Wild for Wildflowers

By Michael MacCaskey

Wildflowers are pretty and charming, and they grow with a minimum of fuss and bother. They are hardy and well adapted, surviving admirably with little gardening effort. There's no watering and no bugs to compete with, and in many cases, they will come back year after year. That much we all take for granted. But perhaps best of all, you can bring these brilliantly colored, delicate flowers indoors for bouquets: Many make beautiful cut flowers.

Buying Seed

Most gardeners buy wildflower seeds in mixes, which are usually designed for specific regions. Mixes designed for cut flowers are also available, or you can buy seeds individually. The listing of wildflowers below will help you understand the ingredients of a mix and guide you in making your own.

One important reason to sow a mix of seeds is that it's impossible to know which wildflowers will grow most successfully in your area's conditions. If you sow several kinds, it's likely that at least one type will thrive. A planting of one kind of seed can be very dramatic, but the risk of a complete failure is greater. Enough seed for 1,000 square feet costs from $10 to $40 or more.

When and Where to Plant

You can sow wildflower seeds in fall no matter where you live in North America. However, if you've chosen wildflowers that are not native to your region, there's a possibility that the seedling plants will be damaged by winter cold. Therefore, wait until spring (two weeks prior to your last expected frost) to sow seeds if you live in the North or Northeast (USDA Zones 2 to 6).

Sow seeds in fall if you live in the West, Southwest or Southeast (zones 8 to 10). Sowing seed at this time gives plants the benefit of moderate soil temperatures and winter rains. Seeds will germinate and develop root systems, then enter a dormant period until spring.

All the bouquet wildflowers below need full sun and well-drained soil. Sow wildflower seeds wherever you desire a wild, uncontrolled effect or where growing other kinds of plants is difficult or awkward. Parking strips and slopes are common locations, but don't stop there. Try wildflowers instead of bedding plants in corners and borders, around fruit trees or to fill in the gaps between still-spreading ground covers. You can even replace your lawn with wildflowers!

Sowing and Growing

It is important to minimize weeds before planting. Avoid cultivating the soil, as it brings long-buried weed seeds to the soil surface. If cultivating is essential, keep it as shallow as possible.

Mow or cut existing weeds. Water the area, and wait a week or so for regrowth to begin. Then choose a soap-based herbicide or a flame weeder to kill the plants. All three methods kill existing weeds without disturbing the soil. (While the latter two are acceptable to organic gardeners, repeat treatments will be required.) Lightly scratch the soil surface with a rake to prepare for planting.

Mix small seeds with washed sand or vermiculite to make sowing easier and to help get even distribution. Use one (for larger seeds) to four (smaller seeds) parts sand with one part seed.

Scatter the seeds over the area as evenly as possible, first walking in one direction and then in the perpendicular direction. Press the seed into the soil with your footsteps. If you're seeding a large area, use a partially filled water roller (available at rental yards).

It's inevitable that some weeds will appear in your new planting. At first, it will be difficult to distinguish them from the wildflowers. But pull any grasses, and be highly suspicious of any plant that's growing much faster than everything else.

The best time to harvest wildflowers for bouquets is early morning. Use sharp clippers to cut off stems and to cut away leaves and dead or dying parts. Later, recut the stems at an angle to the length desired. Don't remove all the flowers, though - leave some to make seeds for next year.

18 Top Wildflowers

While most kinds of wildflowers can be stunning in an arrangement, these are easy to grow from seed and they make plenty of long-lasting flowers for cutting. Buy them as components of a mix or individually. Annuals bloom their first season, scatter seeds and die; seeds of those native to your region are more likely to come back. Perennials may not bloom the first year, but they live from year to year, regrowing from the same plant. Some plants are perennial in some regions and annuals in others.

Here are some common wildlfowers to try in your yard.

Michael MacCaskey is the former editorial director of National Gardening.

Photography by National Gardening Association

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