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Fall Is For Wildflowers

How To Plant Wildflowers In The Fall Or Winter

magnifying glass icon over north america

1. Identify The Correct Planting Time For Your Area
In cool climates, plant just after hard frosts. In warm climates, plant just before the rainy season.

digging soil

2. Prepare Your Site For Seeding
Choose a site with a minimum of 6 hours of sun. Prepare your soil by removing all existing growth. Better soil preparation = more flowers!

spreading seeds

3. Sow Your Wildflower Seeds
Mix seeds with sand for even distribution. Be sure to follow the correct coverage rate, as wildflowers do not like crowded conditions.

boot compressing seeds

4. Compress Seeds Into The Soil
Walk directly on top of the planting area, or use a seed roller. They need sun - do not bury or cover wildflower seeds with soil.

wildflower cartoon blooms

5. Wait For Growth & Blooms
Unlike planting in spring, fall planting does not require intensive watering. Depending on your climate, blooms will appear in spring or early summer.


Watch: How to Plant Wildflower Seeds in Fall

In this two-part video, our resident wildflower expert, Mike "The Seed Man" Lizotte, shows how to plant a wildflower meadow. Watch for tips preparing your land, sowing the seeds, and taking care of your planting as it grows and matures.


Identify Correct Planting Time

1. Identify The Correct Planting Time For Your Area

Fall is a perfect time to sow wildflower seeds. This timing follows the same approach as Mother Nature: wildflowers naturally drop their seeds in fall to take advantage of the freezing, thawing, and/or extra moisture that winter delivers. This weather helps to crack open their hard, outer seed cases.

map of the united states with areas marked that experience cold winters

Fall Planting Wildflower Seed in Colder Climates

  • Fall seeding is a good choice if you live in an area that experiences cold or freezing winters, and the ground freezes for more than 60 days. Though you have a shorter growing season, you’ll get a jump start on spring growth, and should see color 2-4 weeks earlier than with spring planting.
  • The best strategy is to plant after at least one or two killing frosts. See our Frost Date Chart for frost dates in your area. You want to make sure that seeds lay dormant over the winter, and that there is no chance for germination. Yes, that’s right…You definitely don’t want the seed to begin to sprout! Otherwise, those tiny wildflower shoots will simply die off as soon freezing temperatures arrive.
  • In cool climates, average ground temperatures for fall planting wildflower seeds need to be below 45 degrees. The biggest mistake people make with fall planting in cooler climates is sowing seed too soon. It takes time for soil temperatures to drop, even after air temperatures cool – especially if you’ve had a warm summer. Soil cools down and warms up gradually, like a large body of water does. 
  • See A Soil Temperature Map Here.
map of the united states with warmer climates marked

Fall Planting Wildflower Seed In Warmer Climates

  • In warmer climates, sowing wildflowers in fall allows you to take advantage of your rainy season and the natural precipitation that winter often brings to the warmest zones. Your seeds will also germinate in optimal temperatures for growth. Young plants that avoid early stress will develop into strong adult plants that are more resilient to stressful weather events in the future. (Spring plantings can be challenging in warm climates, where spring and summer heat requires lots of watering and can cause stress to young seedlings.)
  • If you live in a warm winter climate, you may choose to winter sow your wildflowers. Even though the ground doesn't freeze and harden, you can still take advantage of the dormant season by sowing seeds in January or February. You can expect your seed to germinate 2-4 weeks after planting. This is a great way to take advantage of the natural precipitation that winter often brings to the warmest zones.
  • If you live in a warm climate that experiences frosts, you can plant perennial wildflowers about 60-90 days before the first frost arrives.This will give perennials an opportunity to establish root systems that will endure over winter. Consult our Frost Date Chart for frost dates in your area.

Have questions about getting the timing right? We're here to help! Contact Us.

preparation

2. Preparation Is The Key To Success

Better preparation = more wildflowers! Use a tractor or rototiller, hand tools, solarization/smothering, or organic herbicides to clear your soil of weeds, grasses, and other plants (roots and all), to make room for your wildflowers to grow and thrive.

A note for climates with winter freeze: You should plan on working the soil to remove other plant life before the ground freezes. Ideally, you’ll be sowing your wildflower seeds about 2-3 weeks after you’ve tilled the planting site, after a few hard frosts. This schedule means that the seed will just lay dormant (sleeping) through the winter season and begin to germinate once the ground warms next spring.

