For The Answer
By Calvin R. Finch, PhD, SAWS
Conservation Director, and HorticulturistWeek of October 17, 2005
“Time to Plant Wildflowers”
Wildflowers are good xeriscape plants. They survive well without supplemental irrigation. Wildflowers also can make a very pleasing show of blooms with minimal effort. Autumn is the time to plant them if you are going to benefit by flowers next spring.
If you think bluebonnets are only blue, you are wrong. Bluebonnets occur in pink and white as well as blue in nature, and with conscientious selection, plant breeders (mainly San Antonio’s own Dr. Jerry Parsons) have come up with red and maroon versions. Plant bluebonnets by seed now in areas in full sun where plant material is scarce. The seeds must reach the soil and not be shaded. The bluebonnets will germinate quickly, but they lay low all winter until late February when they grow aggressively to produce the bloom in early April. To have them successfully reseed they must be allowed to mature the pods. Cut bluebonnets (and other wildflowers) down too early, and they will not produce viable seed for the next year’s crop. Deer generally do not eat bluebonnets. The plants are sensitive to soggy soils so they do best in relatively dry weather.
Larkspurs are not always classified as wildflowers, but they naturalize easily and come back readily from seed even in poor soils. In raised beds they get 36 inches tall and are very vigorous. On a vacant field some will only be 8 – 12 inches tall. Larkspurs have pink, white, purple or blue flowers. If you plant the fancy double hybrid versions they eventually revert to the simple parent stock, but even those blooms are very showy. Hummingbirds and butterflies like larkspur. I have not tested the claim, but larkspur are said to be deer proof. The blooming period is after bluebonnets. The larkspurs maintain their bloom for a long period.
In my wildflower planting, the coreopsis (tickseed) follows the bluebonnets. They cover the field with yellow daisy-like blooms about 18 inches tall. Coreopsis also seems to escape the deer. Coreopsis can tolerate more moisture than bluebonnets. They have prospered over the last three years with our relative wet winters and springs.
Mexican hat and firewheels are not closely related, but they have similar rusty red daisy like flower petals. As you might expect, the Mexican hat resembles a sombrero. Along with bluebonnets and coreopsis, Mexican hat and firewheel are part of every wildflower seed mix. They are often the dominant flower in a field during a dry spring.
Other wildflowers that do well in our area in the spring are primrose, verbenas, poppies, wine cups, and Indian paintbrush.
For late blooming, wildflowers consider cosmos, salvia coccinea, and coneflower. Cosmos blooms from late spring to autumn, but should only be planted in April after the danger of cool weather has ended. The website plantanswers.com is a good place to visit to gather more information about wildflowers. The website will link with wildflower seed sources, if you would prefer to buy from them rather than from your favorite local nursery. For a free packet of wildflower seeds, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to SAWS Wildflowers, Conservation Department, P.O. Box 2449, San Antonio, Texas 78298-2449.