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Our Complete Guide To Growing Wildflowers

identify geographic area

1. Identify The Correct Time For Planting Wildflowers In Your Area. Consider the factors for planting in a cool area or in a warm area.

remove old growth

2. Choose A Site & Prepare Your Soil. Choose a site with a minimum of 6 hours of sun. Prepare your soil by removing all existing growth and debris. Better soil prep = more flowers!

spread wildflower seeds

3. Scatter Your Seeds. Follow the coverage rate and directions on your packaging. For the best results, check your soil temperature and weather - if possible, let Mother Nature water your seeds!

compress wildflower seeds into soil

4. Compress Seeds Into The Soil. This encourages good seed to soil contact. Do not bury or cover wildflower seeds!

wildflower growth

5. Water Your Wildflower Planting. Water so that the soil is moist, not soaking wet, until the seedlings are about 4-6" tall.

wildflower growth

6. Watch Growth & Blooms Appear. Sprouts will start in late spring or early summer. Sit back, grab your favorite beverage, and enjoy your wildflowers!


identify the correct wildflower planting time

1. Identify The Correct Time For Planting Wildflowers In Your Area

Seeds will germinate when your average soil temperature is 55°F or warmer. In spring, air temperatures often warm up before soil temperatures do. One of the most common mistakes people make is to sow seeds when the air is warm but the soil is still too cool - and in this case, seeds will lay dormant until the soil is warm enough for germination. Check your current soil temperatures here.

cold climate wildflowers

Spring Planting Wildflowers in Colder Climates

  • When planting seeds in cold climates that experience snowfall and freezing temperatures, you must wait until after all threat of frost has passed.
  • Even after warm weather arrives in spring, there is still a lingering danger of late spring frosts that can kill off freshly-sprouted seeds and young plants. The greatest threat to spring-planted wildflowers in cold climates is late spring frosts that can kill tender young seedlings.
  • To avoid the risk of a cold snap, plant after the last spring frost date chart for your area.
  • Even after the risk of frosts has passed for the season, it's best to wait for the soil and air to warm up enough to provide favorable conditions for your plants to grow. For fast growth and strong, healthy plants, plant when your soil temperature reaches a minimum of 55°F, or as a rule of thumb, about the time that tomato plants are put outside.

warm climate wildflowers

Spring Planting Wildflowers in Warmer Climates

  • When planting seeds in warmer climates with intense summertime heat, it's best to plant your wildflowers in early spring. Seeds will germinate as soon as your soil temperatures reach 55°F. This will allow young perennial wildflowers to establish without excessive heat, making for stronger and longer-lived plants, and give annual wildflowers time to bloom before intense heat arrives.
  • In warm, dry areas, as the weather heats up, it can help to plan your planting around rain in the forecast.
  • If spring temperatures warm up early, or if you're planting in late spring, regular watering will be very important for establishing your wildflowers. For gardeners living in these climates, choosing native wildflowers and/or drought-tolerant wildflowers for best results.
  • If it's too hot where you live, or if you don't have access to water, you can safely store your seeds in an airtight container and plant in fall.

fall wildflower soil 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.

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. 

For details, see our helpful guide: 4 Ways To Prepare Your Site For Planting Wildflowers

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.)

Prepare Your Site: Better Soil Prep = More Flowers!

Preparing the planting area is a task that you do not want to overlook. 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.

Clear weeds, grasses, and other plants (roots and all) to make room for your wildflowers to grow and thrive. There’s a set amount of water, nutrients, and sunlight available in every planting space. By leaving other plants in place before sowing your seeds, you'll risk creating a competitive environment where your wildflowers will be stressed as they fight for resources. Crowding and competition can cause leggy growth (extra-long, floppy stems) and weak plants, which jeopardizes the lifelong health of your planting. We don't recommend just throwing the seed out in the field; anyone who’s tried scattering seed without removing other plants has been sorely disappointed when their wildflowers don’t come up.

before and after wildflowers lawn

The better you prep the area, the more easily two very important things will happen:

  • Your seeds will germinate quicker and stronger without competing plants shading them out and ‘stealing’ available food and water.
  • 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.

Seed Man's Planting Tip: Take your time and be thorough. After your hard work is over, you'll get years of low-maintenance enjoyment from your planting!

