It's time to plant wildflowers!!
Nothing marks the beginning of spring like the emergence of the wildflowers. Reds. oranges, yellows, and of course the good ‘ol blue bonnet. As soon as the blooming starts, we are flooded with folks wanting that grand display in their yard. Unfortunately, it’s too late to plant when you are seeing the blooms. Fall is the planting season for wildflowers and this should give you the info you need for a good crop.
First, choosing a good location for your wildflowers is important. They will need to get AT LEAST 4-5 hours of sun. The more the better. Also, be sure to choose a location where the plants can be allowed to grow and get to blooming size. I would love to have wildflowers all over my lawn, but certain areas need to be mowed regularly and therefore are not good spots for wildflowers. And don’t choose an area with too good a soil profile. Wildflowers seem to perform best in poor soil. Highly amended soil may actually lead to poor wildflower production. Also, be sure you do not use corn gluten or other pre-emergent in the area, as it will prevent the wildflower seeds from sprouting as well.
Second, prepare the area for planting. This is pretty easy to do. Just scalp the area with your lawn mower. Now normally we would never recommend you scalp your lawn, but this is the best way to get ready for the wildflowers. You may need to make a couple of passes to get the grass (or weeds or whatever) as low as possible. Also, be sure to carefully check the area for rocks and sticks that may normally get mowed over on a higher mowing. Mulching the cut material back in is always recommended.
Next, choose your seed. To start, if you have never done wildflowers, I might recommend starting with a mix. Different plants do better or worse, depending on the exact composition of your soil, light, water, etc… By starting with a mix, you can see what really thrives and what just doesn’t work. For me, bluebonnets are elusive to say the least. After 3 different plantings, I have finally given up on them. Poppies and Indian Blanket however, thrive in my area and subsequent plantings have lead to a sea of red and orange from early spring through summer. If you don’t see great results in the first year, don’t give up. Many of our native wildflowers have very tough seeds that are somewhat hard to germinate their first year. This is a defense mechanism to protect the long term life of the plant. In years of bad drought, fire, or other harsh circumstances, some seed “rests” and come germinate the following year. Hopefully, by then, conditions are better.
Finally, spread the seed. This can be a fun event for the whole family. Be sure and read your package to see how much area the seed you have is supposed to cover. Putting ¼ pound of seed in a 100 square foot area may sound great, but it is too thick. Conversely, a 2 gram packet, spread over 200 square feet, will have little impact. Some seed is very small. Mixing the seed with sand or compost is a good way to avoid accidentally dropping too much seed in one spot. Be sure to mix thoroughly. Spread the mixture over the desired area and spray down lightly with a hose to ensure seed reaches the soil. Don’t spray too heavily and don’t spread seed before a torrential downpour. This could actually wash the seed away. Now your work is pretty well done. Hopefully, we will get adequate rainfall to allow the seed to germinate and grow. Small plants will form fairly quickly and sit in a “dormant” state most of the winter. As soon as it warms in spring, plants will grow rapidly and begin to bloom. Usually late February through April, depending on species. If we do not get rain, an occasional watering will be helpful to ensure success.
Plants may bloom for quite some time and can start to look a little “ragged” after a while. You can eventually mow them down, but it is important to allow them to finish blooming and produce seed for the next years crop. This is why the middle of the front yard is not usually the best spot for wild flowers. If you are not sure, check the spent blooms. Most will easily release their seed if it is ripe and ready. Now you can mow the area as usual for the rest of the summer and fall. Best to stop mowing mid to late October for the next years crop.
Make Lady Bird proud and spread some wildflower seeds in your yard! They will reward you with blooms, bees, and all the joy of spring.