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How to Plant Wildflowers
Step by step instructions on how to plant your wildflower seeds.
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1. Identify the correct planting time for your geographic area (Cool climates should plant just after hard frosts, Warm climates should plant just before rainy season).
2. Prep your soil by removing all existing growth and debris, 2-3 weeks before planting time.
3. Scatter your seeds according to the directions on your packaging.
4. Compress the seeds into the soil by using a seed roller, or by walking directly on top of the planting area. Never bury or cover wildflower seeds with soil!
5. Wait for growth & blooms to appear in late spring or early summer. Sit back, grab your favorite beverage, and enjoy your wildflowers!
Fall is a perfect time for sowing wildflower seeds, no matter where you live. This schedule is the most successful because it follows the same approach that Mother Nature follows; 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.
The very first step to fall planting wildflower seeds, is to identify the correct time to plant in your geographic area.
If you live in an area that experiences cold snowy winters, and the ground freezes for more than 60 days, fall seeding is a great plan. Because of your shorter growing season, you’ll get a “jump start” on the following season and should see color 2-4 weeks sooner than a more traditional spring planting.
The most important step when sowing seed for fall planting, is to be sure that it’s truly cold enough.
You must make certain that the ground temperatures have cooled enough so that when you finally sow, there is no chance of the seed germinating. 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, the ground temperatures for fall planting wildflower seeds need to be below 45 degrees.
Keep in mind that it will take some time for this temperature drop to occur, especially if you’ve had a warm summer. Think of the soil in your garden cooling down and warming up just like a large body of water does. It’s a gradual change that takes time, regardless of drastic changes in air temperature.
Experience tells us that the first hot day we get in spring doesn’t mean we should go jump in our pool or nearby lake; the water temperatures haven’t yet had time to warm up and are still way too cold for swimming!
So, remember that the mild days of summer should be long gone before you sow your wildflower seeds, as the ground will take weeks to cool to below 45 degrees. The biggest mistake people make with fall planting in cooler climates is sowing their seed too soon.
In warmer climates, sowing wildflowers in fall allows you to take advantage of the ‘Rainy Season’. Putting Mother Nature in charge of watering your seeds means one less thing that you’ll need to worry about!
Another advantage to fall planting in the south is that your seed will germinate during the most optimal temperatures.
Spring plantings can be challenging in areas that experience very warm spring and early summer temperatures, which can sometimes be too hot and cause stress to young, tender seedlings. Young plants that avoid early stress will develop into strong adult plants that are more resilient to stressful weather events in the future.
If you live in a warm climate that still experiences frosts, you'll want to time your planting to be about 60-90 days before the first frost arrives.
This will allow perennial wildflowers an opportunity to grow strong enough and establish root systems that will endure.
If you live in an even-warmer 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 pop up (germinate) in 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.
In his two-part video, our very own Seed Man gives complete how-to instructions on how to install your own wildflower meadow. Watch for tips on choosing the right seed, preparing the land, sowing the seed and taking care of your planting as it grows and matures.
Whether you’re sowing your seeds in the fall or spring, site preparation is the key. How much effort you put into site prep will determine the success or failure of your wildflower planting.
Preparing the planting area is a task that many people tend to overlook or cut short. Maybe it’s the thought of having to fire up the roto-tiller or work the ground with a spade for a few hours that doesn’t appeal to most folks, but trust us, it’s the most critical step for success.
No matter if you’re sowing 5 acres or 5 square feet, the more time you spend prepping the area before seeding, the better results you’ll have.
While we wish we could tell people to "just throw the seed out in the field,” we know that to be terrible advice. Anyone who’s ever tried scattering seed without removing other plants has been sorely disappointed when their wildflowers don’t come up.
You’ll need to get rid of weeds, grasses, and other plants (roots and all) to make plenty of room for your wildflowers to grow and thrive. There’s a set amount of water, nutrients, and sunlight available in every planting space and it’s your job to remove any plants that will compete with your wildflowers before sowing your seeds.
What could be a thick, lush planting of wildflowers will struggle to grow if it’s left to compete with existing root structures in the soil. The better you prep the area, the more easily two very important things will happen:
So, take your time and be thorough. After your hard work is over, you'll get years of low-maintenance enjoyment from your planting!
If you’re working with a large area, you may find it easiest to use a roto-tiller to prep your soil, about 2-3 weeks before the ground freezes and/or you plan to plant. If this is the path you take, you’ll want to pay special attention to how deeply you set the tiller.
We recommend going no deeper than 2-3” into the soil, as you’ll otherwise run the risk of bringing deeply-buried weed seeds up to the top, where they may find everything they need to germinate and establish themselves. No thank you!
In fact, a very thorough approach for someone who’s tilling, is to plan to take 2-3 passes over the soil, all spaced a few weeks apart. The first tilling can be done at a depth of 4-6”, with each consecutive tilling being done an a shallower depth. This allows you to intentionally bring weed seeds up, have them germinate, and then kill them off in your next tilling.
