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How To Successfully Establish A Wildflower Site

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

Whether you're a seasoned gardener or a beginner with a green thumb, this comprehensive guide contains detailed step-by-step instructions that will unveil the secrets to a flourishing wildflower haven.

Why Plant a Wildflower Mix?

Wildflower planting, Aspen daisy with bee, aspen fleabane with bumblebee

A wildflower is a flower that grows in its natural habitat without any human intervention. Wildflowers are native to various ecosystems, including meadows, forests, grasslands, mountains, deserts, and along roadsides and riverbanks. Wildflowers play a vital role in supporting local ecosystems by providing food and habitat for insects, birds, and other wildlife; they are also essential for pollinators like bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds aiding in the reproduction of other plant species. They create mini-ecosystems that promote a balanced and healthy environment.

In recent years, wildflowers have gained popularity in gardens and landscaping due to their ecological benefits, low maintenance requirements, and the aesthetic appeal they bring to outdoor spaces. Gardeners often use wildflower seeds or mixes to create meadows, pollinator gardens, or naturalistic landscapes that mimic the beauty and biodiversity of the wild.

Once established, many wildflower mixes are relatively low-maintenance compared to traditional gardens. They often require less watering and fewer interventions like fertilizers or pesticides, making them an eco-friendly and sustainable landscaping option. Wildflowers have a natural charm that complements various garden styles, from meadows and cottage gardens to formal landscapes. They add a touch of wild beauty to any setting.

What Every Wildflower Mix Needs

Hand watering a plant on dry dirt

Our selections of wildflower mixes are designed to do well in many locations and under many conditions, but they all have a need for three basic things:

Soil: All plants in general need favorable soil to grow in with sufficient nutrients and topsoil. Soil texture and PH also play a role in a wildflower’s ability to germinate. One great benefit of planting wildflowers is that most wildflowers do not need high soil fertility and actually do best with low fertility soils.

Water: All the wildflower mixes we carry require sufficient water either naturally or from irrigation. Consistent water is essential for seed germination and for the plants ability to thrive once established.

Sun: All our wildflower mixes necessitate an adequate amount of sunlight and warmth to facilitate the germination of seeds and the growth of plants.

Selecting the Right Wildflower Mix

Wildland Seed Co currently offers 4 standard wildflower mixes, each serves different areas and purposes. Each mix contains a large number of species that have been specially selected to provide a broad range of adaptability while creating spectacular displays of many colors and shapes of blossoms and plants throughout the growing season. Climate regions, elevations, latitudes, and customer personal preferences all dictate which mix is best for your site. If you are unsure of which wildflower mix is right for you, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Wildland Seed provides technical advice to help you select the best wildflower mix for your site and purposes.

Every species included in this mix is thoughtfully selected for its ability to thrive with minimal maintenance and water, all while producing vibrant blossoms throughout the entire season. Although this blend does necessitate a consistent watering regimen, particularly during the initial weeks of establishment, it has been carefully crafted to excel with lower water demands.

This mix offers a diverse and colorful blend of native wildflowers specifically chosen to create a haven for pollinators. This mix is suitable for most regions in North America, with the exception of extremely arid deserts and very high mountain areas.

A stunning collection of wildflowers consisting of a wide variety of species carefully selected to thrive from the valley floors to mid-mountain areas of the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau areas below 7,000 feet and in precipitation zones from 8-15 inches.

Contains wildflower species naturally found in mountainous areas, all carefully selected to thrive at mid-mountain to alpine elevations above 7,000 feet, with at least 16 inches of annual precipitation or on lower elevation sites with supplemental water added.

The Best Time to Plant Your Wildflower Mix

Our wildflower mixes establish best when planted in the early spring or late fall. Planting in the spring verses the fall can yield different results as discussed below.

