Not so long ago, wildflowers were simply plants growing in the woods, prairies, or mountain meadows. As the trend for natural landscaping takes hold, landscaper contractors are beginning to take an interest in growing wildflowers.
Creating bouquets of color is a contractors dream and
a delightful alternative
to traditional ornamental plants. Innovative landscape designers, seeing parks and highways using wildflowers, are looking for ways to duplicate this beauty in a landscaped environment.
Northwest Native Mix
All photographs courtesy of Applewood Seed Company
There are a number of benefits to planting wildflowers. Environmental and resource conservation issues have spurred a growing interest and awareness in wildflowers. They are low maintenance and dont require mowing. They are very cost-effective; however, more importantly, they offer a different look to the landscape. They complement a well-manicured landscape.
Creating a palette of colors is not very difficult. When planting a wildflower area, the object is to develop an attractive, permanent planting that will provide flowers year after year, with self-seeding annuals and perennials. When adapted species are established and properly managed, they can last for many years.
Wildflowers at poolside.
Be sure customers know what to expect from a wildflower planting. As with any type of direct seeding, the area must be kept weeded to give the wildflowers a chance to grow and prosper. After blooming, wildflowers may look a little ragged. Selectively cutting any flower stalks that have finished blooming will keep the appearance tidy during the growing season. The entire area may be cut or mowed to about 4-6 inches in the fall when flowers have gone to seed.
Most wildflower plantings are not static, but change annually and seasonally due to the mix of species. A good mix will provide flushes of seasonal flowering from spring to fall. Annual changes will occur based on the number of perennial plants and those species that have reseeding potential, and the extent to which that potential is realized.
Reseeding is essential for natural regeneration of plants and in order to perpetuate and extend the life of the planting. Weed control techniques should be carefully chosen in order to optimize wildflower reseeding potential at the site.
A field of Corn Poppies front an inn.
In order to grow wildflowers successfully from seed, one must pay attention to sound gardening principles. The main objective when preparing the seed bed is to provide optimum seed-to-soil contact. Prepare the soil by removing weeds and unwanted vegetation. Till lightly if soil is compacted.
Seeding can be done by hand or with a cyclone spreader, drill or hydroseeder. Most wildflowers prefer a loose, well-drained soil. Water the seedbed immediately after sowing seed, and keep area moist for four to six weeks by irrigating if natural rainfall is inadequate. In their normal environment, wildflowers lay in the ground during the winter months, and germinate when the seed warms in the spring. Highest success rates come with winter or early spring planting. Chances decrease dramatically for full germination as summer approaches.
When planting, another important consideration is to match the species to the area where they will be grown. This is necessary even for wildflowers that are native to the region. Characteristics to consider are soil type, amount of sunlight, amount of moisture, and hardiness zone.
Most wildflowers are survivors, and once established, they can become low-maintenance plants. Although generally considered native, wildflowers may be introduced species that are compatible with local soil and climatic conditions. They can be annuals, biennials, or perennials.
Wildflowers are cost-effective and require little maintenance. They are best planted in large areas where they can provide a carpet of beautiful flowers, but can be planted almost anywhere.
A meadow of Black-Eyed Susans.
Once the area is planted, a weed management strategy for wildflowers should be developed both for short and long-term maintenance. Once the planting is established, there is no single approach or magic formula to manage weed encroachment. The problem is further compounded by the fact that most wildflower plantings are a mix of species, thereby reducing the number of herbicides that can safely be used for weed control.
If an herbicide is safe for the wildflower, it will probably have no effect in controlling closely related weeds. With a mix of wildflowers from various families, it is unlikely that one herbicide will be completely effective for weed control with out damaging some wildflowers. An integrated weed management program should be developed, that is site specific and incorporates a combination of cultural, chemical and mechanical weed control techniques.
As the wildflower market continues to grow, a larger variety of species are becoming available. Choosing the best species for your project, following basic planting techniques, and purchasing high quality seed will help to ensure good germination. If you purchase untested seed, you may be taking chances with the success of your project. Seed suppliers offer a variety of wildflower mixes; some will even custom blend a special mix for you.
Wildflowers at the Denver Zoo.
After all, there is truly little as pleasing to the eye as a field of colorful wildflowers in full bloom.
If planned, installed and managed properly, wildflowers can be integrated into a landscape design and transform a property into a beautiful natural-looking environment.