Your first two passes will be aimed at cleaning weeds out of the soil, while the final pass is meant to correctly prep the soil for your upcoming planting.
Both of these methods are aimed at killing weeds by laying materials over your planting site.
Solarizing Weeds: lay clear plastic, like a painting drop cloth, over your soil. The sun will shine down on the plastic, trapping an excessive amount of heat and moisture underneath, which will kill any existing plant life. An added benefit of solarization is that some weed seeds may be encouraged to germinate in the sunlight before the heat kills them off.
Smothering Weeds: (also called 'occultation') lay a heavy tarp, blanket or sheets over the planting site for 4-6 weeks. This cuts plant life off from available sunlight and also introduces a whole lot of warmth. Weed seeds that germinate in darkness will sprout under the heavy fabric, but will then die off from lack of sunlight.
An added benefit of smothering is that it creates the perfect environment for earth worms and other soil life to eat the decaying plant growth and loosen up the soil.
Smaller spaces are great candidates for working the soil with tools. Long-handled rakes, hoes, and cultivators can all make quick work of weeds and will rough up the soil enough to spread your seed.
Smaller hand tools, such as trowels, mattocks and other hand-weeders can be useful for digging down and removing entire root systems and long tap roots – like those found on dandelions.
Those who are really struggling to remove tough weeds may choose to turn to chemical applications. Organic (non-synthetic) herbicides are available at most hardware stores and garden centers. When working with any weed killer, gardeners should be aware that they are ‘non-selective’ which means that they will harm any broadleaf plant or tree that they make contact with. To prevent damaging the plants you’ve chosen for your landscape, apply herbicides carefully on wind-free days.
For fall seeding, timing is the key. You should plan on working the soil to remove other plant life before the ground freezes, even though you’re not actually going to seed until after the soil temperatures have dropped significantly. Ideally, you’ll be sowing your wildflower seeds about 2-3 weeks after you’ve tilled the planting site.
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.
After timing, the most important consideration when seeding your site is to know and follow the application rate – meaning how much seed, by weight, should be placed over a square foot of soil.
While it may be very tempting to throw some extra seed down, this usually brings the opposite effect you were looking for. Instead of more blooms and more color, you’ll actually be packing young seedlings in so tight together, that they strangle one another out – leaving you with fewer flowers overall.
Additionally, those flowers that survive often become tall and spindly from struggling to reach for the sun through a thick patch of neighboring plants. Tall and spindly flowers have a hard time making it through the season, as their stems are often too fragile to withstand wind and rain.
Application rates are listed on seed packaging, as well as on our website.
As soon as you’ve given your soil a final ‘roughing up’, it’s time to plant. Your goal is to scatter the seed evenly over the entire planting area. To make this as easy as possible, many people will use a plastic hand-crank seed spreader, which is commonly used for sowing grass seed.
Another option is to divide your seed into two equal parts. You’ll then toss one portion of the seed over your planting area while walking back and forth in a north-to-south direction. Next, take the remaining portion, and sow those seeds while walking in an east-to-west direction.
When scattering wildflowers by hand, it’s really helpful to add dry ‘play sand’ or ‘sandbox sand’ to your seeds first. Other sands can absorb moisture and become wet, forming clumps with your seed and making it difficult to spread. The light color of the sand will allow you to see exactly where your seed has landed, which will alert you to bare spots and areas of uneven application.
Sandbox sand should be added to your seed as 8 parts sand:1 part seed.
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):
Learn how 2 homeowners successfully used wildflowers on a steep bank.
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.
After you’ve scattered your seed (and before covering it with straw, as is rarely recommended) it’s very important that you make certain the seed is making good contact with the soil.
This helps to ensure that moisture and nutrients make their way to your seeds before they germinate, and also helps to anchor your wildflowers’ future root systems into a good spot. Otherwise, wind, water, and natural occurrences can move seeds around.
You have some choices with regards to how you press your seeds into the soil:
So, you’ve seeded your wildflowers in the fall and are anxiously awaiting their appearance in spring. The most important thing to remember here is that germination can’t occur under 55 degrees F soil temperatures. 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.
Unless you’ve reached or surpassed 55 degrees F, you won’t be seeing wildflower sprouts.
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. Our best advice is twofold:
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.
One of the easiest ways to get gorgeous color from wildflowers that look great together, is to seed a ‘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.
Never confuse a mix from an industry expert like American Meadows with one that you find in a Big Box Store! Our mixes are made of 100% pure non-gmo seed, without any fillers. Additionally, we guarantee that all of our seeds and plants will grow in your garden.
On our site, you’ll find wildflower mixes for planting in shade, dry soil, deer 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:
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 include a variety of native seeds.
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.
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!
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