Gardeners' Dirt: Wildflowers of the Crossroads
By Gerald Bludau - Victoria County Master GardenerEdited by Charla Borchers Leon
April 3, 2014 at midnight
Updated April 2, 2014 at 11:03 p.m.
There are no words to describe the beauty someone encounters on a springtime drive through the countryside.
One can only marvel at God's creations: our native wildflowers. Many people love the beauty of wildflowers while others could care less.
I like to believe "the good Lord paints a canvas more beautiful than the world's most renowned artists could ever imagine."
There are many reasons to plant wildflowers. Among these reasons are beauty and enjoyment, the enjoyment of others, exercise, to attract the three B's - birds, bees and butterflies - and because you can.
When to plant: While you may be hoping you still have time to plant wildflowers for a late spring showing, the time to plant wildflower seeds in our area, Zone 9, is in the fall, around October and November. Many of the seeds planted in the fall will germinate, take root and go dormant to await the warmth of spring to grow flowers.
Others will remain dormant until soil temperature exceeds 70 degrees.
Where to plant: When considering wildflowers, choose a site free of weeds and debris and that has relatively fertile soil. Choose a site that also receives seven to eight hours of sun each day and an area that offers proper drainage.If the area you choose to plant has grass and/or weeds, it is best to spray that area with a weed and grass killer in August. Any glyphosate product would be an excellent choice for this. Be sure to read and follow label directions on any lawn and garden chemicals you may use.
How to plant: When ready to plant, just rake and dispose of the dead grass and weeds. Lightly loosen the soil to a depth of 1 to 2 inches. If you break up the soil any deeper, you may disturb various dormant weed seeds. Once this is complete, take a rake and level the soil the best that you can.
Now that you have made these preparations, you are ready to plant. The question is: where and how are you going to find the seeds that you want to plant?
You can purchase your seeds from various sources for fall planting. I order off the Internet from Texas Wildseed Farms in Fredericksburg. I always order the Texas-Oklahoma mix. This blend offers you about 25 different varieties.
I also order some packets of individual varieties such as phlox, cosmos, spurred snapdragons, standing cypress, baby blue-eyes and scarlet flax.
You can also get seeds from local nurseries, feed stores and some of the "box" stores.
Mix seeds with medium then spread
So you have the seeds; let's plant. Of all the varieties offered in the Texas Wildseed Catalog, none require more than 1/8 of an inch of soil cover.
With that said, you should mix your seeds with a medium-like masonry sand, potting soil or perlite at a ratio of about 4 to 1.
Then, mix it thoroughly and spread over the area to be planted. This will give a better seed distribution.
Once the seeds are spread, using the backside of a garden rake, tamp the soil to pack the soil/seed mixture and water thoroughly.
An alternative to seeds are seed balls, made available by local Master Gardeners, in which seeds are combined with a soil medium that forms a small ball for planting.
Germination, watering, fertilization
Some may ask how long it will take before wildflowers come up. This varies with the variety and is anywhere from two weeks to three months.
Others may ask about watering and fertilization. Your wildflower seeds will need enough moisture to allow germination and develop into healthy seedlings. Try to keep the area moist for four to six weeks during the time the seeds are establishing a root system.
Fertilization of wildflowers is not recommended - just observe Texas highway roadsides. These wildflowers never get fertilized. Many times, fertilizers only encourage weed growth.
Wildflower life cycle
Some of the seeds you plant are annuals, meaning they germinate, flower, seed out and die all within one growing season. Others will be perennials plants that persist for a number of growing seasons from the same root system, die back each fall and sprout up the following spring.
After you are finished planting and find yourself with excess seeds, you can keep them in the freezer for a number of years.
Reasons for poor results
Some of the factors that may cause poor results are improper planting sites, seeds planted too deep, planting too few seeds on too large of an area, planting at the wrong time of year, insufficient sunlight, lack of sufficient moisture and extreme weather conditions.
If you really want to see an increase in the birds, bees and butterflies in your backyard and enjoy some radiant color, take time and try planting some native Texas wildflowers in the fall. You won't be disappointed.
In the meantime, if you find some bluebonnet plants or other wildflowers in local garden centers and want to try your luck, transplant them to the same growing environment as described and enjoy them into the early summer this year.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or firstname.lastname@example.org.