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by Ray Allen

Maintaining Your Wildflower Garden

monarch butterfly
Wildflower gardens are home to buzzy bees and majestic monarchs like this fellow feasting atop a coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).

After Sowing
Once all your seed is evenly sown, do not rake or cover it with soil (some species require light to germinate). Instead, simply compress the seed into the loose, bare soil. A lawn roller does a perfect job. If your site is small, walking over the whole area, being careful to leave the area solid with footprints does just as well. Some people have been known to lay down an old sheet of plywood, and then jump on it to compress the seed into the soil.

This is a very important step, since compressing the seed into soil creates all important "seed to soil contact" - the primary requirement for successful seed germination.

The Birds
If a flock of birds settles on your freshly seeded meadow area and begins to eat your seed, don't panic. It often happens. Scare them away if you can, but if you can't, relax. They don't usually eat enough to make a dent in the seed you've planted.

What to Expect
Every wildflower gardener watches constantly after seeding, waiting for the young plants to appear. Remember that all plants, even wildflowers, require moisture and a favorable temperature range to germinate. Cold slows them down, and intense heat can do the same while warm days and cool nights are best.

While certain wildflower species germinate (or "sprout") in as little as eight days, other may not appear for months. Much depends on the temperature and amount of rainfall or watering your seedbed receives. That's why we recommend you plant in anticipation of rainfall in your area, and if rains don't come, water to keep your seedbed moist until your seedlings are established. That means usually about 4 to 6 weeks or until the young plants are 6 to 8 inches tall. Use a light mist or sprinkler to water newly seeded areas.

Maintaining Your Meadow Garden
Of course, one of the major benefits of a wildflower meadow is its low maintenance. Repeat: that's low maintenance, not no maintenance.

Soon after seeding, you might want to pull some weeds that come up with your flowers. If you can't tell them from your new seedlings, leave them alone. Most wildgardeners just let them grow. However, one good way to spot young weeds is by "clumping". If you see a clump of a particularly fast growing plant, which is not evenly appearing over your meadow area, that clump is probably a group of weeds. After all, you sowed your seed evenly, and if these plants are just here and there, they're intruders, so pull them while they're young.

Kiley loves wildflowers
Enjoy! Plant a meadow garden for fistfulls of fabulous wildflowers all season long.
Once a year, you'll need to mow your meadow area. 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 way, it will be primed to come up green and new the following spring.

More importantly, this once-a-year mowing removes tree and brush seedlings that creep into any open field, and if left unmowed, will eventually take over your meadow.

When your second spring arrives, look for weak spots in your flower population - perhaps there's a particularly grassy spot here, or a pack of weeds there. This is when you may choose to do some spot clearing and reseeding. Use a shovel or a tiller depending on the size of the areas you want to renew. Doing this to a flower meadow is a lot like working on bare spots in a lawn and you can do it as often as you like. Or just take it easy, like most wildgardeners, and let nature take its course.

Other than once-a-year mowing in the fall and perhaps some new seed in weak spots in spring, that's about all most wildflower gardeners do. Mow your paths to favorite spots, Introduce new wildflowers, add bird feeders, benches, or maybe even a pond, and enjoy!

Ray Allen 11/18/02, 2/18/04, 4/15/05



© LC
Tallahassee, Florida USA