Few plants in the garden deliver a more natural appearance than wildflowers. Although true success with wildflowers is dependent upon timing, adhere to these simple tips, tricks, and techniques and you can paint a swath of color across your springtime landscape.
A true wildflower seed needs the freeze-thaw cycle of winter and early spring to germinate properly. This is especially true for the most popular varieties like the poppy. Cold weather cracks open a wildflower seed’s hull so it can make its way into the soil. That’s why sowing the seed now through March is the ideal planting window.
Proper seed to soil contact is essential to achieve a successful stand of wildflowers. There are wildflower seeds that are seemingly weightless. Designed to float, they can be light as feathers and, therefore, a challenge to get down into the soil. Casually scattering these seeds on unprepared soil will bring disappointing results. A bit of work and patience is essential to a successful show of spring blooms.
Four simple steps make the difference between wildflower success and failure. Here are the specific planting techniques that guarantee a breathtaking crop of wildflowers:
Step 1: Select and prepare the planting area. Most wildflowers need a considerable amount of sunshine, so choose an area that receives at least six hours of light daily.
Planting in weed-free soil assures optimal results, so pull out any growth you don’t want growing with your wildflowers. Then rake the seedbed to loosen the top one to two inches of soil. I find that better growth occurs when All Purpose Plant Food 7-4-4 is mixed into the topsoil. The food releases slowly, providing the exact nutrient support needed during the germination period and throughout the growing season.
Step 2: Create your own hydro mulch. Often, seeds in a mix are so small you can barely tell if you have spread them evenly across the soil. So, to avoid this drawback, buy a bag of composted mulch, pour it into a wheelbarrow and mix in the seed. Spread this seed-mulch blend over the prepared seedbed. This simple trick helps you see precisely where the seed is placed, ensures good seed-to-soil contact, insulates the seed, and camouflages it from hungry birds.
Step 3: Keep the seedbed moist. If sufficient moisture is present, some seeds can germinate by the end of February. Regardless of planting location, your wildflowers will require supplemental water if it does not rain enough to keep the seedbed moist. Even a good snow will maximize germination.
Wildflower Caution! Quality is difficult to spot in wildflower seeds and presents a problem because many shortcuts are taken in the industry. To keep costs down, many blends of wildflower seeds are composed of filler and cheap annual seed. You want high quality seeds that will come back year after year, spreading their blooming joy to other parts of the landscape.
Although I’ve designed numerous local mixes specifically for our region, here I’m only mentioning some of my pet choices. My favorite easy-to-grow blend is the Arizona Wildflower Blend. This low-water, high-show mix is easy to grow. It contains seeds for Indian paintbrush, California poppy, penstemon, columbine, and Arizona lupine, to name a few.
The most popular blend is Parade of Poppies. Far more than the common California poppy, this mix is comprised of seven different poppies. Its varied blooms deliver a truly spectacular show.
For zero care landscapes, commercial, and investment properties I suggest the Drought Tolerant Mix. For planting next to the forest and the presence of deer, try Deer Resistant Wildflower Mixture. To bring bees back into a garden to help pollinate fruit trees and vegetables, go with the Honey Source Wildflower Mix.
The next time you visit the garden center, ask for my free handout Growing Better Wildflowers. It offers detailed information for growing those always beloved natural looking colorful spring flowers.
January Garden Classes – Every Saturday, starting at 9:30-10:30, I host local garden classes held in the back greenhouses. Each class is free to friends that are readers of this column.
Jan. 18 – Come Alive with Seed Propagation 301
Jan. 25 – Landscape Designs that Work Locally
Until next month, I’ll see you in the garden center. QCBN
Throughout the week Mountain Gardener Ken can be found at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road in Prescott, or contacted through his website at www.wattersgardencenter.com.