I always like to add a couple of inches of finished compost. 

Once your soil is prepared, you can begin sowing your seeds. Chaos is the name of the game here, so give them a toss! 

If you have a lot of larger seeds, like cucumber or bean seeds, for best results, I recommend sowing them first and then scattering some compost over top of them. Then, you can move on to the finer seeds, like poppies and dill.

After you sow all of your seeds, you should walk on them to press them into the soil. This will help them stay moist and improve your germination rate. For best results, water them in and then keep a consistent watering schedule, at least until all of your plants are established. 

Peruviana Red Zinnias
Peruviana Red Zinnias

What Seeds Should I Use?

Native species and wildflowers for pollinators are good choices because they generally perform well in this gardening style and have ecological benefits. Don’t let that limit you, though. You can try chaos gardening with any seeds you have on hand. Of course, some seeds will perform better than others.

Chaos gardening can also be a helpful way to use up extra seeds or seeds that are years old and have less-than-ideal germination rates.

Note that aggressive spreaders and invasive varieties should be avoided. Before seeding, consider what’s appropriate for your areas. 

If you want to purchase seeds for a chaos garden, here are some crops that chaos gardeners like to use and a few we think are well-suited to this style:

  • Rudbeckia
  • Echinacea
  • Bachelor’s Buttons
  • Cleome
  • Calendula
  • Sweet Alyssum
  • Cosmos
  • Bee Balm
  • Phlox
  • Carrots
  • Looseleaf Lettuce
  • Matt’s Wild Cherry Tomatoes
  • Everglades Tomatoes
  • Peruviana Red or Peruviana Yellow Zinnias
  • Long Island Mammoth Dill
  • Bread Seed Poppies
  • Sunflowers
  • Cucumbers
  • Chamomile
  • Amaranth
  • Cilantro
  • Creasy Greens (Upland Cress)
  • Fennel
  • Hyssop
  • Parsley
  • Yarrow

These all tend to be sturdy, easy-to-grow crops that tolerate a bit of crowding and weed pressure.

Do I Need to Tend My Chaos Garden?

After seeding, how much work you put into your chaos garden is up to you. Some growers try to pick out any weeds or do a bit of thinning, while others are entirely hands-off. One of the great things about this style is that you will probably still get some flowers and other crops even if you don’t have time for a traditional garden. 

Chaos gardening can be a fun way to use up old seeds, rewild parts of your lawn, support pollinators, and grow a mix of crops. We’re not saying you should give up on your traditional garden, but if you’ve got some lawn to get rid of or a little space you can’t decide what to do with, give chaos gardening a try!

Red Clover: A Cover Crop & Herb

Red clover (Trifolium pratense) is an herbaceous biennial plant native to Europe that has naturalized throughout North America. While some consider red clover a weed, herbalists, and gardeners recognize its value. This beautiful plant is excellent for soil and human health. Here are some of the reasons we’re big fans of red clover and how we use it. 

Red Clover as a Cover Crop

Red clover is a nitrogen-fixing cover crop. It’s an excellent choice for adding green manure to build up soils and a good nectar source for some pollinators. You can sow it in fallow fields, pathways, and small openings to help suppress weeds. 

You can sow red clover in early spring, late summer, or fall as a winter cover crop. It can be a little slow to establish, so sow clovers at least 40 days before your average first frost.

Consider using buckwheat as a nurse crop if you’re sowing red clover during the hotter months. The clover will grow slowly under the buckwheat until fall frost kills the buckwheat, allowing the clover to establish quickly without the need for fall tilling.Bumblebee on a red clover blossom

Red Clover in Herbal Medicine

I’m not a doctor. This article is for informational purposes only. Consult a physician or clinical herbalist before using herbal remedies to treat any condition. 

Herbalists have used red clover for centuries to treat a wide range of conditions, from menopause to whooping cough. Many of its uses revolved around female health. Modern science is beginning to explore the properties of plants, including red clover. While further research is needed, red clover tea and tincture may have a few potential benefits.

Benefits of Red Clover

  • Red clover contains phytoestrogens, which can mimic estrogen in the body.
  • Red clover may reduce osteoarthritis symptoms related to menopause. A 2015 study of 60 women found that taking red clover extract over 12 weeks reduced bone mineral density loss in the spine.
  • In another study of 109 postmenopausal women, participants reported skin and hair texture improvements after taking red clover extract for 90 days.

Further research is needed in all of these cases. Don’t use red clover if you have a hormone-sensitive condition like breast cancer. 

