- Preparing for and planting wildflowers is a satisfying project. Here are the essential steps:
Step 1: The Plan
Step 2: The Prep
Step 3: The Planting
Step 4: Patience…
Results: The Power of Wildflowers
Planning for a successful wildflower garden or native grass and flower planting means getting to know your property. How much sun will each area get? How is the drainage? Where will people walk, and which parts of the property will be viewed from a distance? A landscape architect can be very helpful at this stage.
Preparing Soil: The most important step
Proper site preparation is important for prompt germination of seed and healthy growth of seedlings. Best results will be obtained by planting on cleared ground. Remove existing vegetation to avoid competition from other plants. This may be done by pulling, tilling under, spraying with a general herbicide, or by a combination of these methods, depending upon the size of the area, type and density of vegetation and other factors. Loosen soil by scraping, tilling or scarifying. Tilling should be utilized only when soil is very compacted and further weed control measures can be taken after tilling. Our recommendation for BEST results is to bring in WEED-FREE COMPOST and spread it over a prepared area that has been prepared as described. Please contact us for details on this step 800-684-3734. We can teach you the method used by DennisFrank Sharum of Sharum Landscape and Garden Centers at the magnificent Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (CBMAA). This technique produced beautiful results when they planted the Holland Wildflower Farm Little Bit Shady mix that adorns the roads and walkways leading to the museum.
The Planting: Putting the seeds on the soil
Now comes the fun part and NOTICE we said ON THE SOIL, not under it…very important. Also be ready to mix your seed with some greater ratio of sand or other carrier so not to use up your seeds before you cover your space. We suggest getting some slightly moist sand or vermiculite or Milorganite and mixing the seed in with your hands or a small shovel. Use a larger ratio of sand to seed (2 to 1, 3 to1, 8 to 1) The larger the area the more sand is good to use to be sure the seed will cover. Just take a bucket and mix in your sand and seed, squish your hands in it and mix well. This also helps you to see where you have seeded. Hand broadcast (our preferred method) sand/seed. Using a hand spreader or push seeder can be useful, practice with small quantities of sand/seed mix. You may want to slightly moisten sand and make sure the largest seed can get through the sieve in the seeder.
Next, press seed into soil lightly which is done naturally as you lightly mulch over the area with wheat straw or pine straw (seedfree, not hay) in a light layer so you can still see the soil but coverage is over entire surface. Other mulches cover the seeds and can prevent light from getting to seeds. If meshcloth is used to hold seed on banks or slopes, any covering needs to transmit light to the ground for successful germination. Covering the seeds with soil (or heavy mulch) is the main reason for poor germination.
Now, water thoroughly and apply moisture regularly (about an inch a week) over the next few weeks will really help establish a strong stand of seedlings. If drought conditions exist any time during the first year, irrigation will help establish the seedlings. Fall or winter planting is recommended and many wildflowers germinate in the cold of winter. Also in moderate regions where spring comes early, fall plantings are best. Summer and spring sowings are fine but do usually require more diligent watering. If you do not have irrigation available fall and winter is usually better conditions for germination.
What to Expect: Establishment period realities
When do wildflower seeds germinate? When the conditions are right. Period. Many wildflowers germinate in cool temperatures, (another plus for fall planting), others in hot summer temperatures. Therefore if you’ve planted a mixture, you’ll have seeds germinating at their preferred soil temperature over a long period of time as the soil temperature goes from cooler to warmer temperatures, and vice versa.
Wildflowers can provide an excellent, low cost alternative in large-scale, high maintenance situations, as well as a satisfying change from traditional urban landscaping. However, during their initial establishment period, wildflowers require as much maintenance as traditional plantings.
A smooth, weed- and vegetation-free planting bed is important for good seed-soil contact and prompt germination. Avoid seeding more than the recommended rate since overseeding can result in crowded conditions the first year and poor establishment of perennials. Cover seeds lightly to protect them from drying out during germination, and to prevent them from being eaten by birds. Consistent moisture is important for 4 – 6 weeks after planting.
A wildflower planting requires the same weed control measures as traditional landscaping. Effective measures include site preparation prior to planting and a post-germination maintenance program.
Annuals germinate quickly when conditions are favorable, providing a quick ground cover and competition against weeds. Natural reseeding of annuals ranges from significant to minimal, depending on the species, climate, soil texture and other factors. Most perennial and biennial species begin to bloom the second season, but not as profusely as annuals. Therefore, wildflower plantings look noticeably different after the first year.
Sometimes it is desirable or even necessary to sow seed in second and subsequent years. Reseeding may be necessary if establishment of wildflowers is spotty or poor. It is possible to reseed bare areas with the original mixture. Loosen soil of bare areas and provide adequate weed control and supplemental irrigation as needed. Where natural reseeding of annuals is minimal, sowing annuals each spring can produce a magnificent annual and perennial display throughout the growing season.
If desired, wildflowers may be mowed in the fall following seed set. Mow to a height of 4-6 inches, and leave the residue on the ground because it is a reservoir of viable seeds.
The second year will bring new blooms from your perennials and biennials, and a more established wildflower plot that will require much less input and can realistically by mowed once or twice a year.