Identifying Flower Seedlings in Your Meadow
What flower is this? How do I tell the weeds from the wildflowers? When will my daisies bloom? Now that summer is here, most wildgardeners are seeing early bloom. In this article we'll help you figure out what you're seeing, or are about to see soon.
If you planted a mixture that includes wild annuals, chances are your first bloom will include Baby's Breath, the little white flowers that are usually the first flowers to appear. The species in our mixtures is different from the familiar powder-puff blooms you see with roses in florist's arrangements. This Baby's Breath, Gypsophila elegans (sometimes called Gypsophila muralis) is one of the quickest blooming flowers in the world. It's great for cutting, and a nice first bloom for most meadows. However, in a few weeks, it'll be all but forgotten, as taller more important wildflowers take its place in your meadow.
Other early flowers in many of the mixtures may be catching your eye. Depending on what you planted, the ones that usually show up along with Baby's Breath for first bloom include:
Tiny little short plants with wide-open Baby Blue flowers. This is a California native flower that does well almost anywhere, but since it's so short, enjoy it now; soon taller plants will be hiding it as your meadow grows up.
: Also called California Bluebell, this is another west coast native that blooms very quickly on very short plants. Flowers are deep inky blue and make bright spots of color among seedlings of other plants still growing up.
Certain species usually stand out at this time of year. If you're trying to identify the ones you're seeing, this list may help.
These strong-growing seedlings are easy to recognize thanks to the "silvery" look of their stems and pointed leaves. They'll be blooming soon.
This one has rather spiky foliage…leaves with points along the edges. Soon you'll see ball-shaped buds rising from the center of these spiky leaves.
This will be a favorite. Look for very glossy, thin, almost thread-like stems and thin needle-like leaves. Buds will set soon, and look like little brown BB's at the ends of branched stems. Those buds will soon be the perky yellow/red coreopsis blooms everyone loves.
Another early bloomer, easily recognized by red stems. These little wildflower seedlings grow tall quickly, and soon set buds in the axils of the small lance-shaped leaves.
If your mix included cosmos, by now you're seeing the strong-growing ferny foliage. Usually, the cosmos seedlings are among the tallest, since the plants, when they're full-grown can be up to 4 feet or more. But they won't be in bloom for awhile. They provide the color for late summer in your meadow, blooming right up until frost.
Most people plant our regional mixes which are about half annuals for first year bloom, and half perennials for second and successive years. As everyone knows, perennial wildflowers are the ones that "come back" year after year forming larger and larger clumps. (Yes, many of your favorite annuals may "come back", too, since they are "self-seeders". This means favorite wildflowers like red poppy and cornflower form lots of seed and drop it on the ground as flowers fade. However, this seed must find some bare ground to regrow next spring. Some will, but your annual display will be greatly reduced the second year.)
As for perennials, their first year from seed is really un-spectacular. Wildflower gardeners are sometimes amazed that very dependable wild perennials like daisy and black-eyed Susan, always favorites, make very little top growth during their first year from seed.
Here's why. A perennial plant spends its first season from seed making root growth. After all, the plant is establishing itself to survive through the coming winter, unlike annuals which die with frost. So all we see is often tiny little leaves….really tiny.
For example, often daisy plants put on just a few of their glossy green leaves by mid-summer, but never grow above about 3 or 4 inches! So under your growing, flowering cosmos and poppies, the daisies are just sort of sitting there waiting for their time-which will come next spring. The same is true of black-eyed Susan, lupine, and most of the others. But yes, even though they're tiny, you can identify them if you look down near the ground. Remember, next spring, all these seedlings will grow quickly into big, blooming plants.
Look down among the taller flowers, and you'll see tiny glossy green, rounded leaves, usually serrated along the edges. The plants are often only 2-5 inches tall, and each leaf about the size of a fingernail.
Both the regular species, Rudbeckia hirta and its cousin, Gloriosa Daisy (R. gloriosa) also stay small like the daisies, but are easily recognizable. These are the little seedlings you'll find with very hairy, fuzzy leaves.
