Gardening: Planting wildflowers in all in the details

When people think about planting a wildflower mix they see visuals of an area full of many different types of flowers , no weeds.

What the sellers and packages don’t mention is that people who plant these mixes must be able to differentiate between flower and weed seedlings. Like all gardens, it will need weeding. For the most part, there will be more weeds to be removed than flowers to be kept.

Ignore the pictures on the packages and read the label. If the label doesn’t name the seed varieties in the package, do not make the purchase as there is no way of knowing what seeds are in the container. The variety of seeds placed in wildflower packages can be problematic. What is considered a pretty flower in one part of the country or province can be a noxious weed in another. It depends on how the plant reacts to the given climate. Perennial Baby’s Breath is a good example. In the County of Clearwater it is hard to get this plant established but in warmer, drier areas in Alberta the plant is hard to control which puts it on Alberta’s noxious weed list.

Are the seeds for annuals or perennials plants? If they are annuals will they mature in 90 days and bloom before the first frost?

If they are perennials, do they need special treatment for them to germinate? While a small number of perennial seeds germinate easily in this climate most others will require stratification, wet, dry, cold or warm periods to germinate. It is possible to provide for these requirements in a controlled greenhouse setting but not in the garden. Seeds can remain viable in the soil for years waiting for the correct conditions to germinate. Some seeds will never germinate because the conditions will never be favorable.

Expect to find grass and weed seeds as part of the wildflower mix both tend to germinate easily.

Making a wildflower meadow is labour intensive. Anytime land is disturbed it is an invitation for weeds to germinate. When a seed mixture is sown in a row or as a ground cover it needs to be maintained, watered and weeded until the plants become established. If the weeds are not removed they will dominate.

If the goal is to plant a number of different flowers at a low cost, look at annual seed mixes or packages of annual seeds that are designed to be sown early in the season with the expectation that the plants will flower before the first killing frost in the fall. The best mixes contain an abundance of flower seeds that germinate quickly and grow under most conditions. Expect some plants to set seeds that will over winter in the soil and germinate next spring. This can be a problem if the original seeds are planted in an area that is not worked or where volunteer plants are not wanted. Bachelor Buttons, Poppies, Calendula, Clarkia, Cosmos, Asters, Candytuft, Baby Blue Eyes, Persian Jewels, Goditia, Evening Scented Phlox are flowers that are commonly found in annual mixes.

Wildflower mixes are blends of seeds put together and sold throughout North America. They are rarely if ever seeds for plants native to this area.

Approach wild Flower packages with caution. They alike most gardens take work to become established.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at your_garden@hotmail.com

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