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PRACTICAL PLANTING TIPS FOR WILDFLOWERS

THE WONDER OF WILDFLOWERS

Sowing wildflowers may sound as simple as spreading chicken feed only to stand back and watch the color explode into a beautiful meadow. It's not quite that simple but it's also not that difficult. It can make a great family or community project.

Wildflowers can transform areas into self-perpetuating fields of color and delight. Like planting a tree, you leave a legacy for years to come. They can even save money on mowing and land maintenance.

The following information will give you the basics to start wildflowers in a garden or on an acreage.

 

SELECTING A SITE, WHERE TO BEGIN

The size of the site is dictated only by your desires. Small sites of fifteen square feet can be just as beautiful as acres of expanse or miles of roadside. Along with your desire however you must also consider the cost of the seed, the time and labor available. For the inexperienced it is always better to err on the side of a smaller, more manageable site.

Sowing wildflower seeds without care or planning usually produces unsatisfactory results. Here are some important factors to consider:

(1) Does the site support plants now? If absolutely nothing is growing, the site is unlikely to support wildflowers.

(2) Will there be adequate moisture during germination? Can supplemental watering be provided during germination if necessary?

(3) What weeds are likely to be present? Are you willing to prepare the site properly?

(4) It's important that elevation, climate and other environmental factors are considered in selecting the proper mixture of wildflowers to sow.

SOIL PREPARATION

Usually the soil needs to be broken up. Common methods for working the soil include plowing, disking, harrowing, and in small areas, using a roto-tiller. On drastically compacted soil a ripper may be necessary. In moist locations soil is usually tilled to a depth of 1 - 2 inches. In arid climates, shallow tilling to about 3 inches is preferable. Shallow tilling helps conserve moisture.

Water and air-holding capacities of soil may be improved by adding peat moss, compost, weed-free straw or other organic material. Do not add fresh manure, as it may contain weed seeds or burn germinating seedlings.

If you are planting on a slope it is helpful to make furrows about 2inches deep across the slope with a rake or pointed hoe to hold the seed so it is not washed down the hill. After tilling firm up the seed bed with a lawn roller, rake, or harrow.

WEED CONTROL

Weed control is the biggest problem facing wildflower establishment and one which has no easy solution. Proper seeding rates, high germination, timing and adequate moisture during establishment contribute to producing a good stand of wildflowers. A weedy area converted to wildflowers will have a large reservoir of weed seeds in the soil, ready to germinate over a period of years.

In Wyoming, fall sowing will result in the best stand of wildflowers. This provides you with a summer season prior to planting to try to get a handle on the weed situation. Weeds can be controlled best in the spring and summer prior to planting. Here are suggested steps for control:

(1) Till the soil to uproot vegetation and weeds.

(2) Irrigate area to encourage germination of weed seeds near the surface.

(3) Spray new growth with "Roundup" or "Kleenup" as growth appears (this herbicide kills all plants but does not sterilize the soil). Do not spray within two weeks of sowing the wildflowers.

(4) Water and spray again if new weeds appear during the course of the summer, prior to fall planting.

FERTILIZATION

Do not fertilize wildflowers unless the soil is extremely depleted of nutrients. Fertilizers encourage weed growth and lush foliage rather than flowers. If the soil needs improvement, add organic matter such as weed-free grass clippings, well-rotted compost, or our Fertil-Fibers NutriMulch. These organic materials enhance soil texture which helps the soil hold water.

Selecting A Mix - Generally, you can find mixtures for arid, moist, and even shady locations, in varying heights. If you have exacting requirements, we can help you create a site-specific mix, minimum five pounds. Since seed sizes vary widely by type, custom mixes should have approximately equal number of seeds of each species, not equal weight. A good mix includes annual flowers for first-year color and perennials for bloom the second year onward. Aggressive species such as yarrow, dame's rocket, and oxeye daisy should be avoided. In general, mixtures for "arid" or "western" conditions seem to work best over most of the state, except high altitude moist or shady areas.