Harvesting and Using Red Clover

Beyond its health benefits, red clover is also just an enjoyable herb to use. Both the leaves and the flowers are edible. Some of you may remember pulling the pink blossoms from the flowerhead and eating them as a kid. 

The leaves, which have a mild bean-like flavor, can be added to salads. The blossoms, which are sweet, can be used in tea, baked goods, or salads. It’s best to break them up or pull the tubular flowers from the flowerhead, as whole flowerheads can be dry and tough to chew.

Harvest leaves and flowers that look fresh and are free from dried, brown spots. Remember to leave some blooms for the pollinators, especially if you’re harvesting from wild patches.

Three glasses of summertime herbal iced tea with red cloverRed Clover Tea

Making red clover tea is simple: Pour about 2 cups of boiling water over about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of fresh or dried red clover blossoms and let it steep for 10 to 15 minutes. You can also let it cool and pour it over ice to make a fun summertime herbal iced tea. 

Red clover mixes well with other flavors. Feel free to experiment with adding lemon balm, mint, white clover, chamomile, or orange slices to the mix and sweeten with honey or maple syrup to taste.

Red Clover Tincture

Using the folk method, you can make a basic red clover tincture with fresh or dried red clover blossoms. All you need is a few simple ingredients and some patience. 

You simply place the blossoms in a glass jar and cover them with 80-proof alcohol. Then, keep the tincture somewhere dark for 2 to 6 weeks, shaking it once a day. After this period, you can strain it and begin using it.

Be sure to check out our complete instructions for Folk Method Tinctures.

Red clover is a fun herb to grow and use. Try growing it as a cover crop in your garden this season and enjoy its many soil health, culinary, and herbal benefits. 

10 Common Garden Questions

We get a lot of gardening questions at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and we try to answer as many as possible. Unfortunately, we’re a small organization with only so much time during the day. So today, we decided to try to answer some of the common questions we get. Hopefully, you’ll find some of your questions answered:

When do I plant [insert crop here]?

Figuring out exactly when to plant your crops can be challenging, especially for new gardeners. Some crops have relatively wide planting windows, and others have narrow ones. We’re dealing with a changing climate and variable weather conditions. You also may be considering succession planting and fall crops.

While we can’t give everyone an exact answer for all their crops, we know how to get you started. First, find out what your hardiness zone is. This will give you your average last spring frost date and first fall frost date. From there, you can use our growing guides to calculate when you should plant. They include information like, “Plant four weeks before your average last first.”

Alternatively, we recommend you use our Garden Planner. It can give you personalized planting dates and help you lay out your garden. 

ground hogHow do I keep groundhogs from eating my plants?

Groundhogs can be a major problem for vegetable gardens. They love most of the same vegetables we do and have few boundaries. Unlike deer, they also tend to dig under fencing.

You can find some fencing with spikes that go down into the earth to prevent groundhogs from digging under. Some folks also find that a single low strand of electric near the bottom of their fence will deter them.

You should also be safe to grow fragrant Mediterranean herbs like rosemary, lavender, basil, thyme, and oregano outside your fencing. Some flowers, such as daffodils, delphiniums, foxgloves, and butterfly weed, are also safe.

Lastly, you can try sprays. Some gardeners find that an egg mixture sprayed on plants will deter groundhogs and other hungry wildlife. There are organic commercial sprays available as well, like Plantskydd. Most of these sprays must be applied fairly frequently and every time it rains.

Why won’t my root vegetables germinate?

There are several reasons that seeds won’t germinate, and some root crops may have more finicky seeds than vegetables like tomatoes and green beans. However, one of the most significant issues we see is consistent moisture. 

Carrots, especially, thrive when soil is kept consistently moist. One trick is to lay cardboard or boards over your rows of germinating carrots. These hold in moisture. Just be sure to check them daily after a couple of days and remove them as soon as you see the plants have sprouted.

You should also store your seeds properly and do a simple germination test for seed you saved at home or stored for multiple years.

Why won’t my root vegetable produce well?

We can’t pinpoint the issue without being there in person, but there are a few common issues with root vegetable production. One of the most straightforward issues to fix is your spacing. Ensure you are correctly thinning your root crops so they don’t compete for space, light, and nutrients.

Nutrient imbalances can also affect root crop production. Too much nitrogen can encourage crops like beets to produce a lot of beautiful foliage but little root growth. Low phosphorus levels can also decrease root production. A soil test may help you understand what is happening with your root vegetables.

Lastly, aphids and other pests can do enough damage to restrict production. Begin watching for signs of pest issues early and treat them accordingly. 

How do I keep deer out of the garden?