This is the "Echinacea" now famous as a medicinal, but also a big beautiful perennial wildflower, great for meadows everywhere. Your purple coneflower seedlings are quite slow to grow, but you can identify them easily. They form long, tough, very dark green leathery leaves with smooth edges and very deep veins. The leaves on the seedlings are rarely over 4" long; plants stay small. (Next year, they'll be tall and robust.)
These are the easiest to identify. Their leaves, usually on 4-6 inch plants the first year, are palm-shaped.
This popular perennial, in many mixtures, makes light green leaves that are smooth, glossy, and sword-shaped, almost like a small tulip leaf, 2-4 inches long. Many people think coreopsis seedlings look like grass plants with wide leaves!
How do I tell the weeds from the wildflowers? This is a question we hear every spring and summer. And it's not always easy to answer.
First of all, look around and see how the plants are distributed. If a plant occurs pretty evenly across your seeding, it's probably something you planted-a wildflower, not a weed that's just popped up.
If the opposite is true-you see strong-growing plants that are not distributed over the planting, those may be weeds. If you don't recognize the plant as a weed, just let it grow until your bloom begins.
Weed in wildflower plantings are usually the same ones you see in a vegetable garden, or anywhere else you've stirred up the soil. The weed seed is in all soil, so you'll have them. Some wildgardeners just let them grow, others try to pull them all.
What's important is what happens as the season goes on. If you have a lot of weeds in your meadow, be sure to pull or cut the largest ones before they bloom and seed. If you don't, you'll have hundreds of them next year. This is particularly important with common annual weeds such as ragweed, pigweed, and some annual grasses. If you let them bloom and seed, they'll be back in droves.
If you're new to wildflower gardening, you'll soon notice the arrival of more bees, birds, butterflies, and other wildlife than you've noticed before.
Though butterflies have their favorites, any bright flower will attract them. In addition to the monarchs and swallowtails most wildflower gardeners see, you may see a lot of the little white butterflies called "Dancing Whites". They often descend on wildflower meadows in large groups and make a great show.
As for birds, if you've planted cornflowers (bachelor buttons), you may have an unexpected treat in store. In late summer when your cornflowers set seed, you may well see the flash of flocks of wild canaries or American Goldfinches dive bomb into your meadow. These bright little birds favor cornflower seed, and once they find it, they literally go wild, putting on quite a show in large groups.
Should I be cutting flowers? Trimming? Weeding?This is the time of year most meadow gardeners are watching for first bloom. But if you see weeds here and there, or invasive grasses, yes, keep them pulled.
As flowers bloom, go ahead and cut them if you like. For the annuals (like Baby's Breath, Cornflowers and Plains Coreopsis), if you cut the flowers before they set seed, it will encourage more bloom. Once the red poppies bloom, everyone wants to cut them, and you can, but be forewarned-the drop their petals quickly. If you want a bouquet for a dinner party, simply pick just before the gathering, and then place the arrangement in a big plate to catch the falling petals. If you want to try to make the poppies NOT drop their petals quickly, here's what to try…and it actually does work. Pick the flowers early in the day when they are in bud. That means the ball-shaped buds are cracking open showing the red petals inside. Bring them inside and sear each stem with a match. That's right, and this doesn't mean just to heat them-burn them black. This fuses the "juice" in the stems, and arrests the petal dropping, usually for about two days. Yes, your budded poppies will open as if they're still on the plant.
None of your wildflower plants should need trimming at this point, but keep an eye on the cosmos. If you've planted in good rich soil, they may be getting very tall. If you don't want them towering over the other flowers, you might try pinching out the top of some of the taller plants. Later on, you can actually trim them like bushes, always leaving budded areas to encourage bloom.
At American Meadows, we love to hear from our customers with detail on how things are working in your plantings. Are you seeing hummingbirds? Which flowers to they favor in your yard? Are you seeing chipmunks, squirrels, and other small wildlife enjoying the cover of your meadow? And what birds and butterflies have you noticed?
Send us photos! Send us stories! Our files are filled with great meadow pictures of wildflowers and their growers. We'd love to add yours.
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