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Plant Wildflowers for a Low-Maintenance Landscape

by Suzanne DeJohn

Slowly but surely, attitudes about lawns are changing and homeowners are considering alternatives to expansive lawns. Let's face it, lawns are a hassle to maintain, especially if you aspire to a picture-perfect green carpet. There's the weekly mowing, seasonal fertilizing and repeated weeding, not to mention the frequent watering, all of which require time — and money.

Imagine looking out your window, and instead of a swath of green grass (or brown grass if you forgot to water it, or watering restrictions were in effect) you can enjoy flowers in a rainbow of colors. Then imagine heading out to cut some of those blooms for bouquets — you can't do that with lawn grass! That's why across the country wildflower meadows are sprouting where lawns once ruled.

Wildflowers Save Time and Money
Let's say it takes you an hour a week to mow and trim your lawn. Over the course of the summer (May through September) you'll spend 20 hours mowing. That's 20 hours you could have spent in the hammock, fishing, riding your bike or whatever it is that's your favorite pastime. It's like getting an extra half-week of vacation time!

wildflower meadow with peonies
Wildflowers are not only beautiful, they save time and money, too.

Now add in the cost of fertilizer and weed controls, plus gasoline, oil and power equipment maintenance, not to mention the initial costs of the equipment. If you're on a municipal water supply, a hefty portion of your summer water bill may go to watering your lawn, too. (In arid regions, up to 50% of a household's water usage goes to landscape irrigation.) A wildflower planting, on the other hand, needs no fertilizing, little or no supplemental water and just a once-a-year mowing.

Climate Considerations
You'll often see the same lawn grass mixes sold in big box stores across the country, even though climates vary widely. One of the nice things about wildflowers is that you can choose species that are adapted to your growing conditions. Flowers that thrive in the cool, moist Pacific Northwest may wither in the hot, dry Southwest. To make selecting plants easier, American Meadows has created Regional Mixes with flowers that will thrive in each region. Many parts of the country experience prolonged periods of dry weather in summer, and most lawn grasses won't survive weeks without water. Look at the native wildflowers in those regions and you'll find plants adapted to those conditions. The same holds true for fertilizer. Lawns are "heavy feeders" and in regions with poor soils they require regular applications of fertilizers. Many wildflower species, on the other hand, are used to poor soils — in fact, if you fertilize your meadow with lawn fertilizer you're likely to end up with lots of leaves and few flowers.

California poppies are adapted to withstand hot, dry conditions.

Let the Buyer Beware
One word of caution: If you've ever been tempted to buy a "meadow in a can" be sure to read the fine print. Most wildflower seed mixes contain only a small percentage of actual seed; with 90% or more made up of fillers. Our mixes are 100% flower seed, with no fillers or grasses.

You'll likely be seeing wildflower plantings popping up in yards in your neighborhood. Consider replacing a small section of your lawn and discover the benefits for yourself.