Unfortunately, the best way to deal with deer is usually fencing. Experts generally recommend an 8-foot-tall fence to keep out white-tailed deer. However, a visual barrier, like string lines or flags above a shorter fence, can help deter deer. 

Some folks also find that shorter electric fences are a good enough deterrent for deer. Smaller spaces are also less susceptible because deer don’t like to jump into enclosed spaces. For this reason, two rows of shorter fencing, with one a few feet inside the other, are usually adequate. 

heirloom squash southern exposure seed organic growing tipsHow do I deal with vine borers?

Vine borers are a major pest in the southeastern United States. One way to battle the borers is to choose resistant squash. Squashes in the Pepo family tend to be very susceptible to vine borers, while squashes in the Moschata family, like Tromboncino, are not as susceptible. 

Depending on where you live and how long your growing season is, you can avoid vine borers by planting your summer squash at the end of July. Adult vine borers typically lay eggs in late June or early July, so your late planting of squash won’t be mature until after vine borers are finished laying eggs.

Lastly, crop rotation can significantly impact vine borers. Once squash borers feed for 4-6 weeks, they burrow into the soil, where they spend the winter pupating. Moving your squash each season can help you avoid them.

Why do my tomatoes have blossom end rot?

Blossom end rot is a common issue in tomatoes, and we see so many folks asking for help with it on social media. Unfortunately, most of the advice we see on social media isn’t entirely reliable or helpful. We often see folks instructed to water their plants with milk or bury Epsom salts or eggshells beside them. 

As blossom end rot is caused by a calcium deficiency, it’s understandable why people would believe these may help. However, a plant with a calcium deficiency rarely means that the soil has a calcium deficiency. Usually, the plant has another issue, causing it to fail to take up enough calcium.

Plants absorb calcium through their root tips. Insufficient watering or saturated soils during fruit production can both make the plant struggle to get enough calcium, as can fertilizer burn on the root tips. Overfertilizing or excessive nitrogen can also cause an explosion of growth that the plant can’t keep up with. If it doesn’t absorb calcium fast enough to meet the growing fruit’s needs, the result is blossom end rot. 

Why don’t you carry more native varieties?

We love seeing the interest in native species and hope to sell more native seed in the future. Right now, a relatively small portion of our crops are native varieties, including herbs and flowers like skullcap, lemon bergamot, goldenseal, and butterfly weed.

However, growing native species for seed is much trickier than most vegetable crops. For starters, many of these native species thrive in growing conditions far different from those in our vegetable gardens. Think about species like goldenseal that grow in the forest shade.

Another feature that makes them tricky is their germination requirements. Many of these species need cold stratification or a period of moist cold before they will have good germination rates. This allows these species to survive in the wild, where, in this temperate climate, they would experience a moist cold period each winter. Other crops need a long period to germinate or have specific germination requirements we don’t fully understand. 

Further, many native species are perennials. Perennial plants generally require several years of growth before they begin producing a good amount of seed. Even once you get through all that, harvesting seed from native plants differs from most cultivated plants.

If you would like more native species, Prairie Moon Nursery is a good option. 

How do I tell when [insert crop here] is ripe?

Sometimes, it can be challenging to tell exactly when to harvest certain crops, especially if you’ve never grown them before. You can’t see how your potatoes look under the soil or what a melon looks like inside. So how do we know when to pick them?

It varies with each crop. Harvest information is included in all of our growing guides so you know to look for the dried tendril on a watermelon and to harvest your potatoes for storage after the plant has died back.

How often should I water my garden?

Generally speaking, most gardens require an average of 1 to 2 inches of water per week, which can come from rain or watering. Placing a few containers throughout your garden with 1 inch marked on them can help you see how much water your garden is getting while it’s raining or you’re running a sprinkler.

That said, you should always check your soil before making assumptions. In cool or very humid climates, you may need less water. You may need more in arid climates, hot periods, or with certain water-hungry crops.

When checking your soil, dig down a couple of inches. The soil may be dry on top and very wet below. You can grab a handful of soil (not just from the surface) and do a quick check. Squeeze the handful of soil and then open your hand. If the soil falls apart, it’s probably still too dry. If it mostly clumps together, you have enough moisture. If water dripped from your hand while you squeezed, you probably overwatered.

You can also invest in a moisture meter if you would like a quick and clean way to check on your soil conditions.


Hopefully, this post provided some helpful answers. We love hearing from all of our growers and encourage you to continue commenting on your garden questions on Facebook and Instagram. We look forward to helping with your garden concerns and will answer as many as we can!

Saving the Past for the Future