Wildflower planting guide

Good planning almost always means good results. Here is a step by step planting guide when sowing your wildflower seeds.

STEP 1: The Plan: Where to Start and How Much

  • How large is the area and how much seed do you need? In the southern states, 1 lb. will cover about 2000 sq. ft. but in the other regions 1 lb. will coverabout 3-4000 sq. ft. There is increased competition in the south with more moisture and more weeds (undesirable wildflowers, if you will). Therefore, the recommended rate for large area is 2X or double. Southern rate=15-20 lb. per acre All other regions 10-15 lb. per acre.
  • What is the exposure? Is it full sun, or partly shaded. Dark shade (no direct light whatsoever) is not recommended for seeding wildflowers (there are however a few varieties that will do well). If the area has less than 6 hours of full sun or is dappled light, you will want to consider using a shade tolerant mixture or shade-loving species.
  • Wildflowers are an investment in beauty, natural heritage, wildlife of all kinds, and color.Wildflowers that are native (originally found in an area) are EXPENSIVE, but the results are beautiful, natural, and long-lasting. Less expensive mixtures of seeds can certainly be found but the amount of native seed in those is quite small. The cheaper wildflowers are showy and colorful but they are not as able to naturalize and grow on in an area, on their own, as most of our native plants here in the eastern (of the rockies) United States. In Arkansas we have many wonderful native seeds but they are in short supply and are expensive to include in mixtures BUT WE DO! So there’s the long and short of it. Be prepared to spend on seed$480-$800/acre, or $59-$69 per lb. on 1-10 lb. quantities.

STEP 2: The Prep – Time Spent in Preperation Will Pay Off in Flowers

  • Wildflower seed must have direct contact with the soil – they cannot germinate on top of grass or other foliage. Wildflowers are excellent competitors if they get a good start. Having some exposed soil to press the seeds into (not bury) is part of that start. Getting rid of what is there is CRITICAL.  Summer is a good time to prepare a site for fall or winter planting. We recommend using a glyphosate-type herbicide (like RoundUp®), especially if planting in areas of bermuda grass, tall fescue or clover. (Covering the area in black plastic during the hot summer is a non-chemical alternative that will kill many weeds.) Later, after wildflower seedlings have emerged, if you need to control unwanted grasses, you can use a grass-specific herbicide like Poast®, Vantage®, Ornamec®, or Hi-Yield Grasskiller® (check labels: some require you to add an oil-based adjuvant like Peptoil® in order to work properly). Grass-specific herbicides will not harm the wildflowers (do not use if native grasses are in the mix). Eradicating grass and weeds is very important, so feel free to call to discuss your site prep with us.  Black or clear plastic can be used with some success. But do consider this step important in the assessing the type of results you will have.
  • Expose the soil: If your site is not prepared by fall, winter (native flowers) and spring are still excellent times for putting seed out. Mow or “weed-eat”, burn dead vegetation down as low as possible and rake away.   Exposing even small pockets of soil between clumps of existing vegetation is better than no prep at all. If possible, rough the ground a little. For very small areas, a garden rake may be adequate. For small- to medium-sized plantings, a lawn dethatcher or “power rake” (check your local equipment rental store) does a good job of scratching the soil surface without tilling. For large areas, use a harrow with tines down, smoothing with tines up.   Deep-tilling can bring up competitive weed seeds, and small wildflower seeds might settle too deeply if the soil is fluffed-up too much. Larger areas, of a half-acre or more, may require scraping with a tractor and box blade. Wildflowers will grow in rocky soils as long as it is not thin soil over bed-rock. Construction sites with exposed clay subsoil may require some added topsoil or compost to add organic matter for water retention.

STEP 3: The Planting – Putting the Seeds on the Soil

  • Now comes the fun part!!!! But you don’t want to use up your seeds before you run out of space. So we suggest getting some slightly moist sand or vermiculite and mixing the seed in about a 5 to 1 ratio of sand to seed. 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 sand/seed or put mixture in a hand or push seeder.After you have seeded the area.
  • You want to press seed into soil lightly which is done naturally as you lightly mulch over the area with wheat or pine straw (seedless as poss) 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. Covering the seeds with soil (or heavy mulch) is the main reason for poor germination.
  • Now, water thoroughly and pray for good rain over the next few weeks to help seedlings establish. If you can irrigate, one inch per week is adequate. Fall or winter planting is recommended if you do not have irrigation available.

STEP 4: Patience – Don’t Judge Your Success too Soon

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.

Many perennial (ones that come back each year from the root) wildflowers do not bloom the first year from seed. So if your mixture has both annuals (ones that flower and produce seed then die) and perennials you will see some new flowers the second year. Holland Wildflower Farm seed mixtures are usually a special combination of annuals, biennials(also bloom second year), and perennials. The second year will bring new blooms and a more established wildflower plot.