Enjoy native wildflowers in your yard

Richard Bogren, Gill, Daniel J.  |  9/7/2012 9:22:18 PM

For Release On Or After 09/28/12

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 (Helianthus angustifolius), purple ironweed (Vernonia altissima), goldenrods (Solidago sp.), pinkish purple Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium fistulosum) and the showy red purple berries of the American beautyberry (Callicarpa Americana).

Filling in below the tall plants are colorful, lower-growing wildflowers such as white, lavender and pink asters (Asters sp.), blue mistflower (Eupatorium coelestinum), golden yellow sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) and purple blazing star (Liatris sp.). Lavish displays of these fall wildflowers plus many others make driving along highways and back roads of Louisiana a feast for the eyes.

Enjoying such beauty often leads the gardener 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 requires planning. Look carefully at the growing conditions in the area that you want to plant with 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 if 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 you use the proper plants.

The easiest type of wildflower garden to establish is the open-field type grown from seed. Planting seeds in fall 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 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 non-selective, 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. If this is not possible, you should at least mow down the dead vegetation to a short stubble.

For a small planting, mix the wildflower seeds with sand or sandy soil and broadcast it evenly over the area by hand. For larger areas, mix the wildflower seeds with sand and apply it with a lawn seed spreader, which 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 seeds 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. Because we generally get regular rain from November to spring, watering once the seeds come up is usually not required.

Generally, wildflower seed mixes contain mostly annual and perennial species that bloom from seed the first year, so you can expect a glorious display next spring and early summer. Allow the wildflowers to complete their life cycle and drop seed before you mow the area. 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, TX 77434; www.wildseedfarms.com. Their catalog is educational and includes an extensive offering of wildflower seeds.

The information 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 is weeds or what you planted. You can request a complimentary catalog by calling 800-848-0078 or from their website.

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

Rick Bogren

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