Growing wildflowers can be the most exciting kind of gardening imaginable. Whether you plant wildflowers in huge swaths along roadsides or in tiny pocket gardens in your own backyard, the vibrant colors and rich textures of these hardy plants are sure to please the eye. Like any kind of gardening, wildflowers require work and planning, but following these few basic rules will assure your success.
1. Determine your goals.
Before you buy seed, first know what you want from your wildflower plantings. What is your purpose? Do you want three-season color? Only species native to your area? Are you planting to attract birds and butterflies? There are innumerable reasons to plant wildflowers, and it’s important to define your goals before you begin.
2. Choose a site.
Although it may be tempting to plant wildflowers in a difficult site where nothing else grows, first stop to consider why this is the case. Wildflowers are hardy, but they’re not magical. Most wildflowers need full sun and moderately fertile soils that drain well but not too quickly. While it is possible to plant wildflowers in poor soil on a steep slope in the shade, this presents a special challenge.
3. Choose seeds.
Your wildflowers will only be as good as the seeds you sow. If you invest the time and energy to plant wildflowers correctly, don’t ruin the project by using questionable seeds. With over 75 years of experience, Stover Seed has developed a reputation for providing quality seeds and the information needed to insure success.
4. Prepare the site.
It is highly recommended that you remove existing vegetation before you plant wildflower seeds. Till, if you can, to create a loose seed bed. If you cannot till, at least scarify the top surface of the soil. You must eliminate weed seeds in the upper layer of soil by allowing them to germinate and begin to grow. The weeds can then be removed by chemical or mechanical means. It is important to not till again or you may turn up new weed seeds and you will have to repeat the process.
5. Plant the seed.
Good seed-to-soil contact is essential for a high germination rate. For even distribution mix seeds with damp sand when broadcasting. Scatter the seeds and rake them in lightly, being careful not to cover too deep. Determining the best time to plant is important to the success of the project. Optimum planting times vary with climate and rainfall. Fall plantings offer the advantage of early germination and growth. In mild climates, plant before expected periods of rainfall. In cold climates, plant late enough so the seeds will not germinate until spring. A spring or early summer planting is also fine in most areas.
6. Water the site.
Many wildflowers are considered to be drought tolerant, but all plants, wildflowers included, need sufficient moisture to germinate and thrive. Keep the site evenly moist during the first 4 to 6 weeks, then gradually reduce waterings. If your area receives at least 30 inches of rainfall a year, supplemental waterings probably will be unnecessary after this initial period. If you receive less than 30 inches a year, plan to supply additional moisture each week. It is critical not to allow newly seeded areas to dry out, nor turn them into puddles. Frequent, light irrigation is best.
7. Maintain the area.
Wildflower plantings should be cut or mown, usually in late fall. Overseed the bare spots at one half the normal seeding rate. As for fertilization, we recommend an organic, low nitrogen product 1 to 2 times during the growing season. Spot weeding will improve the appearance of your planting. Be sure to consult with a professional before applying herbicides.
Reprinted in part from the Wildflower Group of the American Seed Trade Association.