Contact: Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Travel almost any roadway in Vermont in the summer or fall, and you'll be treated to a colorful display of wildflowers. If you'd like to duplicate the wild in your own backyard, here are some guidelines for seeding a wildflower garden.
The most important part is the planning. You need to think about selecting suitable species, soil preparation, and environmental requirements for germination and seedling establishment. Taking the time to plan now will allow you to enjoy the benefits of your labor later when plants are established and require little maintenance.
The first step in starting a wildflower area is choosing an appropriate site and matching plant species to environmental factors such as climate, rainfall, pH, and type of soil. Whenever possible, try to select native species. Some good choices for Vermont are asters, lupines, and Queen Anne's lace.
Mixes that contain non-native species such as California poppies may sound appealing, but what will happen is that after the first year, these species will no longer germinate, leaving space for undesirable plants to grow. Research also supports a higher rate of germination and survival for native species, an important factor in establishing wildflower gardens.
Determining a species' "desirability" as a backyard plant is also important. Remember, your wildflower garden will become part of your landscape. Ask yourself if the species you are considering has desirable characteristics such as showy vegetation or attractive flowers. Does it have a good root system? Or is the species a poor choice because it is considered a noxious weed, such as purple loosestrife (Lythrum), which is actually banned in some areas?
Early autumn's typically cool, wet months makes this time of year the optimum time to plant seeds for next spring's wildflowers. Some species germinate in the fall, and this gives them time to establish a root system and grow into leafy rosettes before overwintering. Other seeds may require the winter cold to break their dormancy before they will germinate.
You will need a good seed bed, just as you do when you are planting a vegetable garden or establishing a lawn. Rake out all debris and stones to prepare a smooth surface for planting. A common myth is that wildflower seeds can be scattered to the four winds on unprepared soil, and they'll produce a lovely patch. Not so.
Broadcast seed uniformly over the seed bed, cover with a light sprinkling of straw, and push the seeds in firmly. Then water gently. Fertilization, in most cases, does not benefit the plants and can cause excess vegetative growth at the expense of the flowering.
Next spring, help your garden along by weeding out unwanted plants and weeds. Your garden will also benefit from an application of fertilizer, either organic or commercial, to provide extra nutrients to the growing plants.
Finally, be patient! Time is needed for your wildflower patch to become established, but once it is, it should reward you with continual, maintenance-free blooms.
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