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How to Plant Wildflowers
Step by step instructions on how to plant your wildflower seeds.
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WILLISTON, Vt. At a time when homeowners across the country are looking for economical and eco-friendly alternatives to lawn, many are discovering the beauty and ease of wildflowers.
A big lawn isn't just a hassle to maintain, it's expensive, too. Mowing, fertilizing, weeding and watering all take time and money. And lawns aren't very friendly to the environment, either. Mowing burns gasoline and spews fumes; pesticide and fertilizer runoff pollutes waterways, and frequent watering consumes a huge amount of this precious resource. A wildflower meadow, on the other hand, needs no fertilizing, little or no supplemental water and just a once-a-year mowing. Replacing some or all of your lawn with a wildflower meadow just makes sense.
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Establishing a wildflower meadow isn't difficult. It does, however, take some planning and preparation. Here are guidelines for getting your planting off to a strong start.
If you're considering one of those inexpensive prepackaged mixes, read the label first. Many contain just a small percentage of wildflower seeds, sometimes as little as 1% (the remaining 99% is filler). "I've heard so many stories of home gardeners who've given up trying to grow wildflowers because their "meadows in a can" seeds failed to grow," says Mike Lizotte, wildflower specialist at American Meadows (www.americanmeadows.com). "We sell 100% seed, with no fillers." Lizotte has been helping people nationwide create beautiful meadows for almost 20 years, from individual homeowners to state highway crews. He offers the following tips for growing wildflowers.
Selecting the planting site
Most wildflowers like full sun and well-drained soil. Avoid areas where water puddles after a rain. If you're converting some of your lawn to wildflowers, consider the areas that are difficult to mow, such as hillsides.
Choosing a seed mix
Go with a regional wildflower mix or a mix targeted to your particular growing conditions and needs. "Based on our decades of experience with gardeners across the country, we've developed sixteen regional wildflower seed mixes; we also have specialty mixes, like our Deer-Resistant Mix and our Butterfly and Hummingbird Mix," says Lizotte.
Preparing the planting area
Whether you're planting five acres or five square feet, the better you prepare the area, the better your results will be. Start by removing existing vegetation. If the area is in lawn, strip the sod by hand or with a rented machine. Or, you can apply an herbicide to kill grass and other plants. It's important to remove or kill plants that would otherwise compete with the germinating wildflower seeds for light, water and nutrients. Once you've taken care of the vegetation, loosen the top few inches of soil with a tiller or by hand to create an inviting place for wildflower seeds to germinate. Then rake the area flat in preparation for sowing.
Sowing the seed
Choose a windless day, and start by dividing the seed in half. Put the first half in a clean container and then add in about ten parts builder's sand to one part seed. This makes it easier to spread the seed evenly, and because the sand is lighter in color than the soil it helps you see where you've sown. Scatter the first half of the seed by the handful or use a hand-crank seeder for large areas. Walk back and forth in roughly parallel rows, doing your best to portion this half of the seed evenly over the whole planting area. Then mix the other half of the seed with sand and sow the same way, over the whole area, in rows perpendicular to the first sowing. This helps avoid bare spots.
Many types of wildflower seed require light to germinate, so don't rake over the area or bury the seed. Instead, simply compress the seed onto the soil surface; this seed-to-soil contact helps germination. If your planting is small, simply walk back and forth over the whole area, being careful to leave the area solid with footprints. For large areas, consider renting a lawn roller (a large drum you fill with water and roll back and forth). If rain isn't in the forecast, water the area to help settle the soil, using a gentle shower to avoid washing away the seed.
While certain wildflower species germinate in as little as eight days, others may take much longer. Keep the planting area moist until the seedlings get established, which usually takes four to six weeks. After that, the plants shouldn't need watering unless you experience a prolonged drought.
Now sit back and wait. You'll soon have a colorful meadow with plenty of blooms for bouquets — and you can’t do that with lawn grass!
One of the first gardening companies to realize the potential the Internet, American Meadows has been selling online since 1999 and has become one of the most trusted and respected online retailers of garden-related products. AmericanMeadows.com carries more than 1000 different products, including wildflower seeds, perennial plants, and bulbs, along with a wealth of gardening how-to information.
If you are interested in additional information, please email Mike Lizotte at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him toll-free at (877) 309-7333 ext. 12