Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
November, 2000
Regional Report

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Desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata) is a perennial wildflower that blooms spring through fall with minimal care.

Planning a Wildflower Show

People from all over the world call the county Cooperative Extension offices, national parks, and botanical gardens in the Sonoran Desert to ask, "When do the wildflowers bloom so I can plan my trip for that time?" The callers are told that those vast vistas of spring wildflowers that they admire in the photographs don't happen every year. They are magnificent when they occur, but since the plants are totally dependent on the quantity and timing of the winter rains, there's no way to predict when, or even if, it will happen.

Choose Native Wildflowers

However, in your landscape you can manipulate the water to ensure seed germination and seedling development so that regardless of winter rains, you can have spring wildflowers blooming up a storm each spring. October through mid-November is the best time to sow wildflower seeds in the Southwest. Almost all low-desert wildflower species are drought-tolerant sun lovers, but if you live at higher elevations, there are some shade lovers you should know about that appreciate a bit more moisture. I like working with Mother Nature by planting natives to my area because they're already programmed to do well and will usually self-sow.

Proper Wildflower Sowing

Wildflowers don't need much in the way of improved soil. As a matter of fact, they do better without it. Simply rake the ground to loosen it up a bit before planting. This provides good contact between the seeds and the soil particles - necessary for good seed germination. Since wildflower seeds are often tiny, mix them in with sand or some of the native soil to help spread them across the planting area more evenly. Then just barely cover the seeds with a light sprinkling of native soil, or rake across the area gently.

Keep the Soil Moist

The most important thing is to keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate. This usually means watering daily. Apply water gently so the seeds don't get knocked about and collect in areas where water puddles. After seedlings reach a couple of inches in height, you can apply water less frequently, letting the soil begin to dry out between watering so the plants "toughen up."

Seize The Day

One day last week, I was rather frantically weeding and clearing an area to sow seeds before a thundershower hit. I could hear and see (and smell!) it coming and wanted the seeds to benefit from the rain. I was still tossing out seeds when it started sprinkling on my head. When I checked earlier today, I noticed some teeny seedlings, so my mad rush was worth the effort.

If we're lucky this year, we'll have winter rains and carpets of wildflowers to look forward to across the deserts. As a matter of fact, it's raining again as I write this, so I won't have to water my seeds today. Even if the rains stop, if you keep those wildflowers watered, you'll have the wildflower show tourists travel miles to see in your backyard.

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