For The Answer
By Calvin R. Finch, PhD, SAWS Water Resources Director, and Horticulturist
It is anybody’s guess whether we will have the rains we need to have a decent wildflower crop this year. It doesn’t take much water, but it does take two or three well timed rains.
It is true that the drought has caused empty lots and roadsides to be clear of plant cover making it easy to have soil to seed contact with full sun reaching the seed. Wildflowers are drought-tolerant, but they need a soaking rain in the autumn to germinate the seed and one or two more rains in early spring to allow growth and bloom. For a planting on a small scale you could irrigate, but part of the charm of wildflowers is that they grow and bloom with minimum attention.
On any field where wildflowers have grown for a number of years there is a reserve of hardened seeds that will retain the ability to germinate as the years pass, but the more time that passes between a bountiful seed production year, the fewer plants that will grow. It will take a few years of “normal” rainfall and bloom for the plant population to reach high levels again.
Luckily, there are a number of wildflower seed producers
that can supply you with seed to supplement the native production for the year
and the remnant seeds from past years.
Visit your favorite nursery or internet sites for high quality
Planting wildflower seed does not take much preparation or effort. The key is to pick the right planting site. Spread the seed where it will fall on mineral soil. Most wildflowers also require full sun. On small plots you could hand-rake before or after to increase germination rates. Do not cover the seed.
Keep in mind with wildflowers that plants must be allowed to complete their bloom and seed maturing cycle if they are going to return to a site year after year. It does not work to mow them down after the bloom declines unless you are willing to reseed them yourself every year.
Among the wildflowers to consider are:
· Bluebonnets – for a high germination rate, purchase scarified seed. There are several shades of blue bluebonnet plus white, pink, and even variations of red and maroon. The pinks, and whites occur relatively commonly in nature, the maroons and reds have been developed by selecting for the colors. Bluebonnets germinate in the autumn and then rosette (lie flat) through the winter while they develop a root system.
· Coreopsis (tickseed) is a yellow daisy-like wildflower that will cover a site with color before bluebonnets bloom, and persist into the late spring. It is a favorite butterfly nectar source and is better able to tolerate wet periods than other wildflowers.
· Mexican hat is among the most drought-tolerant wildflowers. It will end up dominant on especially dry sites. It blooms later than coreopsis and bluebonnets. It has yellow petals that surround an elevated central seed area making it look like a sombrero.
Primrose blooms very early. There
are several selections. Evening primrose
· Poppies are among the most colorful spring wildflowers. There are reds, whites, golds, yellows and pinks depending on the variety. The most spectacular bloomers are the opium poppies. The seeds are technically not legal for sale, but gardeners pass them around every year. Poppies are late bloomers.
There is lots of action with wildflowers in the spring, but after the blooms decline, the planting area is not very attractive as the plants mature their seed. For summer and fall blooming wildflower, seed cosmos. The yellow and orange are easiest to grow, but there are pinks, white, and other colors. They will bloom and reseed until cool weather arrives in the autumn.