Fall trees in a line with yellowing and falling leaves

Fall Planting: This method is recommended for most species because stratification is not necessary if planting in the fall. The purpose of cold stratification is to imitate the seed’s natural cold dormancy period experienced in winter. Cold dormancy is necessary for some species to properly germinate. When planting in the fall, it is best to wait to plant until ground temperatures are consistently under 45 degrees to discourage the seed from sprouting before freezing. Fall plantings are best for colder climates because the seed is able to experience a cold dormancy period and the new plants will be able to take advantage of early spring moisture.

Spring Planting: When planting in the spring, start planting once ground temperatures have warmed to 55 degrees. Plant as early as possible up to about June 1st before it gets excessively hot. Spring plantings are best for warmer climates. If planting in the spring in a colder climate, the species that require a cold dormancy period may not sprout until the following year.

Summer Planting: Planting in the summer is risky unless sufficient moisture is available for seed germination and plant establishment. However, the Southwest Desert Wildflower Mix (coming soon) can be planted anytime sufficient moisture is available.

All of our wildflower seed mixes contain both annual and perennial species. The annual species will come up soon while the perennial species may not be fully established and look their best until fall or even the next year.

How to Prepare the Planting Site

Green wildflower sprouts growing out of dark, fertile soil

For optimal results, it is highly recommended to implement effective weed control measures before planting the wildflower mix. One approach is to shallowly till the site, approximately 2-3 inches deep, or scarify the topsoil to eliminate existing vegetation. Following this soil treatment, it is advisable to wait for about 2 weeks, allowing any new weeds to regrow. You may water the area to encourage weed growth and then apply a non-selective herbicide to eradicate the weeds. If time permits, this process can be repeated. Approximately 1-2 weeks after using the non-selective, short-acting herbicide, you can proceed with the planting. However, if herbicide application is not necessary or feasible, the wildflower planting will most likely still be successful. Keep in mind that a robust wildflower stand should eventually suppress many weeds, but additional weed control might be necessary after the establishment of the stand, depending on specific circumstances.

Once the weed control process is finished, the site should be cleared of any existing vegetation, unless you are sowing wildflowers into an area with pre-existing plants. Right before planting, avoid re-tilling the soil as it can bring more weed seeds to the surface leading to further growth. Instead, ensure the soil is firm but not overly compacted. When walking on the seedbed, your feet should not sink more than ½ inch, as this provides the best conditions for successful seed planting and germination. If the soil appears too loose or fluffy, compact it appropriately to create an optimal seedbed for planting.

Things To Keep in Mind Before Planting

Seeding Rate: Each of our wildflower seed mixes includes a recommended seeding rate. If you plan to plant in tricky conditions or have restrictions in regard to planting methods, we advise increasing the seeding rate. You may even consider doubling the recommended amount for better results.

A gardening gloved hand holding a gardening shovel with soil pouring off the side

Proper Planting Depth: To achieve successful germination, plant growth, and root anchoring, it is crucial to ensure that the seed makes firm contact with the soil to maintain adequate moisture. The ideal seeding depth depends on the seed’s size, and as our wildflower mixes encompass a diverse range of species with varying seed sizes, the best depth is usually 1/8 to 1/4 inch deep. Planting seeds too deep can hinder emergence and lead to potential seeding failures. If some of the seeds remain on the soil surface after planting, most will still grow successfully, so it is best to be cautious of not planting the seed too deep in the soil.

What Planting Equipment Do You Need?

Larger Area Plantings: When planting larger areas, it is common to utilize mechanical equipment to accomplish the task effectively. Several options are available, including specialized seed broadcasters, drills, and hydro-seeders. These tools assist in efficiently distributing the wildflower seeds over the designated area, ensuring optimal results in a timely manner.