 

Why Is Soil Preparation Important?

  • Your seeds will germinate better in a site without competing plants shading them out and stealing resources like nutrients and water.
  • Grasses and weeds are vigorous growers that can out-compete wildflower seedlings, so removing them gives your wildflowers the best chance to thrive.
  • Soil that has been loosened makes root growth much easier for thriving plants.
  • Seeds need good contact with soil and plenty of sunlight to germinate and establish healthy roots.
  • Without the stress of competition early on, your young wildflowers will be better suited to compete with weeds and grasses that might try to grow back.

We don't recommend just throwing the seed out in the field or into grass; anyone who’s tried scattering seed without removing other plants has been sorely disappointed when their wildflowers don’t come up. 

 

Tips For Choosing A Site For Wildflowers

  • Your soil is probably already perfect for wildflowers. The test is simple: If anything is growing in the area — even if it's just grasses or weeds — the area should support wildflowers without concern.
  • Wildflowers do not need fertilizer to grow well. Wildflowers, as we see on every roadside, are extremely adaptable and do well in poor soils. 
  • Full sun is a must for most wildflower varieties. Choose a sunny spot that receives 6+ hours of sun. (For areas with 4+ hours of sun, our Partial Shade Wildflower Seed Mix is a great option.)
  • Good drainage is a requirement. Choose a place where water does not stand for longer than one hour after a rainfall. (For wet areas, try our Wet Area Wildflower Seed Mix.)
wildflower meadow before and after

Prepare Your Site: Better Soil Prep= More Flowers!


Shop Regional Wildflower Seed Mixes

All of the seed we carry at American Meadows is 100% pure, non-GMO, neonicotinoid-free, and guaranteed to grow.


Scatter Wildflower Seeds

3. Scatter Your Wildflower Seeds

 

  1. Separate your seed into roughly two equal parts. Put each half into a bucket, bowl, bin, or large bag with plenty of extra room.
  2. Mix sand & seeds. Add roughly eight parts dry sand to one part seed, and mix well. (For example: 8 cups sand to 1 cup seed.) Sand helps you spread seed more evenly, and since it is lighter than the soil, you'll be able to see where you've sown seeds. Always make sure that your sand is dry, especially if it has been stored outdoors. Wet sand has a tendency to clump and can cause your seed to be applied unevenly. If possible, starting with new sand helps prevent contamination.
  3. Test out your sowing technique. Your goal is to lay your seed down as evenly as possible, and you're likely to be surprised by how quickly it leaves your hand or the spreader. When using a seed spreader, always do a practice run first. This will help you get comfortable with sowing, by understanding how much seed comes out how fast.
  4. For even application, scatter your seeds in two sowings. Take the first half of your seeds and sow them as evenly as possible, while walking across your site from north to south. Then take the other half and apply in a similar manner, this time walking in the opposite direction.

How Much Seed Do I Need?

Be sure to use the right amount of seed as recommended for your mix or individual species - more seed does not always mean more blooms! While it may be very tempting to throw extra seed down, but this usually brings the opposite effect you were looking for. Seeds sown too densely can create competition among seedlings, causing them to become leggy or strangle one another out.

handful of seeds

compressing your wildflower seeds into the soil

4. Compress Seeds Into The Soil

After you’ve scattered your seed, it’s very important that you make certain the seed is making good contact with the soil.

  • For small-sized patches, you can use your feet to compress seeds into the soil, either barefoot or in shoes.
  • For medium-sized gardens and beds, lay a piece of cardboard or plywood over the soil and walk all over it; this will evenly distribute your weight across the soil.
  • For large, plantings, you can use a seed roller, either as a tractor attachment or as a walk-behind tool.

Why Is Compression Important?

  • Good seed-to-soil contact helps to speed up germination
  • It ensures that moisture and nutrients make their way to your seeds
  • It prevents wind, water, and natural occurrences from moving seeds around, and helps to anchor your wildflowers' root systems in a good spot

Your Planting Questions, Answered!

"Should Wildflower Seeds Be Left Covered Or Uncovered?"

No matter if you’re planting in spring or fall, there is generally no need to cover the seed. Wildflower seeds are often very tiny, and many require light to germinate. Unlike veggie seeds, which are typically planted in holes and buried within the soil, wildflower seeds are scattered on top of the soil and left exposed.

