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How to Grow Wildflowers

Blue flax with bee how to plant wildflowers

Wild VS. Cultivated Wildflowers

There is a misconception about growing wildflowers particularly in the arid lands of the American west. Oftentimes, I encounter new gardeners who hope they can just sprinkle seeds around their garden. And voilà! A meadow of color will spring up effortlessly. I think the idea comes from the very name wildflowers. Yes, they do grow effortlessly in the wild without human intervention. However, in the wild, specific species wait for the opportune time to sprout and grow. In fact, some seeds can lay dormant for over fifty years before the perfect time comes. This timing usually correlates with the right soil temperatures and abundant rain/snowfall in the late winter that soaks the ground causing germination. In really wet years, there are gorgeous displays of color but in dry years, wildflowers can be sparse or nonexistent. In our home gardens, we are trying to coerce wildflowers to grow where we want them which means it is up to us to provide the optimal conditions for growth so we don’t have to wait fifty years or more! 

California poppy wildflower how to plant
California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) can be an annual or perennial wildflower depending on your climate.

Selecting Varieties

To get started, first choose which species you want to grow taking into account your growing conditions. Native wildflowers from your region may perform the best and will support local pollinators and other wildlife in the most natural way. When selecting your favorite flowers, it is helpful to know the difference between the life cycle of each species. Some species are annuals who will germinate, grow, flower, set seed and die during a single growing season oftentimes less than a year. This means they must be regrown by seed from year-to-year. Perennials, on the other hand, will live for many years and may flower the first year or take one to two years to flower. These plants may go dormant in the winter but will regrow on their own the following year. The list below displays common annual and perennial wildflowers. Perennials and annuals can be purchased as seed mixtures or you can create your own mixes by buying individual seed packets.

Echinacea with bee how to plant wildflowers
Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a perennial wildflower.
Annual Wildflowers:Perennial Wildflowers:
African DaisyBlack Eyed Susan
Bachelor buttonsBlue Flax
CalendulaCalifornia poppies (in some places)
California poppiesEchinacea Coneflower
CosmosGlobe mallow
GodetiaLance leaf coreopsis
Plains CoreopsisLupine
Red corn or field poppiesShasta daisy
SunflowersSiberian wallflower  
TithoniaSweet William
Calendula how to plant wildflowers
The bright orange flowers of calendula (Calendula officinalis) are edible.

How to Seed Wildflowers

1. After you have chosen which plants to grow, select an area that receives at least a half-a-day of sun (6 hours or more is best) during the growing season.

2. Now work towards creating a weed-free planting space by hand pulling, hoeing, string trimming, or capping the bed with fresh soil to shade out any existing weed seed.

3. After which, prepare your site for planting by scratching the soil with a hard rake or lightly tilling the surface with equipment so as not to bring up additional weed seeds that may lay dormant in the subsoil.

Pink cosmo how to plant wildflowers
Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) is an annual wildflower that will freeze in the fall.

4. To help ensure even distribution, mix your seeds with an inert carrier such as sand or vermiculite purchased at local garden centers at a three-parts inert to one-part seed ratio.

5. Depending on the size of the area, broadcast your seed using a hand-held or push rotary spreader.

6. To finish your seeding project, turn a leaf rake over and smooth the soil covering the seed no more than a fourth of an inch.

7. Now gently irrigate the area several times a day making sure not to wash your seed away. In order to trigger germination and encourage proper establishment, continue to keep the soil consistently moist for 3 to 4 weeks as you would do to establish a new lawn.  

Orange globe mallow how to plant wildflowers
Globemallow (Sphaeralcea spp.) is a perennial wildflower native to arid lands of the west.

Long Term Maintenance

In time, wildflower patches can become infested with weeds and so, be sure to monitor your wildflowers regularly and remove weeds or unwanted grasses before they set seed. You may also have to thin out weedy wildflower species like lupine and Shasta daisies that can out compete other varieties and come to dominate the bed. Trees and shrubs may also seed into the area which should be removed before they become established. If infestations become severe you may have to remove everything and start over again either with a fresh seeding or by converting the bed to another kind of garden.

Shasta Daisy with bee how to plant wildflowers
Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum spp.) are gorgeous perennial wildflowers that can take over a wildflower bed.

Would you like tips on growing vegetables from seed?

If so, see our blog post on vegetable seed sowing: click here

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