4 Ways To Clear The Ground Before Planting Wildflowers

While you have a few choices to consider for how to clear your soil, there are two factors that will help you to decide which one is the best for you: size and lead time.

Size: Large spaces are more easily prepared with equipment like rototillers or tractors, whereas hand hand tools will be just fine for prepping small gardens and containers.

Lead Time: With a few weeks, months, or even an entire season ahead of your planting date, you may be able to prep your soil using labor-saving, cost-effective, and eco-friendly methods. Here are some soil prep approaches that work with different schedules:

  • Planting Immediately: If you're looking to sow your wildflower seeds within a week's time, we recommend rototilling or using hand tools to remove plant growth and existing roots. Some people rent or borrow equipment if they don't own it, while others are happy to prep their soil by hand to keep their planting budget-friendly.
  • Planting in 3 months: If you have a few months ahead of you, you can make use of natural herbicides and weed killers. This approach reduces physical labor, and also allows time for the chemicals to dissipate before they can do any harm to your wildflower planting. This time frame also allows you to work the soil with a tiller or hand tools muliple times, and for weed seeds to be repeatedly brought to the top of the soil and killed off, diminishing their overall appearance in your meadow.
  • Planting in 6+ months: With a good amount of time to spare, you have the option of solarization or smothering to kill off weeds and grass. This technique is very effective, does not require much physical effort, and costs very little.

how to rototill wildflower meadow

Rototilling

For larger areas, a rototiller can be used to break up the ground and soften the soil. These are often very affordable to rent if you don't own one. It's important to "till" only as deep as necessary to remove old roots. 4 to 6 inches deep should do the trick.

The deeper you till, the more dormant weed seeds you'll turn up near the surface where they can sprout along with your wildflowers. If your area has been an old field that has grown and seeded itself for years, expect plenty of weed seeds in the soil. If you're tilling a lawn that's been mowed for years, chances are your weed seed count will be low.

Careful rototilling works well for three reasons: It opens the soil and allows a "soft" space for emerging flower plants; It creates a good seedbed for germination and promotes good "seed-to-soil" contact; and, it removes almost all the existing grasses and weeds which would otherwise compete with your seedlings.

A very thorough approach for tilling is to plan to take 2-3 passes over the soil, 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.

how to solarize weeds before planting

Solarization and Smothering

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.

how to remove weeds with hand tools

Hand Tools

For a small area, the project is the same as preparing for a new vegetable garden, and a shovel or spade and rake is usually all that's needed.

Simply dig out everything that's growing there, turn the soil, and rake the area flat and free from rocks and roots. A few rocks and some uneven spots won't bother a wildflower planting.

Old grass roots are especially important — be sure to remove them or they'll grow back along with your new wildflower plants. If neccessary, use a pick axe, or the smaller, handheld version called a mattock, or even a sharp spade.

herbicides remove weeds wildflowers

Natural Herbicides

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, be aware that they are non-selective, which means that they will harm any broadleaf plant or tree that they make contact with, inlcuding wildflowers. To prevent damaging the plants you’ve chosen for your landscape, apply herbicides carefully on wind-free days.

If you'd like to remove grasses from your planting, and you'd like to use a natural herbicide spray, be sure to choose one that is intended to control 'monocots', or single-blade plants. Herbicides intended to kill 'dicots' (also called broadleaf plants) will likely kill off part of your intended planting.


when to expect wildflower sprouts

3. Scatter Your Seeds

Once your site is prepared, choose a nearly windless day for planting. High winds and driving rains should be avoided (they can easily wash your planting away), but regular rainy days are a perfect way to water without needing to reach for the hose.

Seed Man's Planting Tip: If possible, watch the weather and time your planting around rainy days. Let Mother Nature water your 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.

Our guide shows how to calculate square footage in 3 easy steps: How Much Seed Do I Need? 

Wildflower Seeds ApplicationWildflower Seeds Application

compress seed into soil wildflowers

4. Compress Seeds Into The Soil

After you’ve scattered your seed, it’s very important to compress your seeds to make 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
You can use your feet to compress seeds into the soil.
You can use a seed roller by hand to compress seeds into the soil.
For large meadows, you can use a roller behind a tractor or farm vehicle to compress seeds into the soil.

