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Native Wildflowers: They’re beautiful. They’re cost-effective. They’re pollinator magnets.

How To Grow Native Wildflowers From Seed

By Marianne Willburn, gardening expert, landscape designer, and writer

They’re beautiful, they’re pollinator magnets, and they’re matched to your climate. Native wildflowers are versatile enough to bring the best of your region to garden beds, sunny meadows, difficult hell-strips or simple patio containers – and they’ll do so with exuberance and grace.

It's hard to believe there’s no magic involved when you grow native wildflowers from seed in your own garden, particularly when you use seeds specifically chosen for your region. Starting from seed is also a very cost-effective way to fill a garden or meadow with beautiful plants. All it takes is good seed, the right conditions and a willingness within the gardener to let nature take its course!

Why Grow Native Wildflowers From Seed?

All over the nation, gardeners are considering meadow garden projects, and it’s more than just turning off the mower and seeing what happens. Native wildflower seed can take that unmown lawn and turn it into a natural work of art. It can turn a window box outside a sunny city window into a little glimpse of the natural world.

You don’t have to start seeding a one-acre meadow to benefit from the beauty of native wildflowers, you can start just as small as you wish. The benefits of growing native wildflowers from seed are many, and sowing them in the autumn means you’ll be helped out by the conditions that make your climate and those seeds unique.

Let’s look at a few reasons to get sowing this fall:

Perfect Adaptation: Native wildflowers are suited to the soils of your region and its typical weather patterns.

Pollinator Paradise: Native plants and wildlife have developed special relationships over time. Plants provide food and habitat, while pollinators help wildflowers reproduce. It’s wonderful to see them working together in your garden.

Less Maintenance: When it comes to seeds, there’s no transplanting or hardening off required. Simply prepare the seed bed, water, and watch for signs of germination.

Regional Beauty: Create a sense of place in your garden or meadow. What better way to show off the plants that make your region unique than by showing off native wildflowers? 

How Do I Grow Native Wildflowers From Seed?

Here is step-by-step information to help you to prepare for success, dig in, and grow wildflowers successfully. When you receive your seeds, read the enclosed instructions immediately so you don’t miss out on something – just as if you were cooking a new recipe. Here are some things to look for as you read:

Placement in your garden: What type of seed bed will your native wildflowers need? Fine? Rough? Rocky? Are they better in sun or shade, or fine in both? Find the best spot to plant in your landscape.

Will they need stratification? Stratification is a long word to describe the need of some seeds to go through a prescribed length of cold temperatures, often in a moist growing media or soil, in order to break internal dormancy and germinate. When you plant in fall, cold stratification will happen naturally. If planting in the spring, many native wildflowers will require this treatment which it can be approximated at home through refrigeration.

Will they need scarification? Scarification refers to the process of nicking or softening the seed coat to promote germination. Seeds cannot germinate unless moisture can get through that seed coat, and some seeds, such as lupine or morning glory, are designed to be able to last for years outside - it’s a progeny insurance policy for plants! Eventually naturally sown seed will be scarified by outside forces, but if you want your seeds to germinate next spring, you may need to help out a little by nicking them with a knife, soaking them for up to 48 hours in warm water, or rubbing them between two sheets of coarse sandpaper before you sow them.

How To Grow Native Wildflowers From Seed

  1. If required, scarify and soak your wildflower seeds.
  2. Prepare your seed bed according to the package instructions and your conditions.
  3. If seed is very small, mix with a light colored sand so seeds are evenly mixed and you can see where you have sown them.
  4. Most wildflowers need no more than a light raking in. To allow sunlight to reach them, do not cover the seeds. Follow specific planting instructions on your package.
  5. Tamp the soil down with your feet, tamper, or A roller to ensure the seeds make good soil-to-seed contact.
  6. Lightly water. Be careful not to not wash out your seeds!
  7. Keep your seed bed evenly moist. Most of the time, native wildflowers will get the moisture they need through spring or fall rains, but it is wise to keep an eye on the soil and water when soil is dry.
  8. Keep moist until seedlings are established and about 4-6 inches tall, which takes about 4-8 weeks.

Native Wildflowers For Your Region

Whether your summers are dry and hot or wet and humid, American Meadows has native wildflower perennial and annual mixes that will enhance your garden and reflect the beauty of your region. For those who wish to plant individual species – we’ve got those too! Regional recommendations follow. Discover the perfect mix of native wildflowers for your region with our Native Regional Wildflower Seed Mixes.

Native Northeast Widflowers 

Warm to very hot summers lead into cold winters. Rainfall is fairly steady throughout the growing season and humidity in southern part of region is an added challenge. Snow levels are sporadic in the south but heavy in the north and soil is deeply frozen throughout the winter. Includes CT, DE, ME, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT and WV. Canada: QC, NL, PEI, NB, NS. Native wildflowers include Eastern Red Columbine, Swamp Milkweed, Butterfly Weed, New England Aster, Partridge Pea, Lanceleaf Coreopsis, Joe Pye Weed, Indian Blanket, Ox-eye Sunflower, Blazing Star, Wild Lupine, Wild Bergamot, Evening Primrose, Black Eyed Susan, Sweet Coneflower, Brown-Eyed Susan, Rigid Goldenrod.

