Planning for Spring Wildflower Success

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
It’s hard to beat a stunning display of wildflowers when it comes to adding visual interest to a landscape. When you add to that the value wildflowers bring to attract and support a diversity of pollinators while requiring minimal inputs, a wildflower area is something more gardeners should consider as a part of their landscape.

One of the keys to a stunning display is diversity. Having many different species not only adds to the color (and texture) rainbow, it extends the flowering season, so the garden looks good despite whatever environmental conditions we might face.

To maximize the diversity, this means including a mix of annuals, biennials, and perennials as well as plants that flower throughout the growing season. While it is not practical to plant each species at exactly the perfect moment on the calendar, fall (say mid-September through October) is as close to ideal as we can get in Oklahoma. It is also important to choose mixes grown in, or at least selected for our part of the country.
Fall planting has many benefits. These include less watering, less weed competition, getting early spring blooming annuals off to a good start, and allowing slow-to-establish perennials to establish. It can also benefit some of those difficult to germinate spring plants that rely on the ups and downs of winter to break difficult seed coats.

To prepare an area for seeding, the single most important factor for most people is to minimize any bermudagrass in the area. Frankly, if you are interested in seeding wildflowers this fall into an area currently dominated by healthy bermudagrass, you’re behind and have a lot of work ahead of you. Next season might be a more realistic planting option if you have hopes of a successful long term wildflower garden as it takes about that long to rid an area of bermudagrass.

Beyond Bermuda, just eliminate most of the existing vegetation with hoeing, scalping or an application of a non-selective herbicide. If you take the herbicide route, may sure you DO NOT use something sold as “extended control” as this implies it contains products that can inhibit seed germination.

Rototilling an area can also be an option but doing so can bring its own set of problems by bringing up dormant weed seeds to the surface and encouraging erosion. Also, wildflower seeds tend to benefit from the protective qualities of any remaining surface vegetation.

Wildflowers don’t need an excessive amount of fertilizer. If the plants in the area are (were) healthy, supplemental fertility is probably unneeded. However, a routine soil test available through our office can confirm this.

To seed, simply scatter the seed on the surface, rake it in, and tamp it down a little bit. Give the area a good watering soon after planting and then water periodically only if we do not have our normal fall/winter precipitation.

For more information on this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at keith.reed@okstate.edu, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

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