University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
BACKYARD WILDFLOWER GARDENS
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
almost any roadway in our region during the summer or fall, and you'll be
treated to a colorful display of wildflowers. Although the spring “ephemerals” (those can
grow, bloom, then die back) of woodlands such as trillium are wildflowers too,
it is those of meadows we often think about first. It is these that the National Garden Bureau
are promoting in 2013 as Year of the Wildflower (www.ngb.org). If you'd like to duplicate the wild in your
own backyard, here are some guidelines for seeding a wildflower garden.
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. You don’t have to devote a huge parcel of land and recreate a
meadow. Wildflower gardens may be a bed
or border, or used to replace small areas of turfgrass.
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 as they often
perform better than non-natives (which you may see called “aliens” or
“exotics”). Native species generally are
more beneficial to pollinators and beneficial insects too.
and select species for bloom through the season. Some good choices for the Northeast are Eastern
red columbine, swamp milkweed, lanceleaf coreopsis, oxeye sunflower,
blazing star, wild bergamot, common evening-primrose, lupines,
stiff goldenrod, smooth white beardtongue, black-eyed Susan, three-lobed
rudbeckia, and New England asters. Some
that we commonly see along roads in fields, such as the blue chicory and white
Queen Anne’s lace and oxeye daisy, actually are not native. They came from other temperate areas
originally, and have become naturalized in North America.
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. You can find much more on native plants,
lists, and sources from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (www.wildflower.org).
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?
making a small garden, you can find and plant potted perennials during the
summer from many specialty nurseries. Early
autumn's typically cool, wet months makes that the optimum time to sow 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. Seedlings
can establish more easily in late summer or early fall without the competition
from weeds. Use summer to get the site
will need a good seed bed, just as you do when you are planting a vegetable
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.
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
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.
be patient! Time is needed for your wildflower patch to become established, but
once it is, it should reward you with continual blooms with some, but minimal,
maintenance. You can find more on
establishing and maintaining wildflower meadows in a companion article
(pss.uvm.edu/ppp/ articles/meadow.html). If you’d just like to learn some of
our common wildflowers, or identify ones in particular, check out the simple
and visual key online of the New England Wildflower Society