Our Complete Guide To Growing Wildflowers
Enjoy the magic of meadowscaping! Read on to learn everything you need to know about growing wildflowers. Click on a step to jump to that section of our guide.
1. Plan Your Planting. Measure your planting area to find out how much seed you need, and plant at the right time for your climate.
2. Prepare Soil. Prepare your soil by removing all existing growth and debris. Better soil preparation means more flowers!
3. Sow Your Seeds. Follow the coverage rate for your wildflower seeds. If possible, time your planting to let Mother Nature water your seeds.
4. Compress Seeds Into Soil. Good seed-to-soil contact encourages good germination and healthy roots. Do not bury wildflower seeds.
5. Water Your Wildflower Planting. Water regularly to keep soil moist, not soaking wet, until seedlings are about 4-6 inches tall.
6. Watch Growth & Blooms Appear. Sprouts will start in late spring or early summer. Sit back, grab your favorite beverage, and enjoy your wildflowers!
1. Plan Your Planting
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.
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.)
Tips For Spring Planting Wildflowers in Colder Climates
- To avoid the risk of a cold snap, plant after the last spring frost date chart for your area.
- 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.
- 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.
Tips For 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, regular watering will be very important for establishing your wildflowers. it can help to plan your planting around rain in the forecast. Consider 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.
2. Prepare Soil For Planting
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
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.
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.
3. Sow 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!
- Separate your seed into roughly two equal parts. Put each half into a bucket, bowl, bin, or large bag with plenty of extra room.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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! It may be very tempting to throw extra seed down, but this usually brings the opposite effect. Crowded seedlings will prevent growth and reduce flowering.
See our guide to calculating square footage: How Much Seed Do I Need?
4. Compress Seeds Into Soil
After you’ve scattered your seed, it’s important to compress for good seed-to-soil contact.
- 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
3 Ways To Compress Seeds
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
Protection From Birds & Wildlife
- We don't recommend covering seeds to protect against birds and wildlife. They don't typically have a significant impact, probably because our seed mixes average 250,000 seeds per pound! Spring plantings typically begin to grow within 2-3 weeks, which doesn't give animals much time to make a dent in the seeds.
- If your area is a true exception with above-average wildlife pressure, you can 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 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
5. Water Your Wildflower Planting Regularly
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.
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°F. Check 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!
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Wildflower Meadow Maintenance
Early Season Meadow Maintenance
Before the start of the spring growing season, there are some tasks 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 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.
Mid-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 Growing Among 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 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 provides 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.