Beginning and seasoned gardeners alike revel in scattering seeds in fall, anticipating the beautiful blooms that await them not just next spring but throughout growing seasons for years to come. Wildflowers nearly take care of themselves, allowing gardeners to sit back, relax, and enjoy the seemingly endless bounty of continuous blooms.
Soil preparation, the appropriate mix of seeds and adequate spring water are the only ingredients needed to create a wildflower bed or meadow of your own, so set aside a space in your garden, let your hair down, and take a walk on the wild side. Summit County wildflower gardens are absolutely gorgeous and require surprisingly little effort to create and maintain. Unlike formal gardens of perennials and annuals, wildflower gardens take little planning and preparation. They are wild by nature and do best when left to their own devices. Of course, some effort is required, but it is so slight in comparison to the rewards that wildflowers are a gardener’s delight.
Berms, meadows, and open spaces that were once drab eyesores in your landscape can be easily transformed into a glorious sight for sore eyes. Preparing soil for wildflowers is as easy as one-two-three. First, loosen the soil by up to 6 inches, spading or shoveling and removing large rocks. This aerates the soil and provides necessary oxygen for the seeds. Loosening the soil should occur 3-4 weeks before sowing seeds. Second, turn in a soil amendment like compost. In the next few weeks, weeds will begin to grow, so your third step is to eliminate them by turning them under the soil, pulling them, or applying an herbicide such as “Finale” or “Round-Up.” If you use an herbicide, it is imperative that you wait at least two weeks before sowing your seeds, as they may be harmed by residual chemicals. As always, carefully read instructions before applying an herbicide. If you’ve prepared the soil, fertilization is usually unnecessary. In fact, wildflowers often do best in soils that have low fertility.
Choosing your seed mix is the best part of wildflower gardening. Will you have a shady wildflower garden? A sunny one? Do you want native wildflowers or a mix of traditional and native blooms? All mixes should have seeds proven to succeed in Summit County. Seed mixes insure that you will have blooms throughout next year’s growing season. In fact, half of the fun of a wildflower garden is seeing what will come up next. We have several mixes made especially for Summit County. Our annual mix contains such beauties as Baby’s Breath, Scarlet Flax, Cornflowers (bachelor’s buttons), and Rocket Larkspur among its 15 selections. This mix grows best in sunny areas and typically requires reseeding each year, though some of the plants will self seed. Our Sunny Wildflower Mix contains annuals, which germinate, grow foliage, and flower in one year; biennials, which take two years to complete their growing cycle; and perennials, which come back for several years, assuring that you’ll have constant blooms next spring and for years to come. Mixed specifically for sunny areas, it provides a large variety of traditional and native species, including Poppies, Columbines, Shasta Daisies, and Penstemon. For shady areas, try our mix of Baby Blue-eyes, Aspen Daisies, Sweet William, and Purple Coneflower, mixed with 18 other stunning species.
We also offer a 100% perennial Native Wildflower mix that grows best between 8,000 and 11,500 feet. Rocky Mountain Penstemon, Blanketflower, Colorado Columbine and Englemann’s Aster are part of a 19 flower mixture that provides amazing color for years to come. Once the soil is prepared and has “rested” for 3-4 weeks, you’ll have a weed-reduced bed ready for the spreading of seed. For best results, mix the seed with a “carrier”—sand, soil, or perlite mixed at the rate of 1 part seed to 3 parts carrier. This add volume and allows you to broadcast the seed easily and effectively. For small spaces, you can hand-broadcast. For larger areas, try using a cyclone-type seed spreader. Rake the seed in to insure good soil-to-seed contact, but don’t cover the seed with more than 1/8th inch of soil.
During late winter and fall, your seeds will lie dormant, waiting for spring moisture to begin germination. In fact, some seeds require this cold period, which is why fall is the best time to scatter wildflower seeds. Different seeds will germinate, grow, and blossom at different rates, giving you color all season long. During the first few years, watch carefully for weeds and unwanted plants. To rid the bed of these nuisance plants, it’s best to pull them. An alternative is to use an herbicide, but it must be applied carefully to avoid harming the plants you want to keep.
If we have a dry spring, you may need to add supplemental water for the first few years until your wildflower garden is established. Water and sun cue the seed to germinate, and inadequate water will hamper the number of blooms you get. In early spring, your seeds will do best if they are moist throughout the day for four to six weeks. You can go au natural and leave the bed unwatered, relying only on seasonal precipitation, but you will get fewer seedlings. Wildflower seeds can be sown alone or with non-aggressive, clump-type grasses like Sheep Fescue. Sowing with clump-type grasses has several advantages. First and foremost, it controls soil erosion.
Also, the blooms of your wildflowers have a backdrop to really bring out the display of colors. Avoid aggressive grasses such as Annual Rye or Kentucky Blue grass, as they will quickly overtake your wildflowers. Clover will out-compete your wildflowers, so pull or apply herbicide to prevent wanted plants being overtaken by unwanted ones. The wildflower meadows that grow naturally around us in Summit County have taken years to establish, so be patient with your own wildflower beds.
In two to three years, you won’t have to worry about weeds if you’ve been diligent, and the remaining maintenance consists of mowing the bed each fall at about 4-6 inches tall. This will help broadcast seed and will provide natural mulch for the upcoming winter. Removing faded stalks and foliage is done only for aesthetic reasons, which gives gardeners the option of being as wild as they’d like.
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