Use of Wildflowers in the Home Landscape
This is my site Written by Geoff on August 1, 2000 – 7:25 pm

Wildflower Gardening is increasing in popularity as gardeners have discovered just how versatile our native plants can be. Wildflowers are finding their way into the home landscape. They are being used increasingly in those hard to mow areas such as septic fields and detention basins. Some homeowners are turning to wildflowers in place of lawns or to reduce lawn areas as a means of reducing maintenance costs. 

Successful wildflower gardening requires careful planning. Site selection is the first and most important decision you must make. Most wildflowers like full sun, at least eight hours. This usually means not a north facing slope. During germination and seedling development you will want a site that can be easily watered. Avoid sites that have a history of heavy weed growth. If you must plant close to open fields, it is best to have a five – ten foot mowed buffer zone to keep weeds and woody plants from migrating into your wildflower garden. You will also want to avoid sites that are barren, if weeds will not grow probably neither will flowers. Damp, heavily compacted, or poorly drained soils usually make poor locations. Also, moist areas accumulate a lot of weed seeds as water drains through them. Since many wildflowers and grasses benefit from periodic burning, you want an area where this can be done safely. 

Site preparation can take up to one year using a combination of cultivation and herbicide applications to eliminate existing growth, roots, and weed seeds. Begin by mowing the area to remove as much growth as possible. Apply three applications of Roundup throughout the season beginning in early spring into fall. This allows you to kill any late germinating seeds. In the following spring we apply a final treatment of Roundup, wait 7-10 days and lightly till the soil. Do not cultivate any deeper than one inch as this will only bring additional weed seeds to the top. Plant the area immediately. 

We recommend using nothing less then 97% pure seeds. Also, avoid those packaged seeds found on most seed racks. We suggest purchasing your seeds from nurseries such as The Prairie Nursery or Wildseed Farms, both offer mixes that cover almost all growing conditions. Select a variety of wildflowers including some of our native grasses. You want to have a variety, not only for color but, to maintain bio-diversity. A good all purpose wildflower mix is one containing the following seeds or plants: 

– New England Wood Aster, Milkweed, Branched Coneflower, Culver’s Root, Wild Senna, Prairie Blazingstar, Black-eyed Susan, Joe Pye Weed, Boneset, Wild Iris, Pale Indian Plantain, Tall Coreopsis, Sawtooth Sunflower, Ox-eye Sunflower, Bergamot, Purple Coneflower, Goldenrod, Angelica, Great Blue Lobelia, Ironweed, Prairie Dock. 

Prairie Grasses 
– Big Bluestem, Bluejoint Grass, Canada Wild Rye. 

Provide plants that occupy different parts of the soil to insure that the wildflowers will squeeze out competing weeds. If the area is small, consider using plants instead of seeding. An important point to remember is that wildflower seeds are not hybridized like modern garden seeds to germinate quickly. 

Once the site is selected, prepared, and the seed chosen, it is time for planting. Unless the area is very big, hand broadcasting works best. Mix the wildflowers seeds into a carrier medium such as damp sawdust or peat–one bushel of carrier per thousand square feet of planting areas. Once thoroughly mixed, divide the blend in half and broadcast first one direction and then the other. Lightly rake and then roll the planted area. Most wildflower seeds need good soil contact to germinate. 

Lightly mulching the area with weed free straw will help keep the areas moist and increase germination. Avoid the temptation to use hay as it contains many weed seeds. The straw should be chopped and blown into the area for best results. 

Water every other day for the first few months after planting and then only during periods of drought. Over watering can be harmful as it promotes diseases. 

Wildflowers and grasses grow slowly so, for the first year or two, some weeding, either mechanical or chemical will be required. Since most weeds will grow faster than wildflowers, periodic mowing at six inches monthly will help control weeds the first year. Use a rotary mower or weedeater depending on the size of the area. Pulling weeds by hand is not recommended as you can easily harm the tender wildflower plants. If weeds continue to be a problem the second season, the area can be mowed again in late spring. 

Most wildflower areas will benefit from periodic burning. We recommend that whenever possible, a regular schedule of burning be carried out. Large wildflower areas should be divided into sections and rotationally burned annually. This method insures bio-diversity, protects over wintering insects, and often easier to control during burning. 

Wildfowers have a place in the garden but, do not expect to buy a packet of seeds at the corner drugstore, sprinkle them around, and magically have a field of flowers. It just does not work this way. With a little planning and some up-front work, you can have something that will last for years with little maintenance. The butterflies and birds will love you too.

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Modified: March 8, 2009 at 9:21 am GMT-0800

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