Enjoy native wildflowers

Daniel Gill, Bogren, Richard C.  |  8/28/2008 9:42:53 PM

Get It Growing News For 09/12/08

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

Roadsides and meadows come alive with colors of native wildflowers in September, October and November. Gardeners – who sometimes struggle to create beautiful displays of flowers in their landscapes – often marvel at the way nature seems to achieve such beauty without effort.

The major colors of the fall display are golden yellow, purple, lavender, blue and pink. Particularly noticeable are tall wildflowers such as the golden narrow-leaved sunflower, purple ironweed, goldenrods, pinkish purple Joe-pye weed and the showy red-purple berries of the American beauty berry.

Filling in below the tall plants are colorful, lower-growing wildflowers such as white, lavender and pink asters, blue mist-flower, golden-yellow sneezeweed and purple blazing-star. Lavish displays of these fall wildflowers along with many others make driving along highways and back roads of Louisiana a feast for the eyes.

Enjoying such beauty often leads gardeners to wonder if they could create the same effect in their own landscape. Well, the answer is yes. In some landscapes, natural-looking areas of wildflowers would be very appropriate.

Although the look you are trying to achieve may be spontaneous and natural, growing wildflowers does require planning. Look carefully at the growing conditions in the area where you want to plant wildflowers. You must use the wildflowers that will thrive under those conditions if you expect success. Note especially how much sun the area receives, the texture of the soil and whether the area tends to be damp or dry. Wildflowers can be grown in virtually every environment with proper selection.

Open, dry, sunny areas are perfect for a field or meadow planting. Wildflower plantings in open areas along highways are typical of this type of planting. A shady woodland setting requires a different set of wildflower species. A meandering path through a wooded lot with wildflowers blooming on either side would be quite beautiful. Even boggy, damp areas can make appropriate wildflower gardens if the proper plants are used.

The easiest type of wildflower garden to establish is the open field type grown from seed. Fall planting of seeds tends to produce the best results and should be done in late October through November. In our climate, most of the wildflowers will germinate in the fall or early winter and grow through our relatively mild winter.

Select a sunny area to be planted and eliminate existing vegetation – such as aggressive grasses – by hand removal, or kill off the existing vegetation with a nonselective systemic herbicide such as glyphosate (Killzall, Eraser, Roundup and other brands). Wildflower seeds will not germinate and grow as well in an area with established, thick vegetation. After eliminating the existing vegetation, turn the soil with a shovel or tiller and rake it smooth. Generally, no fertilizer or soil amendments should be added to the soil during preparation.

For a small planting, mix the wildflower seeds with sand or sandy soil and broadcast the mixture evenly over the area by hand. For larger areas, mix the wildflower seeds with sand and apply them with a lawn seed spreader. (These are readily available wherever gardening tools are sold.) Make sure you use seeds or seed mixes of species that do well in our area. Provide good seed contact with the soil by pressing the seed into the soil with a board or roller.

The seeds should be watered occasionally the first few weeks during the germination period if the weather is dry. Since we generally get regular rain from November to spring, watering is usually not required once the seeds come up.

Generally, wildflower seed mixes contain mostly annual and perennial species that bloom the first year from seed, so you can expect a glorious display next spring or early summer. Allow the wildflowers to complete their life cycle and drop their seeds before the area is mowed down. This is especially important for the annual wildflowers.

I recently received a copy of a catalog from Wildseed Farms, P.O. Box 308, Eagle Lake, Texas 77434; www.wildseedfarms.com. Their catalog is educational and includes an extensive offering of wildflower seeds. The information provided is complete enough to help even the novice grow a successful wildflower garden.

The catalog includes excellent color photographs of the wildflowers offered, as well as photos of what the seedlings look like. This is invaluable when you are watching for your wildflowers to come up and wondering if what you see growing are weeds or what you planted. You can request a complimentary catalog by calling 1-800-848-0078 or from their Web site.

A great book on wildflowers is available called “Landscaping with Wildflowers” by Jim Wilson and published by Houghton Mifflin Company. Gardeners interested in growing wildflower gardens will find this book an excellent and helpful reference.


Contact: Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or dgill@agcenter.lsu.edu  

Editor: Rick Bogren at (225) 578-5839 or rbogren@agcenter.lsu.edu  

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