owner, Anderson’s Seed and Garden
Planting wildflower seed is a relatively simple task, but it is not completely easy or effortless. Like any worthwhile gardening project, the more time and effort that you are willing to invest into proper preparation, the more successful you will be. The following steps will help create a wildflower garden that will impress and inspire for years to come.
STEP ONE: CHOOSE YOUR SEASON
Many flower and wildflower seeds can be successfully sown at various times throughout the growing season. Though spring is the most common and conventional time of the year to plant flower seed, you can achieve great success by planting in summer and fall as well. For most temperate and colder regions of the United States, spring planting works best a few weeks before the final frost of the winter season. Seed collections that are predominantly annuals prefer later planting, generally around the last frost. If the annuals germinate early, and a late frost hits, you could lose your annuals for the season. Though it may seem unusual to plant flower seeds in fall, it is our preferred time of year to plant wildflowers. If you do decide to plant your seeds in the fall, make sure to do so after the first killing frost of the season and when the ground is consistently colder to eliminate any chance of germination.
STEP TWO: CHOOSE YOUR SITE
Choosing the best possible location on your property can determine the eventual success of your wildflower meadow. The most important factors to consider are first, the amount of average daily sunlight; second, the relative quality of the soil; and third, the accessibility to a water source.
Though many wildflowers do tolerate some filtered shade — and a few actually thrive in it — the vast majority definitely thrive in full sun and will bloom heaviest and longest where exposure is greatest. Therefore, the general rule of thumb when considering the optimum planting site on your property is “the more sun the better.”
STEP THREE: DETERMINE YOUR DESIRED COVERAGE
There is no perfect answer for how much seed is required to create the perfect wildflower meadow. The reason for this, of course, is that each “wild” gardener has his or her own particular ideas about how a meadow or hillside should look for the desired effect. Though some choose to create a sparse “meadowy” look, most others prefer a denser stand of wildflowers that will dazzle and delight come bloom time.
Keep in mind that most perennial and biennial flowers will not bloom the first season, therefore the second and third seasons will look considerably different from the first. This is why we recommend overseeding the second year to encourage more annual germination and diversity, while allowing the perennials to fully establish. You can see a dramatic difference in any wildflower planting from year one to year three.
Remember, it takes a few years to fully establish a wildflower garden, and a season or two of overseeding (at full or half the recommended rate) will really assist in filling out the flowers to your desired density.
STEP FOUR: CLEAR EXISTING GROWTH AND LOOSEN
Though it may sound tempting to randomly cast your seeds into thin air and hope they will sprout, it is simply a waste of time and money to do so on a site that has not been properly prepared for planting. Though wildflower seeds are tenacious by nature — and a few might even persevere under the most inhospitable of circumstances — they, like all seeds, will perform best when rid of noxious weeds and grasses.
Under perfect conditions, preparing the soil as if you were planting new turf grass would be optimal — remove weeds, loosen soil, rake, seed, roll, perfection! Since that is not always a possibility, even a thin layer of topsoil or mulch (½- to 1-inch deep) spread over the top of the dead weeds and grasses and raked evenly will work wonders before planting. Of course, also keep in mind that naturally there will be competition from weeds and grasses, so don’t panic when you see them thrive alongside the flowers.
STEP FIVE: SOW YOUR SEED
Regardless of the sowing method (by hand or with a spreader), we strongly recommend mixing your seed with sand or vermiculite at a ratio of about 5 parts (sand) to 1 part (seed). This allows for a more even distribution and provides a convenient way to mark which portions of the site have been seeded and which have not.
Depending on the time of year you plant, you may need to water lightly to encourage germination, or you can allow Mother Nature to take over and keep them damp. Without a water source, they will not germinate. Pay close attention to the weather if you are allowing nature to do the watering, and then supplement as needed. Otherwise, a light sprinkle (roughly 10-15 minutes every other day) should help encourage your new seed to germinate and grow.
That’s it! Once they start to grow, minimal input from you is required to keep things blooming and looking great. Stand back and enjoy your hard work and efforts!