There are two exceptions to this rule – and in both cases, we recommend covering your seeds with straw (not soil):

  • Seeding a slope or steep bank, where rain can easily carry seeds downhill and reposition them or clump them all together.
  • Seeding an area exposed to strong winds, which can also move seeds around.

Learn how 2 homeowners successfully used wildflowers on a steep bank.

"Will Birds and Wildlife Eat My Wildflower Seeds?"

Notice that we didn’t mention covering your seed to protect against marauding birds and critters! In 35+ years of business, we’ve learned that this just isn’t as big a problem as one might think. Maybe that’s because our wildflower seed mixes average 250,000 seeds per pound!

Generally speaking, in cool climates, you’ll be seeding in fall after a few hard frosts. From there, snow and ice should make an appearance and protect your seeds from wildlife. Additionally, many of the seeds in our mixes just aren’t appealing to birds and animals, who are selective about the seeds they choose for food.

In warmer areas (or when sowing wildflowers in spring up north), your seeds will germinate and begin to grow within 2-3 weeks of being planted. This just doesn’t give local wildlife much time to make a big enough dent in your future wildflower patch.

If for some reason you know your area to be a true exception to this rule, with above-average wildlife pressure (barn full of crows next door?), feel free to place a thin layer of straw on top of your seeding as a safeguard.


Sprouts & Blooms

5. When to Look for Fall-Planted Wildflowers in the Spring

So, you’ve seeded your wildflowers in the fall and are anxiously awaiting their appearance. You will see wildflower sprouts after your soil has reached or surpassed 55F. Even though the air may be warm and balmy for weeks, you’ll need the soil to warm up enough for your seeds to sprout. You can check your current soil temperatures here.

When will they bloom?

Annual wildflowers bloom within 6-12 weeks. Most Perennial wildflowers require a full season of growth to establish root systems, before blooming in their second year, and returning in successive seasons. Biennial wildflowers typically bloom just in the second season.

 

Wildflowers vs. Weeds

Another question that arises when gardeners are looking at their planting site in spring, is: “Are those wildflowers or weeds?”. This is really tough, as many young seedlings are hard to identify. We have some advice for you:

  • Get a Wildflower Identification book. This should give you solid ID information on many of the wildflowers that you’ve planted.
  • Learn about your local weeds – and get to know them at every stage of growth. Most gardeners struggle with 5-10 aggressive weeds on their property. Getting to know what they look like as seedlings, teenagers and adult plants will make it easier to spot them within your plantings – so you can pull them without mercy whenever you see them!
  • Grow a wildflower 'cheat sheet'! Using an egg carton filled with soil or a tray with small planting cells, sow some seeds from your wildflower planting. As they grow, you'll have an example of exactly what to look for!
  • "Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience." Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best. We've talked a lot of customers out of ripping up their wildflowers after suspecting that their planting sites were filled with young weeds. When in doubt - do not pull your plants. If you give your seedlings some time to grow, you're likely to find that they were wildflowers all along!

Enjoying Your Wildflowers

After wildflowers are up and growing, many people mow a charming, curving path through their meadow area, so everything can be observed up close. Next, usually comes bird feeding stations, birdbaths, and perhaps a bench somewhere along the path to enjoy your wildflowers!

sprouting wildflowers
california poppy at four weeks of growth
sprouting flowers

Choosing the Best Wildflower Seed For Your Planting

With the correct timing, site prep, and planting instructions taken care of, we’re finally at the fun part – choosing your wildflower seed!

We carry the best selection of wildflower seed mixes and individual species for you to plant. Color, height, and bloom time will all help you to narrow things down; however, the most important point to consider is whether or not the flowers you choose will grow and thrive in your area.

We recommend shopping for wildflower seeds by region in order to have the most success with your planting. Simply find your state on our map, and make your selection based upon the recommendations for your area.

Popular Wildflower Seed Mixes and Regional Wildflower Mixes

One of the easiest ways to get gorgeous color from wildflowers that look great together is to plant a seed mix. This is a blend of seeds that an expert (like our very own Seed Man) has created, taking height, color, bloom time, and more into account so that the resulting meadow looks as pleasant as possible throughout the entire season.