Native Midwest Wildflowers

Extremes dominate in the Midwest, with high and low temperatures and periods of low or very high rainfall contributing to drought or flooding. Soil is deeply frozen over winter and snow is usually heavy. Includes: IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, MI, MN, MO, NE, OH and WI. Canada: ON. Native wildflowers include Red Columbine, Butterfly Weed, New England Aster, Prairie Aster, Lanceleaf Coreopsis, Plains Coreopsis, Pale Coneflower, Purple Coneflower, Rattlesnake Master, Blanket Flower, Indian Blanket, Ox-eye Sunflower, Standing Cypress, Blazing Star, Wild Lupine, Lemon Mint, Evening Primrose, Purple Prairie Clover, Yellow Prairie Coneflower, Grey-Headed Coneflower, Clasping Coneflower, Black-Eyed Susan, Brown-Eyed Susan.

Native Western Wildflowers

Drier conditions and hot days predominate. Precipitation comes during the fall and winter months and summers are dry. Mild winters with snow at upper elevations, sometimes heavy. Includes: CO, ID, MT, NV, ND, Eastern OR, SD, UT, Eastern WA and WY. Canada: MB, SK and AB. Native wildflowers include Blue Columbine, Smooth Aster, Prairie Aster, Deerhorn Clarkia, Rocky Mountain Bee Plant, Plains Coreopsis, Fleabane Daisy, Blanket Flower, Indian Blanket, Globe Gilia, Blue Flax, White Evening Primrose, Rocky Mountain Penstemon, Purple Prairie Clover, Mexican Hat, Black-Eyed Susan, Showy Goldeneye.

Native Pacific Northwest Wildflowers

The temperate maritime climate means plants face a moisture-rich environment all season and are easily germinated. Winters are fairly mild and snowfall is light. Includes: Northern CA, Western OR and Western WA. Canada: BC. Native wildflowers include Godetia, Farewell-to-Spring, Chinese Houses, Plains Coreopsis, California Poppy, Globe Gilia, Bird’s Eyes, Tidy Tips, Mountain Phlox, Blue Flax, Sickle-keeled Lupine, Russell Lupine, Blazing Star, Five Spot, Baby Blue Eyes, Evening Primrose, California Bluebell.

Native Southwest Wildflowers

Usually the driest and hottest region of the United States, with small amounts of rainfall coming during the fall and winter seasons. Generally mild winters with snow at upper elevations, sometimes heavy. Includes: AZ, Southern CA, NM, Southern NV, OK and Western TX. Native wildflowers include Prairie Aster, Desert Marigold, Farewell-To-Spring, Plains Coreopsis, California Poppy, Mexican Gold Poppy, Indian Blanket, Bird’s Eyes, Blue Flax, Tidy Tips, Arizona Lupine, Arroyo Lupine, Blazing Star, Five Spot, White Evening Primrose, Showy Pink Evening Primrose, California Bluebell, Mexican Hat.

Native Southeast Wildflowers

The wettest region of the United States, it is also the most humid. Temperatures are very mild during the winter, and seeds or plants needing any type of winter stratification or vernalization are not recommended unless grown as annuals. Includes: AL, AR, DC, FL, GA, LA, MS, NC, SC, TN, Eastern TX and VA. Native wildflowers include Butterfly Weed, Partridge Pea, Lanceleaf Coreopsis, Plains Coreopsis, Purple Coneflower, Rattlesnake Master, Indian Blanket, Standing Cypress, Blazing Star, Wild Lupine, Lemon Mint, Drummond Phlox, Mexican Hat, Clasping Coneflower, Black-eyed Susan, Scarlet Sage, Spiderwort.

Additional Considerations For Growing Native Wildflowers From Seed

  • Breaking Dormancy: Despite your best efforts, some seeds may not break dormancy and germinate the first year, but will the next year or in years thereafter. Don’t give up! Some seeds may not have been adequately stratified or scarified, or were accidentally buried too deeply or too shallowly. Mother Nature often sorts it out.
  • Pests: If you are seeing a very low germination rate, you may have experienced a loss of seed due to birds or pests. Consider a second sowing and make sure you create good soil seed contact with a tamper, roller or your feet.
  • Timing: Timing is critical, especially for spring-planted wildflower seeds that germinate very early and would otherwise have spent the winter outside. Some of these (such as larkspur or poppies) will germinate before traditional signs of spring appear and are best planted in fall or in the late winter.
  • Weed Competition: Make sure to keep weeding out the seedlings you recognize as weeds to give your wildflowers the best start. Don’t recognize your native wildflower seedlings? Grow a wildflower cheat sheet!

Grow A Wildflower Cheat Sheet

Afraid you might ‘weed-out’ your emerging wildflowers? Consider planting a few seeds of each of your wildflower choices in an egg carton on an inside windowsill so that you can recognize what is coming up in your garden. Take a picture for your reference when you forget.

Some gardeners do this with any unfamiliar seed they are currently planting. It allows them to quickly recognize seedlings coming up in odd places. Weeds are clever, so you have to be more clever!

Planting A Wildflower Meadow

If you’re seeding a meadow, preparation is the key to succes. There’s more involved than just throwing seeds into established turf. Follow our recommendations for creating a meadow: Learn More: How To Plant Wildflowers

Watch: Videos on Individual Wildflower Seeds

Watch: Videos on Wildflower Mixtures

About the Author: Marianne Willburn is a columnist, blogger and author of the new book "Big Dreams, Small Garden: Creating Something Extraordinary in Your Ordinary Space." Originally from California, she now gardens in Virginia – read more at www.mariannewillburn.com/.