Information on Planting and Growing Native Wildflowers
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Native Wildflower Seed Planting Information
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Basics of Planting Wildflowers
site evaluation site preparation stratifying & scarifying seed planting seed
Congratulations! You are about to embark on a path which makes so much sense you will be surprised that it isn't utilized by everyone who loves flowers! Native Wildflowers are those plants that were here before settlers from Europe began importing new species of flowers. Native wildflowers are naturally adapted to their geographic location resisting insects and disease as well as thriving on the sun, soil, and water with which nature has provided them. Cultivating native wildflowers on your property provides color and contrast by using nature's natural wild flower beauties in their appropriate native environment. In addition to this natural radiance, wildflowers provide additional attractiveness by drawing butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and songbirds to your property facilitating nature to achieve its natural balance. Wildflowers native to an area provide these charming critters with the food and shelter necessary for their survival, making wildflowers a vital service to the environment. Continue reading to understand the philosophy of native wildflower plantings which departs from the traditional American practices of planting, weeding and watering alien plants.
top of page Site Evaluation... it is important to first think about what assets your property has, what you want the wildflowers to provide, and the viewpoint from where their enjoyment will be provided. Planned correctly the wildflowers will flourish and provide enjoyment for many years to come.
Evaluate... It is easier to match flowers to your existing sight than to change the site. Wildflowers thrive in an environment which is able to provide them with the necessary basics for survival (sun, soil and water). They are each different with each one having their own needs and it is important that these needs are evaluated and provided for. To do this an evaluation of what you have is essential. Do you have a limestone glade, a wet bog, open woods, or prairie? Will direct sunlight be available to the plant for the full day, part of the day, or not at all? Is the area low lying where water will be readily available or is it located in a high dry spot? These evaluative steps should be done very methodically to allow you to match the correct plants to your area, plants that will thrive in the conditions provided. It is the phase that makes us look outside of our "box" and identify wildflowers other than the plants we currently enjoy. It is the heart of growing native wildflowers, which will determine the success of your wildflower garden!
After these basic conditions have been identified, don't forget to consider the viewpoint from where the wildflowers will be seen. Will they be foundation plantings that are only seen from the street or island beds that can be enjoyed from your dinning room window or deck? Will the wildflower seeds be planted in a garden viewed up close or a hillside only seen from a distance? Will the flowers need to be organized more formally or randomly scattered as in a prairie meadow? The idea here is to provide natural beauty to your property by considering all aspects of wildflower placement. Remember that the beauty of flowers is not only for the passer by, but the property owner as well. There are few things as delightful as looking out your own window to see the fruit of your efforts providing you with a bouquet of sunshine! A well thought out plan will provide your property with radiance and beauty while increasing its value.
top of page Preparing the Site... Taking these basic steps at the beginning of this process will provide healthy plants that are easily maintained and enjoyed for many years.
With the appropriate seeds chosen, you are ready to prepare the site for planting. Plantings that are randomly scattered in a field have different techniques for growing than plantings that are organized and viewed up close.
Meadows or Prairies... A field planting is a task that in the beginning is very labor intensive, but once established will provide a quarter century of beauty. The planting will perpetuate itself utilizing a natural ecosystem which can take one to five years to establish. The size of field that you plant depends on your commitment to nurturing the plants until the ecosystem is created. If you are short on patience and wish for blooming beauty quick, start small.
Preparing the area for a new planting is sometimes very time consuming and labor intensive but will provide tremendous rewards in the years to come. Any invasive alien species should be removed prior to planting native species. This may be achieved by hand pulling or spot treatment with herbicide. When planting native species in an existing crop field or disturbed area It may be necessary to remove any existing weeds and non-native species which compete with the native wildflowers for sun, water and nutrition from the soil, before planting wildflower seeds.
One method is to plow or disc the area in the spring to kill the existing vegetation followed by shallowly disking the area every few weeks during the summer as new weed seeds germinate. This should be continued most of the summer until the weed seeds in the top 1 inch of soil have germinated and been destroyed. The wildflower seeds can be broadcast over the area in the fall or early winter and will germinate the following spring.
A second method is the use of a chemical herbicide such as Roundup®. Read and follow all instructions when using any herbicide. Use the safest herbicide available and in the lowest amounts possible to achieve the objective while doing the least damage to the environment. Roundup can be used in late spring after the field is green and the plants are growing with a spot treatment three weeks later on plants that were not killed. Where regulations allow a controlled burn can be used after the vegetation turns brown and dry or the area can be mowed and the excess foliage removed. This can be followed with a final herbicide treatment in late October to remove any weeds that have started to grow over the summer. The wildflower and native grass seeds can be broadcast on the surface in the fall or early winter. Native warm season grass can also be planted with a no-till drill in the spring.