Leave Seeds Uncovered

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: First, if you are seeding a slope or steep bank, where rain can easily carry seeds downhill and reposition them or clump them all together, it may help to cover them with straw. Second, if you are seeding an area exposed to strong winds, which can also move seeds around, covering with straw can help keep them in place.

Learn More: How To Plant Wildflowers On A Steep Bank

Q&A: Will Birds And Wildlife Eat My Wildflower Seeds?

We don't recommend covering seeds to protect against birds and critters. In 35+ years of business, we've learned that wildlife doesn't have a significant impact on eating seeds - probably because our wildflower seed mixes average 250,000 seeds per pound! Seeds planted in spring typically germinate and begin to grow within 2-3 weeks of being planted, which also doesn't give birds much time to make a dent in your seeds. If you know your area to be a true exception to this rule with above-average wildlife pressure, feel free to place a thin layer of straw on top of your seeding as a safeguard.

If you have lots of deer or rabbits in your area, it is important to protect young seedlings from becoming a snack. Even deer-resistant wildflowers need time to grow to establish their critter-repellent properties, which may include fragrance, oils, or bitter sap. See our guide: 5 Strategies For Preventing Deer Damage

 


watering wildflower seedlings

5. Water Your Wildflower Planting

After you've planted, if possible, give your seeds a thorough, gentle soaking.

Soil, wildflower seeds, and seedlings must stay hydrated until they are 4 - 6 inches tall, which typically takes 4 - 6 weeks.

If you're lucky, Mother Nature will step in and provide your plants with some rain, or at least keep the weather nice and mild so that the sun doesn't evaporate all of the moisture from the soil. If you have hot, sunny, and/or dry weather, you'll need to water your planting. Be sure to give a thorough watering in the morning before a hot day, and also give a thorough watering the next morning. For the best results, young seedlings will need your attention and regular watering.

Seed Man's Planting Tip: A sprinkler attached to a timer is an easy and affordable way to water your planting without disrupting your regular schedule.

Why Is Watering Important?

  • Watering your planting is essential for the best results! Since wildflower seeds are not buried beneath wet soil, they have constant exposure to the sun, so they'll need your help staying hydrated in order to germinate.
  • Until they are 4 to 6 inches high, they are still unable to access enough groundwater through their roots to grow strong and healthy all on their own.
  • Wildflowers can still be planted in areas where the hose doesn't reach. We've all seen gorgeous large-scale meadows after all! To accomplish this feat, you can time your planting with rain in the forecast, or plant seeds in fall when you can take advantage of winter precipitation.

when to expect wildflower sprouts

6. Watch Growth & Blooms Appear

Now the fun part begins! Within 1-3 weeks, depending upon the varieties you've planted and your growing conditions, you'll begin to see growth appear.

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. Learn more in our guide: The Importance of Annual and Perennial Wildflowers

Remember: germination can’t occur when your soil temperature is below 55°FCheck your current soil temperatures here.

Wildflowers vs. Weeds

A question that arises often when gardeners are looking at their planting site in spring: “Are those wildflowers or weeds?” Many young seedlings are hard to identify. We have some advice:

  • Grow a wildflower cheat sheet! Plant some of the individual seeds from your mix, label them, and see how their foliage develops.
  • Get a wildflower identification book or use a plant identification app. This should give you information on many of the wildflowers that you’ve planted.
  • Learn about your local weeds – 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, adolescent, and adult plants will make it easier to spot them within your plantings – so you can pull them without mercy whenever you see them!
  • "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!

wildflower seedlings

california poppies planted in fall

milkweed seedling


Ready To Dig In? Shop Regional Wildflower Seed Mixes


Wildflowers To The Rescue!

Whether you're seeding a small space garden, filling in a side yard, or planting across acres of land, wildflowers are an easy-to-grow solution. Because they're easy to care for, wildflowers can be helpful problem-solving plants. Want to grow a big flower garden, without planting and tending to dozens of plants? Need to spruce up your yard and add curb appeal quickly? Tired of mowing? You can actually put wildflowers to work in your yard and enjoy their beauty while supporting visiting pollinators and wildlife.

You can grow wildflowers just about anywhere, for any size planting and for any landscape style. Depending upon the varieties that you choose to plant, they can lend a wild and natural look or a more formal feel. Wildflowers are not finicky and can thrive in a broad range of growing conditions, especially hot and dry sites. See a few ways that wildflowers can be problem-solvers in your landscape.

