Wildflowers offer color and variety

May 17, 1992

Wildflower popularity is going wild. Bright yellow lance-leaved coreopsis and black-eyed Susans, as well as white oxeye daisies and purple rocket larkspurs are popping up in beds and meadows everywhere -- in back yards, along sidewalks and driveways, and even as decorative trim along the front of houses -- adding spectacular color and beauty to home landscapes across the country.

The key to growing wildflowers successfully is understanding the conditions they require in their native habitats. Soil type, average rainfall, temperature range, shade and sunlight are all important factors. Consequently, the wildflowers best suited to your property are those that would grow naturally under your property's environmental conditions.

Most wildflower seeds come prepackaged in mixtures. These mixtures usually contain blends of annuals, perennials, biennials and a "nurse" grass seed, such as hard or tall fescue. The nurse grass will germinate quickly, thus preventing weed growth while the wildflowers grow and become established.

Pinto Wildflower mixtures by Lofts Seed are designed to grow in different North American temperature zones: Canadian, northern U.S., southern U.S., southwestern U.S., tropical and Texarkana. Homeowners also may choose semi-shade tolerant mixtures for shady areas, or all annual or all perennial flowers. Each mix DTC should contain several species to ensure good growing results.

Selecting the right mixture to meet your needs depends on several factors besides geographical area, soil type and color. These important factors are:

* Germination. If there's no rainfall after seeding, a thorough watering will promote germination and early establishment. Established wildflower plants will survive dry periods without water, but won't flower as often.

* Bloom and Height. Some annual species will bloom six to eight weeks after planting. Other flower species require varying degrees of maturity before they will flower. Depending on the environment, the flowering plant's height will range from 2 to 3 1/2 feet.

* Flowering Expectations. Perennial wildflowers will persist the first year and bloom the next, while annuals will grow and flower the first year, produce seed, then germinate and bloom the following year. The first season is always the showiest for annuals. To preserve the original balance of the mixture, reseed every two years. Otherwise, native species will dominate over the years.

When you've decided which wildflowers to plant and where to put them, it's time to sow the seeds. First, remove all weeds from the planting site. Thoroughly rake the soil to loosen it, then rake again lightly to form grooves. Loose, exposed soil is a must because good soil-to-seed contact is essential for successful seed germination.

In the south, Pinto wildflower seeds can be planted in early spring or mid to late autumn; northern climates require an early or midautumn seeding. Spread seed by hand or use a drop or cyclone spreader. Typical seeding rates for small areas are 1 ounce for 250 square feet or 1 pound to cover 4,000 square feet. As a rule, most wildflower seeds can be spread at the rate of 4 to 6 pounds per acre. Double the recommended seeding rate for sloped areas.

Once planted, routine wildflower maintenance is a breeze. Simply keep the seeds and ground evenly moist until the seedlings are established, which may take seven to 10 days. Providing adequate moisture is very important, especially if seeds are sown in late spring or early summer after the weather has become warm. Then, keep weeds out and mow once a year when wildflowers are dormant, usually in late fall or early spring.

Mowing should be done at a height of 4 to 6 inches. Avoid fertilizing, which encourages weed growth.

As the wildflowers become established, certain species will begin to dominate others. If you wish to maintain the original balance of species, reseeding is recommended every two years.

For more information about how to start your own wildflower garden or grow a lush, beautiful lawn, send a stamped, self-addressed #10 envelope to: Lofts Booklet, P.O. Box 146, Bound Brook, NJ 08805

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