Hillsides... Hillsides should not be tilled do to the increase of erosion that can occur. On small areas, black plastic totally covering the area during July and August will kill most seeds and vegetation in the top layer of soil. For larger areas the use of a herbicide may be necessary. Native wildflower seeds may be broadcast over the area in the fall or early winter without further soil disturbance. A light mulch of straw will help prevent erosion.
Flower Beds... The objective when preparing the soil for a flower bed is to clear the area of all grass and weeds and keep it clear so the new wildflower seedlings are not competing for nutrients, water or sunlight. It is advisable to till the area until the soil is smooth and all grass and weeds are gone. Add compost to sites with heavy clay to give proper drainage and the additional nutrients the seedlings need. After the plot is worked, water the soil thoroughly so existing weed seeds will germinate and can be removed by hand pulling or shallowly tilling the soil. When the soil has been clear of grass and weeds for about a month the area is ready for planting.
top of page Planting... It may seem as though it has been a long process to get to this step, but the fruits of your labors are about to unfold.
When the appropriate time of year has approached and your seeds have been pretreated you may notice that it will be difficult to spread the amount of seeds you have over the area worked. To make planting the seeds consistent over the entire field it is suggested to add a bulk material such as sand or course sawdust to the seeds. Sowing the seeds using a ratio of 8 parts bulk material to 1 part seed will help achieve a uniform growth the next spring. To achieve optimal germination it is important that the seed have good soil contact. This can be improved if a roller is used to press the seed into the soil. To complete the process a light application of straw will help retain moisture for seed germination and prevent erosion. Applying straw to prevent erosion is especially important on hillsides.
Again, if seeding takes place in spring or summer extra care will have to be provided. Seeds may need a pretreatment before planting and additional watering and possibly weeding will be necessary until the seedlings can take care of themselves.
Fertilization... This is where all of that pre-planning pays off. For most wildflowers native to the area you choose to plant them in, fertilizer is not necessary or recommended. Relax and Enjoy!! Your native wildflowers are on their way. Patience is the only requirement necessary to enjoy your beautiful landscape.
top of page Germination Pre-Treatment:
Pre-treatment of some native wildflower seeds may be necessary due to seed dormancy, however most native wildflower seed will germinate without any pretreatment if they are planted outside in the fall or early winter. Dormancy is typically broken if the seeds go through a winter freeze. If the seed will be planted inside or in the spring or summer a physical modification of the seed coat which will trigger germination may be necessary. Following are some of the different techniques that can be used.
Some seeds, (like White and Blue Wild Indigo) have a hard seed coat that
prevents water penetration. Germination will be improved by rubbing the
seed between 2 sheets of medium grit sandpaper to rough up the outer seed coat
so water can penetrate the seed. An alternative method is the use of hot
Water; Pour hot water (170-200 deg. F.)
over the seeds and let them soak overnight before planting.
(I prefer using sandpaper)
(I prefer using sandpaper)
Cold moist stratification; Place the seeds in a plastic bag or covered container. Label the outside of the container with date and the seeds name . Add an equal volume of clean sand, sphagnum, or peat moss. Add water to moisten and then mix contents. The seeds should have some excess water the first day so they can absorb all they will. After 24 hours check the seeds and add more sand, peat, or sphagnum to absorb any excess moisture in the container. The seeds should be moist not wet as they can drown in too much water. Store the seed in the refrigerator (not the freezer) for the recommended length of time before planting.
You can also plant seed in moistened potting soil in seed trays and place outside in a cold frame or cover with glass and place outside out of direct sunlight during the winter. Check the seed frequently to prevent their drying out. Uncover them in the spring when they begin to germinate to provide good air circulation.
NOTE: Even with the proper pre-treatment, some native wildflower seeds may be very slow to germinate.
For more information try these books: Go Native by Carolyn Harstad, A Gardener's Encyclopedia of Wildflowers by C. Colston Burrell, A Garden of Wildflowers by Henry W. Art, Growing and Propagating Wildflowers by Harry R. Phillips, The Natural Habitat Garden by Ken Druse, Going Native by Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Wildflower Gardens by Brooklyn botanic Garden
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