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
(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.
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
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
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 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.
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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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