When to Plant - In the arid areas of Wyoming, a late fall sowing (before the ground freezes) usually works best to take advantage of winter and spring moisture. Plant one month after the first frost in the fall so the seeds lay dormant until spring. In moist areas, planting can occur in spring, as soon as the ground can be worked, or late fall. Preparing the bed during the previous fall allows for early spring seeding.

Planting Rates - Recommended planting rates for large areas (one acre or more) are based on a minimum of 50-70 wildflower seeds per square foot (4-11 pounds per acre). For areas of one-half acre of less or where high visibility is important, we recommend a minimum of 4-5 ounces of wildflower seed per 1,000 square feet, which is about double the recommended rate for large areas. Thicker sowings help in preventing weed competition.

Seed Application - On small areas, broadcast the seeds evenly by hand or by using a "cyclone" or "drop" spreader. It's helpful to mix in a carrier with the small seed to aid in even seed distribution. Dry, clean sand or rice hulls work well as a carrier (1 to 2 parts carrier sand to 1 part seed). Lightly cover the seed by gently raking the area. Be sure to have good seed contact with the soil.

For large areas, gather up a bunch of friends and relatives and follow the small areas recommendations or use a "grassland" drill that has been specially adapted to drill a maximum of 1/4 inch. When drilling seed, use corn meal as a carrier. After drilling, firm the soil with a culti-packer. It is always important to obtain good contact between the soil and the seed (rolling the soil will firm the seed bed).

Water For Establishment - All seeds, including drought tolerant wildflower, need ample moisture to germinate and to initially develop into healthy seedlings. Best results will be obtained by soaking the planted areas thoroughly after sowing and then maintaining consistent moisture for 4 to 6 weeks. Do not water too heavily of too hard as you may wash out the seed. Fall sowing will take advantage of the moisture we usually receive in spring, thus reducing the need for supplemental watering. In moist mountainous areas supplemental watering may not be necessary, especially if there is constant soil moisture.

After seedlings are up and growing, watering may be reduced depending on the climate and rainfall. For optimal displays in arid locations, apply up to one-half inch of moisture per week if possible. Established drought tolerant mixes will survive dry periods without supplemental moisture, but will not produce as many blooms.

If weeds are present, remember that they benefit from moisture as much as the wildflower and may dominate over watered areas. That is why weed control prior to planting, and thick sowing of wildflower seed is very helpful in smothering out weeds.

Mulches - Mulching is a great aid in the establishment of wildflowers. A mulch helps maintain moisture, minimize seed erosion and will help to stabilize slopes.

Two ideal mulch materials are weed-free straw or pine needles. Pine needles are preferable in windy areas. There are also commercially available mulch fabrics which work well.

Apply the mulch over the total bed with even coverage, but spread it lightly so that you can still see some of the soil through the straw or needles. If the mulch is too thick it becomes difficult for seedlings to emerge through the mulch.

A rock mulch can be a very effective way to get seeds established in difficult situations, especially in dry windy areas. After preparing the soil and sowing the seed you are ready for a rock mulch. Then evenly spread coarse gravel (3/4 to 1 inch in size) one layer thick, over the surface of the planting bed. Do not till or disturb the gravel on the top of the soil. The rock mulch will help the seed germinate by helping to hold in the moisture, protect the germinating seedlings from high winds and will also protect the seed for feeding birds and mammals.

Reseeding - Reseeding is always an option if the first sowing doesn't result in a thick stand of plants. Reseeding enables you to change to a more appropriate mixture if the original sowing wasn't satisfactory.

Annuals are usually present in most wildflower mixes, and over time they may reseed less and less each year.

A bed can often be enhanced by the top sowing of a more suitable mixture or by reseeding with the same mixture originally used. This procedure will often help maintain a very showy wildflower bed.

Reseeding is best done in late fall or early spring when existing wildflowers are dormant. Rake the seed into the bed so that the seed is covered slightly and has good soil contact

Basic information in this flyer comes from the Wildscapes booklet published by the hardworking volunteers of the Wildscapes & Wildflowers for Wyoming Committee, c/o Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, 710 South Lion's Park Drive, Cheyenne, WY 82001

 

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