Learn more in our guide: 6 Creative Ways To Problem-Solve With Wildflowers

Plant A Defensive Buffer: Many wildflowers have special powers - some deter deer and rabbits, others are low enough in oil that they won't catch fire, and others are tolerant of drought and can be strategically planted outside of the hose's reach.

Create A Beautiful Oasis: If you have an open space in your yard or field, you can plant an island of beautiful color with wildflowers. Just set some boundaries to create your favorite shape and mow around your planting.

Replace Your Lawn: Unlike turf grass, low-maintenance wildflowers need very little mowing - once a year or less. Once established, they usually survive on rains and don't require fertilizers and herbicides to look their best. We're excited to see eco-friendy wildlower lawns growing in popularity!

Plant A Gorgeous View: Even if you don't live near the ocean, you can plant a sea of color with wildflowers to enjoy from your deck, or through the window from your favorite indoor sitting spot. You can even make it change color with the seasons by choosing varieties with different bloom times.

Define Your Property Or Plant A Living Fence: Properties big and small can benefit from a pretty planting that marks where one yard ends and another begins. Just like a fence, a wildflower planting can create a beautiful boundary.


Wildflower Meadow Maintenance

wildflower maintenance

Beginning-of-Season Meadow Maintenance

Before the start of the spring growing season, there are some chores that can increase the health and beauty of your meadow. For the most part, these tasks are limited to mowing, raking and seeding.

  • If you did not mow your planting in fall: you still can! Many wildflower enthusiasts and nature lovers prefer to leave their plants standing throughout the winter as habitat for insects. This population forms the bottom of the food chain, feeding birds and other wildlife. If you left your meadow up over the winter, spring is a fine time to mow. Directly after mowing, follow the same instuctions as though you'd mowed in fall (below).
  • If you mowed your planting the previous fall: we recommend combing through your planting site with a rake to remove excess plant materials. Raking away the clippings will open things up at ground level, which allows sunlight to penetrate young perennial plants. You'll likely be amazed by the young wildflower seedlings that you find ready to grow down there! Further, removing the debris after mowing makes it easier for the ground to receive new wildflower seeds. Many wildflower gardeners like to scatter extra seeds, especially single-season annuals, to add more color to young meadows.

Add More Wildflowers to an Existing Meadows in Spring
The easiest and most effective way to add more seed if you have not recently mowed, 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.

 

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. 

We do not recommend using chemical sprays, as you'll risk accidentally spraying the plants you'd like to see growing. Further, many important pollinators and other beneficial insects are likely to get caught in the crossfire.

Seed Man's Planting Tip: A quick and simple 'snipping' every other week will greatly reduce the amount of unwanted plants in your meadow, and will put your wildflowers way ahead of the game. Have fun with this! Bring a friend and a glass of wine so you can Snip n' Sip your way through the wildflowers.

Deadheading Wildflowers to Encourage Blooms
'Deadheading' is the practice of cutting back spent flower blooms. This helps to keep your plants looking fresh and healthy throughout the season. Additionally, when you cut back dead and dying flowers, you're sending a signal to the plant that it should focus its energy on producing even more blooms.

 

end of season wildflower maintenance

End-of-Season Meadow Maintenance

A hard frost signals the end of the season for many flowers, but there is not 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. In spring, rake the clippings and debris away to open up the ground to some much-needed sunlight.

You may prefer to leave your meadow standing. This 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.

The important bit to remember is that not mowing at all will lead to natural succession. Eventually, tree and brush seedlings will creep into any open field over time. We recommend a mowing routine of your choosing to help maintain your wildflower meadow.


the seed man

Meet The Seed Man!

Mike 'The Seed Man' Lizotte began working at American Meadows when he was just 13 years old, mowing meadows and painting fences. As a young teenager, he began working with wildflower seeds and learning how to identify and care for the different varieties that grew in our test meadows. It was during these early years that Mike discovered his true passion for working with wildflowers and helping people all over the US and Canada experience the joy of meadow gardening on any scale. In 2008, after nearly 20 years as an employee, The Seed Man fulfilled his lifelong dream by purchasing American Meadows from the company's founder. His expertise and passion continue to inspire wildflower gardeners across the country!

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