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Wildflower Gardening

Gardening with Nature?


Butterfly on Buddleia

Butterflies Will Find Your Garden

Marie Iannotti

Have you secretly been considering turning your high maintenance mixed border into a wildflower garden? It can be hard to resist when seed companies are out there promoting their instant wildflower gardens in a can, sack or roll. I spoke with a handful of gardeners who gave wildflower meadows a try. Their efforts to date have not met with much success.

Many gardeners naively believe you can simply scatter some seeds, ignore the gardening basics, and wind up with a self-sowing meadow of bluebells and lacecaps. In truth, starting a wildflower garden is often more work than putting in a perennial border and it is not necessarily self-perpetuating.

If these plants are truly wild, (weeds, to most highway maintenance crews), why must they be coddled and coaxed out of the ground?


What is a Wildflower Garden?

According to my local Extension office, wildflowers are species of flowers that have shown themselves to be hardy and self-reproducing, with little attention form the gardener. Although they will grow wild or on their own, they are not necessarily native plants. Wildflower gardens are considered a low cost alternative to high maintenance gardening. Many wildflowers prefer poor soil and neglect, making them ideal for tough to maintain areas of your property. My wildflower garden got little attention, so where did I go wrong?


Preparing for Your Wildflowers

Even a wild look requires some planning and effort. The good news is that most of the effort is in getting it started.
  • Chose a site with full to partial sun. If you want the plants to sustain themselves, you had better give them conditions they find agreeable.


  • Weed control is paramount. Weeds are a successful wildflower garden's biggest threat. Of course, only you can determine what is a weed and what is a wildflower, but for the sake of simplicity I would suggest you start your garden with a clean palette and remove all existing vegetation. There are three proven methods of doing this.


    1. Weed or remove sod by hand. If you are starting with a small area or if you are planting where healthy grass is growing, this may be your best option.


    2. Solarization is a good way to kill all vegetation, including most seeds. Mow the area to be planted as low as your lawn mower will allow. Water the area well and then cover securely with clear plastic sheeting, leaving it there to bake in the sun for 6 - 8 weeks. This method relies on cooperation from the weather and you will probably still want to remove the dead vegetation before reseeding.


    3. Spraying a broad spectrum herbicide will kill everything within a few weeks. Be careful with herbicides. They don’t discriminate in what they kill and can accidentally drift on a breeze and wipe out garden plants. Again, you will probably want to remove the dead vegetation before reseeding.


  • Till the soil shallowly to a depth of about 3 inches, once the existing vegetation is removed. You don't want to uncover and encourage more weeds. In fact, you may want to respray with the herbicide at this point to kill any weed seeds that may have surfaced.


  • Rake and level the soil, leaving the grooves left from raking to help hold the seeds and give them contact with the soil.


Planting a Wildflower Garden

  • Packaged seed mixes will tell you how large an area they cover. In general, use 4 pounds of seed per acre or 4 oz. per 2,500 sq. ft.


  • Most wildflower seeds are very small. Mixing some sand in with the seed mixture will make it easier to spread evenly. Broadcast evenly throughout the area to be planted.


  • Rake lightly again after spreading the seed.


  • Water the whole area and keep the seeds moist until they are a few inches tall. A light mulching with straw, peat or compost will help retain moisture and keep the birds from eating the meadow. It’s much like starting grass seed.


  • Germination should occur in 10 - 21 days and your first blooms should reward you in 5-6 weeks.
Some Wildflower Tips to Get You Started
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