Wild and Wonderful Wildflowers
by Joyce Schillen (copyright 2004)
I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t like wildflowers. How can you help but admire the natural gardens that Mother Nature creates without lifting a trowel or a spade? Many wildflower groupings rival even our best-planned gardens for beauty and appeal.
Oregon ranks third in number of native species, led only by California and Texas. Summer fields and trails will be strewn with the lovely beauties, blooming at ever-higher elevations as the season progresses. Plan a few visits so you won’t miss the show.
And if you're not in Oregon, don't despair: all states boast wildflowers. Ask around to find the best spots in your vicinity, and do plan an outing to appreciate these gems from nature.
If hikes inspire you to grow wildflowers in your own garden, where do you get them? NOT from the wild, please! Digging up wild plants injures native populations, some of which are already considered rare or endangered, and the plants probably won’t survive the relocation anyway.
Likewise, care should be taken when collecting seeds. Collect them only if large numbers of plants are found in the immediate vicinity, and leave most of them in place to germinate in future years.
How to Grow Wildflowers
If you're intent on growing your own wildflower garden, here are a few steps to help you tame wildflowers successfully.
Set specific goals. Just like with any kind of gardening, up front planning brings later success. Ask yourself what's your purpose? Do you want three-season color? Native plants only? Is one aim to attract birds and butterflies? Then do a little research on what types of plants to grow.
Choose a good site. Wildflowers are hardy, but they're not magical. Most wildflowers need full sun and moderately fertile soil that is well-drained. Although you can grow wildflowers under adverse conditions – poor soil, steep slope, mostly shade – it will be challenging and will require preparation.
Select good, viable seeds. Buy seeds from a reputable dealer who can provide information on the plants' requirements. Most wildflower mixtures include both annuals and perennials. The annuals flower the first year and then reseed for subsequent years. They also act as a "nurse crop" for the slower growing perennials.
Prepare the site. The "scatter a wildflower meadow" approach doesn't work in most circumstances, regardless of what the promotional hype says. Remove existing vegetation to expose the soil and eliminate competition from other plants. Till the soil to create a loose seed bed, or at least scarify the soil surface. For best results add organic matter and fertilizer to poor soil just like you would for other types of gardens.
Plant the seeds, don't just toss them. To germinate successfully, seeds must be in good contact with the soil. Scatter the seed, rake them in lightly, and if possible, roll the area to press the seed into the soil. Seed can be sown in spring or fall, but late fall plantings offer early germination and growth the following spring, and they have the advantage of winter rainfall.
Many wildflowers are drought-tolerant, but they'll need to be kept evenly moist during the first 4 to 6 weeks. Once established, supplemental watering helps in arid climates, preferably about 1/2 inch each week.
Mow wildflower gardens in late fall, and leave the clippings for mulch. Keep weeds under control and re-seed bare spots as needed.
Finally, remember not to love wildflowers to death. Buy seeds and plants from reputable nurseries instead of collecting them from the wild. That way you'll help guard these national treasures for future generations to enjoy.