In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
Cosmos is one of the annuals you'll find in wildflower mixes. It's cheery colors will brighten up any meadow or wildflower patch.
Planting wildflowers is a wonderful way to lure wildlife such as birds, toads, butterflies, and beneficial insects to your garden. By planting a wildflower mix in some part of your garden, you will be encouraging these creatures to visit and stay in your garden, providing protection for other plants. A cover of deeply rooted native wildflowers also prevents soil erosion and, of course, most important, they're beautiful.
The Best Mix
A typical, good wildflower mix contains 60 percent annual flowers and 40 percent perennial flowers and will provide blooming flowers from early spring through fall. The mix may include familiar plants such as flax, cosmos, and Shirley poppies, as well as native varieties adapted to our region.
November is the ideal time to plant wildflowers in your garden. The soil is still warm enough to encourage germination, and the winter rains are just about to begin in earnest. There's plenty of food available in the form of wild grass seed and harvest residue for wild birds right now, so they won't be tempted to raid your newly seeded wildflower patch.
Preparing Your Patch
It's easy to plant wildflowers, but there are a few guidelines to keep in mind. First, always try to select a site in full sun for best growth and flowering. This is especially important if you want the wildflowers to attract butterflies and beneficial insects to your garden.
Second, remove the weeds from the planting area to give the young wildflower seedlings a leg up. Wildflowers can't compete with established weeds for water and nutrients.
After removing the weeds, rough up the soil with a cultivator or bow rake before planting so that the tiny seedling roots can get a foothold. If the soil is flat and smooth, the seeds may wash or blow away before they have a chance to germinate.
My Planting Technique
To plant, broadcast seeds across the prepared planting bed. Don't try to transplant wildflower seedlings - most are deeply rooted and will suffer in the process. The preferred method is to direct-seed wildflowers into the prepared planting bed. Direct seeding means planting the seeds in the garden, instead of planting them in a flat and then transplanting the young plants to the garden later on.
After planting, cover the seed bed with a light dusting (1/2 inch deep) of fresh potting soil. This will protect the seed from hungry birds looking for an easy meal. Don't cover the seeds with too much soil, or the young plants won't have enough energy to sprout through it.
Unlike other seeds, wildflowers don't require any water at planting time. You can lightly spray the soil to settle the protective layer of potting soil, but allow nature to take over from here. If winter rains are light, by all means water, but overwatering can kill young wildflowers before they have a chance to mature.
There are many sources for wildflower seeds, including mail-order companies and local nurseries. Please don't gather wildflowers or wildflower seed from the wild. It's tempting to collect seed pods or dig up a beautiful specimen and take it home to your garden, but leave this precious resource where it belongs so the plants can reseed themselves for future generations of gardeners to enjoy. It's also against the law.
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