What's the difference between a wildflower seed mix from an industry expert like American Meadows, compared to one that you find in a Big Box Store? Our mixes are made of 100% pure non-GMO seed, without any fillers. Many home improvement centers stock wildflower mixes that contain less than 20% seed. Additionally, we guarantee that all of our seeds and plants will grow in your garden.


Shop Our Most Popular Wildflower Seed Mixes


On our site, you’ll find wildflower mixes for planting in shadedry soildeer resistance, and even in single-color blends, such as blue and pink. You can also choose mixes made up entirely of annual wildflowers (for fast-color and single-season plantings) or perennial wildflowers (for blooms that reappear every year).

If you’re planting an area that will be seeded for the first time, we recommend browsing our proven regional mixtures. These are popular with fellow wildflower enthusiasts for a couple of reasons:

  • Regional Mixes provide the the best bang for your buck. Most contain over 25 different species and will introduce you to a large variety of wildflowers.
  • our proven regional mixtures. These are popular with fellow wildflower enthusiasts for a couple of reasons:

    • Regional Mixes are a nice mix of both annuals for first year color, and perennials for the second year and successive seasons. This means that they bloom within their first season, and will provide lasting color for years to come.
    • Regional Mixes are a great way to learn about the different life cycles of the wildflowers that you’re planting, especially if you’re new to wildflower gardening.

    Within our selection of Regional Mixes, you’ll find a few different options. In addition to our classic blend of annuals and perennials, we’ve also created wildflower seed mixes specific to your area that will attract your local pollinators, and that includes a variety of native seeds.

Planting Individual Wildflower Species

If you already have an established wildflower planting, you may be looking to supplement your meadow or patch with additional varieties. Planting individual species can help you bring in more color during a certain month, or can just be a fun way to add flowers that catch your eye to your landscape.

We offer over 225 individual species to choose from, including both annuals and perennials, and provide a wealth of information and planting instructions for each.

maintenance

Maintaining Your Wildflower Planting

In-Season Meadow Maintenance

During the growing season itself, your meadow will actually be quite self-sufficient (especially beginning in its second year). The work you do during this time can help to reduce the growth of aggressive weeds and can also encourage your flowers to bloom more frequently.

Controlling Weeds That Are Growing Among Your Wildflowers

Part of the attraction of wildflowers is their ease of care; however, when weeds begin to take over your planting (usually an outcome of skimping on-site prep work, or overseeding) it can be difficult to pull the weeds without damaging flower roots and disturbing the overall feel of your planting. The easiest way we've come up with to restore balance to your meadow is to cut your weeds with scissors. Just lean in and snip - as low down on the weed plant as you can. A few passes with your scissors every other week will greatly reduce the threat of weeds and put your wildflowers back on top as the dominant species in your meadow. This is especially effective in smaller spaces.

Adding More Wildflowers to an Existing Meadow in Fall

The easiest and most effective way to add more seed is to take a steel rake and rough up small areas, or "pockets," throughout the planting site. You can then sprinkle the seed directly over these roughed-up areas, giving it a quick compression with your foot to ensure good seed-to-soil contact.

A common mistake that people make, is that they’ll just take more seed and throw it out into an established area. This approach is somewhat doomed, as very few seeds will actually make it to an open area on the ground, and those that do will have a better chance if they’re pressed firmly into the soil.

Although you may be hesitant to remove or disturb any of your existing wildflowers, you will need to create some space for additional plants to take hold. In the end, this is the path to more vibrant color in your meadow!

end of season

End of Season Meadow Maintenance

A hard frost signals the end of the season for many flowers, but there is no one perfect time to mow your wildflower meadow. You can determine a mowing schedule that works for you.

Many gardeners will mow once a year. Wait until late fall, until all your flowers have ripened and dropped their seeds. Then with a weed trimmer or your mower set on a high setting, mow the whole area. (This can be accomplished with a mower, brush hog, or even a weed wacker. It can be cut to 3” or 8” and both accomplish the same end result.) Be sure to leave the clippings in place to break down and feed the soil. This way, it will be primed to come up green and new the following spring. If possible, in spring, rake the clippings and debris away then to open up the ground to some much-needed sunlight.

You may prefer to leave your meadow standing as important habitat for local wildlife and pollinators. In this case, you can adopt a looser mowing schedule. Some mow every other year, alternating which half of the meadow they leave standing as undisturbed habitat. Others mow 1/3 of their meadows every third year so that each section is only trimmed back every nine years.

Still have questions?

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