Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
October, 2001
Regional Report

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Bluebonnets are one of many southern wildflowers that are well-suited to garden beds and meadows alike.

Going Wild Over Wildflowers

Wildflowers are at last gaining the acclaim they deserve as they find their way out of the meadow and into our gardens and landscapes. Gardeners are interested in low maintenance design styles and environmentally sound gardening techniques. Informal designs are growing in popularity. Wildflowers offer low-maintenance beauty for our southern landscapes.

Late summer/early fall is the best season for planting wildflowers. If you wait until spring when the roadsides are ablaze with color it's too late! Most southern wildflower species germinate in fall and form small plants that wait out our mild winters ready to take off in early spring. Here are some tips for success with wildflowers.

Choose a Good Location

Most wildflowers prefer full sunlight and good drainage for best results. If you lack either of these make sure and choose one of the few exceptions to this rule when selecting species to plant.

From the Meadow to the Garden

Wildflowers are a great choice for meadows and other large expanses where you need a beautiful, no-care option. They do well without added care after planting and provide an impressive show of color that changes with the seasons. Wait to mow the area until the end of the bloom season when the seeds have dropped.

Landscape areas that are difficult to mow or water, such as corners and slopes, can be converted into a "native" area with an adapted wildflower mix. But don't limit yourself to such peripheral areas. Bring them into the garden to help provide a natural feel of soft lines and flowing form. Many wildflowers double as great cut flowers and some are well suited for drying. If you lack space for a large floral display try wildflowers in large containers such as terra cotta pots or half whiskey barrels.

Preparing Soil and Planting

In nature these hardy natives basically plant themselves. However much of each year's crop of seed is lost in such a harsh environment. A minimal amount of soil preparation will help you get the best results for your money.

Rototill garden areas lightly to just scratch the soil surface. A garden rake can also be used for this purpose. Fertilizer is usually not needed and while it may help some species, it may actually be detrimental to others such as some legumes.

If you are using a mixture of different size seeds, blend fine sand or vermiculite with the seeds (2:1, sand to seed) and stir well to help insure even distribution. Hand broadcast seeds over the area. A spinning type fertilizer spreader also works fine, but may not give even seeding as large seeds will fly farther than small ones.

Rake the seeded area very lightly to cover the seed only 1/8" to 1/4". Care must be taken not to cover the seeds too deeply, as this is one of the primary causes of failure. Water lightly to wet the soil without washing out the seeds. If there is no rainfall, water periodically to keep the seedbed evenly moist for 4-6 weeks to insure optimum germination and seedling establishment.

For a large area such as a mini meadow, first mow the grass and weeds as short as possible. Then rake and remove the clippings. Shallow cultivation prior to seeding and/or rolling the area with a turf roller after seeding will help increase germination rates.

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