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    Sowing wildflowers seeds in the fall

    Authored by Leah Chester-Davis

    Wildflower gardens are gaining in popularity once again. Whether they take the place of large turfgrass lawns or a portion of them, or are in small gardens or even containers, they offer many benefits. By planting in the fall, your garden will have a jump start and be far ahead of any spring-planted wildflower garden.

    Why plant a wildflower garden?

    Once established they need less maintenance, they enhance the environment and the ecosystem, they serve as a valuable habitat for pollinators, they provide a food source for songbirds, and they add beauty to the landscape. If you want to give wildflower gardening a try, the fall is a great time to get some seeds in the ground or in a container. 

    Planning your wildflower patch

    The ideal wildflower garden is one that not only provides continuous bloom through the growing season, but one filled with native perennial wildflowers that will reward your efforts yearly. Many different types of wildflower mixes are available, or you can create your own. While some mixes contain annuals so that your garden will have some blooms the first year, most of the mix should be made up of perennials. 

    Best plants for your site

    Before ordering seeds, it is helpful to determine the characteristics of your site. Is it in full sun? Filtered sun? Shade? A sunny spot will be best though there are some mixes that may have seeds that can grow in less than full sun. Is it in a wet or dry area of your landscape? What is the size of the area? What Zone are you in? This information is useful when deciding the best seed mixes for your area. 

    Seed options

    Perennial wildflower seed mixes vary but many include a blend of some of the most popular wildflowers such as lance-leaved coreopsis, purple coneflower, Siberian wallflower, sweet William, blanketflower, blue flax, Shasta Daisy, vervain, columbine, and black-eyed Susan. Oregon State Extension recommends one ounce of seed per 125 square feet (about the area of an apartment bedroom) or as directed on the package. For a larger area, Arkansas Extension recommends 1 pound of wildflower seed to cover 2,000 square feet, but the amount will vary depending on the mix you buy so check the label directions or recommendations. 

    How to sow wildflowers in the fall

    1. Prepare the soil
    2. Plan for planting time
    3. Sow the seed
    4. Water lightly
    5. Watch for seedlings in spring
    6. Be patient

    1. Prepare the soil

    The best path to success is to prepare the soil. Good seed to soil contact is important. The best way to ensure that is to remove any grass and weeds. Work the soil so that it is loose and friable. Depending on the size of your space, you can use a shovel and rake, or you may need a rototiller or small tractor and garden disc. There is no need to add fertilizer. Wildflowers generally prefer low fertility sites. Do not skip the soil preparation step. It is critical. The earlier you start prepping the site, even covering it with black plastic, cardboard, or other mulch materials to help kill any grass or weeds, the better the planting area will be. 

    2. Plan for planting

    Plants seeds in the fall after the first killing frost. In most regions of the country, this may be late September or early October. The key is to get the seeds planted before the ground freezes, which may be around Thanksgiving or early December.

    3. Sow the seed

    Oh, the possibilities in a tiny seed! When you plant wildflower seeds, or any seeds for that matter, it is an act of possibility and optimism. The best way to sow wildflower seeds in a small area is to take handfuls and broadcast them over the prepared soil. (Broadcasting is spreading the seed by hand by tossing them over an area.) For a larger area, mix the seeds with sand and use a lawn seed spreader to plant. There is no need to cover the seed, but you will need to press them into the soil. In a small space you can do this with your hands. In larger spaces you will need a seed roller. Lightly cover the area with a thin layer of straw to help keep the seeds in place.

    4. Water lightly

    After you have planted the seeds and gently pressed them into the soil, give them a light watering. 

    5. Watch for seedlings in spring

    In early spring you should see wildflower seedlings. It’s exciting to see them appear and it’s also important to understand that any wildflower meadow is likely to be a little disappointing the first year after planting. 

    6. Be patient

    It takes time for the roots of the wildflowers to develop. By the second year after planting, the roots should be growing strong, provided the soil was prepped so that weeds were removed from the get-go. By this time, a greater variety of the mix should bloom through the season. When the wildflower mix comes into its own, with a mix of plants adding colorful blooms to the site, it will likely start attracting bees and other pollinators in the summer. In late fall into winter, birds will enjoy the garden and the many seed heads it produces. Leave the dried stalks for the birds until spring and then trim or mow in the spring. If you feel you must tidy up in the fall, they can be trimmed or mowed then. 

    That’s it! With these steps, you are on your way to a wildflower garden. 


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