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Growing wild responsibly

What usually comes in a package of seeds? In most cases the type of seed is on the front of the seed package. Exceptions to this rule are annual and wildflower mixes. Some mixes will indicate the seeds inside but others will not.

What usually comes in a package of seeds?

In most cases the type of seed is on the front of the seed package. Exceptions to this rule are annual and wildflower mixes. Some mixes will indicate the seeds inside but others will not.

Annual mixes 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.

Wildflower mixes are problematic. When one thinks of wildflowers they mistakenly think of undisturbed land where native flowers flourish. According to Wikipedia the definition of a wildflower is one that grows where it has not been intentionally seeded. It is a definition that could also apply to weeds. Unfortunately, many of the wildflower mixes turn into weed problems. Wildflower mixes rarely contain seeds for plants that are native to Alberta let alone seeds to plants that grow in a certain region.

Wild flower packages contain a collection of seeds that are put together by companies and shipped throughout North America. Many of the seeds will be similar to the seeds found in an annual mix. Others will not.

Given the correct condition, seeds from annual plants will germinate and mature the first year. The plants might go to seed and germinate in subsequent years. Expect to have one or two of the more prolific varieties dominate.

Seeds from perennial plants will also be included in the wildflower mix. While a small number of perennials germinate easily in this climate most others will require stratification, wet, dry or warm periods, before germination will occur. 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 will never germinate because the conditions will never be favorable.

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. It quickly self-seeds taking over large areas of farmland which puts it on Alberta’s noxious weed list.

Expect to find grass seeds in the wildflower mix as wildflower mixes are trying to recreate a meadow and meadows are made up of a number of different plants including grass. Some varieties of grass will stay in one location and look attractive. Others will spread by roots and, or, seed.

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.

Be cautious when using mixed flower seed. Read the label. If it doesn’t name the variety of seeds in the package it is impossible to know what is in the package. The pictures on the package are not reliable.

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

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