Smaller Area Plantings: For smaller projects, it is common to utilize manual seed planting equipment such as fertilizer spreaders or broadcast seeders along with rakes and hand landscaping rollers. The precision and care put into planting will directly impact the final results.

mountains with thick lupine wildflower field in the foreground

Fertilizers, Mulches, and Erosion Control

Fertilizing your wildflower site isn’t usually necessary unless you have extremely low soil fertility. Instead, consider applying organic mulch during seeding to maintain soil moisture and aid seed germination. Mulches can also prevent soil movement from wind and water. If you must use fertilizer, use a low nitrogen fertilizer like 50-10-10. Excessive nitrogen can promote vegetation and weed growth rather than flower growth.

For hydro-seeding/mulching, try a dual application approach. Apply 10% of the mulch along with the seed in the first round, and then apply the remaining mulch in a second application. This ensures more seed-to-soil contact leading to better seed germination and plant establishment.

If your site is on a slope or prone to significant wind or water erosion, consider using erosion-control products in addition to mulches, such as erosion-control blankets.

Sowing the Seeds

High aperture photo of multiple green sprouts stretching out of dark soil

The main objectives of seed sowing are to ensure even dispersal of the seed and proper planting depth while also ensuring firm contact with the soil.

Given that most wildflower seeds are relatively small in size, it can be beneficial to mix the seeds with an organic carrier, mineral carrier or fine sand. This creates a more substantial material to distribute evenly over the planting area which helps ensure the seed isn’t used too quickly. For example, if you have 1 pound of wildflower seed, mix it with 3 pounds of sand, resulting in 4 pounds of material to cover the entire planting area evenly.

To achieve and even seed distribution, consider dividing the seed in half and planting the first half in a north-to-south direction and the second half in an east-to-west direction. This method helps ensure better coverage and distribution across the planting area.

Be sure to water the site immediately after planting.

Care and Maintenance

a person wearing a mustard yellow shirt using lime green watering can to sprinkle water on waist high plants

Watering Instructions: Keep the soil moist until the plants reach 4-6 inches but do not pool the water. Afterward, water as needed according to the area’s climate and be sure to continue to water if you live in an exceptionally dry climate. In order to successfully establish a wildflower mix, it is essential to continuously water in those first 8 weeks after planting. After the wildflowers are established, most of them are quite drought tolerant. Keep in mind, too much water may promote excessive weed growth and can be detrimental to the wildflowers with low water needs.

Weed Control: Even if proper weed control was accomplished before planting, new weeds will appear in the wildflower site from dormant seed I the soil. Almost all soil has dormant weed seed waiting to grow when conditions are right. Dormant seed in the soil can stay viable for many years, waiting for the right time to grow. Pulling or digging weeds by hand as well as carefully spot spraying with an herbicide will help control the weeds.

Fall Mowing: Often it is beneficial to mow your wildflower site to a height of about 6 inches before winter weather sets in, usually in November. Mowing will distribute the seed from the plants to help maintain your wildflower site and the perennials will be ready to start growing in the spring without last year’s dead growth visible.

Replanting: Adding additional seed to bare or sparse sports can be helpful for the seeded area, especially if the purpose of the wildflower mix is beautification.

Lush wildflower field, mix of yellow and purple wildflowers flowers with bachelors button and aspen daisy

What to Expect

After planting your wildflower seed in proper planting conditions, annual wildflower species will germinate and begin to grow after about 10-14 days. Other species will take longer, most perennials take 2-8 weeks for germination and some very slow perennials may take even longer. Keep in mind and as mentioned above, if planting in the spring, some of the wildflower species require cold dormancy period over the winter and will not germinate until the spring after dormancy.

Some of the fastest establishing annuals will flower within about 6 weeks and some of the species will flower and continue to grow all season long. Most of the perennials will look their best in the second year, so your wildflower garden will likely look different on the second year and continue to change year after year. The perennials will grow back each year and many of the annuals will reseed themselves and grow each year as well.

Disclaimer: These recommendations are based on the best information available, but they do not guarantee a perfect wildflower site. Unforeseen events or conditions that cannot be controlled will adversely affect the outcome of your wildflower planting. Because of this, Wildland Seed makes no guarantee for the results of these recommendations.

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