Author Topic: Starting a wildflower garden  (Read 3299 times)

gillstone

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Starting a wildflower garden
« on: August 24, 2015, 10:00:30 AM »
Our house once had a meticulously manicured series of garden beds full of thirsty and fussy plants.  It has been watered and periodically cleared but otherwise left alone by us and the prior owners.  We want to start replacing the beds with native plants and wildflowers.  We are reworking one bed now to experiment with wildflowers before we go to working on larger areas (like the whole front lawn).  Ive done a ton of research, but some areas are giving some contradictory advice on a few pieces so I have some questions.  For reference we are in USDA Zone 4 and we get a hard frost in early October.

1. Once the soil is clear and weve laid down seed, should we do any kind of weed cover? 

2. If we do lay down a weed cover, what should it be?

3. Is there a good rule of thumb for know what is a weed and a wildflower?

partgypsy

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Re: Starting a wildflower garden
« Reply #1 on: August 24, 2015, 10:54:40 AM »
Our house once had a meticulously manicured series of garden beds full of thirsty and fussy plants.  It has been watered and periodically cleared but otherwise left alone by us and the prior owners.  We want to start replacing the beds with native plants and wildflowers.  We are reworking one bed now to experiment with wildflowers before we go to working on larger areas (like the whole front lawn).  Ive done a ton of research, but some areas are giving some contradictory advice on a few pieces so I have some questions.  For reference we are in USDA Zone 4 and we get a hard frost in early October.

1. Once the soil is clear and weve laid down seed, should we do any kind of weed cover? 

2. If we do lay down a weed cover, what should it be?

3. Is there a good rule of thumb for know what is a weed and a wildflower?

There is a number of things to keep in mind.
1. After you clear the soil but before you put down seed, it is actually good to cover with either multiple paper bags or black plastic, to effectively "kill" everything, including dormant weed seeds. If you can do it for a couple months that is ideal. 
2. Not sure if you mean a physical weed cover (like above mentioned or mulch, or you mean a plant. In general annuals grow faster than perennials so could try first season with annuals and supplement with perennials so there is something to cover the ground while the perennials become established.
 
3. A weed is just a name for an undesirable plant. Depending on the person, many wildflowers are considered "weeds". It depends on what your intent is for your garden. If you want to promote wildlife, you would want to re-naturalize the piece of land with local, native species (or at least Western hemisphere plants). These are plants that insects as well as other wildlife can eat, reproduce on, and sustain an ecosystem (including songbirds).
Most states have list of what are non-native and/or aggressive plants, so review those to see which are a problem and get rid of them if you see them. Especially when they are little, it may be difficult to distinguish one plant from the next. There are websites like in Dave's garden and plantfinder that can help you identify plants.
Lastly if you live in a HOA they may have regulations about what you do with your front lawn, or possibly local ordinances (height of plants etc) so check that before starting. Alternatively some western states and cities have rebates for creating a drought friendly garden.

worms

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Re: Starting a wildflower garden
« Reply #2 on: August 25, 2015, 12:00:29 AM »
Things may be different where you are but I would start by working out what sort of wildflower garden you are envisaging - wildflower meadow (usually low fertility perennials), arable "cornfield" (disturbed ground self-seeding perennials) or some form of native scrub.  Establishment technique and ongoing management would be different for each.

smalllife

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Re: Starting a wildflower garden
« Reply #3 on: August 25, 2015, 05:33:38 AM »
I turned a good portion of our yard into a wildflower garden. May not work in zone 4, but here's what I did.

Dug up EVERYTHING in the area three weeks before planting.

Anything I missed got dug up as well.

Planted seeds in fall - look for a local seed seller and they should have a mix or two. Or search "zone 4 wildflower mix" and see what pops up.

Wildflowers grew beautifully and the three week wait/second weeding made a huge difference (I did a bit without it and it was ridiculous).

Native wildflowers and plants are meant for your area, not as fussy as the plants you're used to.

Good luck!

dbunny

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Re: Starting a wildflower garden
« Reply #4 on: August 25, 2015, 11:51:18 AM »
Also in MT here. I've been working on small wildflower gardens in my yard too. I bought one of those big packs of random wildflower seeds (included flax, blanketflower, coneflower, etc) and this spring I sprinkled the seeds in areas of the yard where I wanted flowers. I didn't do any soil prep and probably had a 50% germination rate. In hindsight I would have done a little more work, but it's pretty now.

To answer your questions:

1. I wouldn't add weedcover or mulch until the plants are established. Maybe after they have flowered. If you put down weedcover too soon, the seedlings might not make it through the weedcover.

2. Bark mulch works well here and looks really natural, so that's my preference. It also holds in the water better so you might save some money there. The only downside is that you have to add more each year or so.

3. If you're talking about how to tell what to pull when everything sprouts, this takes practice. You need to be able to identify the leaves or wait until they flower. If you get a seed mix, look up all the flowers in the mix and try to understand what their leaves and flowers look like.


Most wildflowers in Montana prefer sunny spots with well-drained soil, meaning they don't like to sit in water very long. Pick a good sunny spot and after the first year, they really shouldn't need much more than the water you get from rain.

gillstone

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Re: Starting a wildflower garden
« Reply #5 on: August 26, 2015, 08:16:41 AM »
We found a local seed seller who has concurred with all the points above.  We will plant this fall after the first hard frost (some seeds need to overwinter to germinate).  The seed seller has photos of the plants in various growth stages so that will help tell us what is and what isn't a weed.

Thanks to all!

partgypsy

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Re: Starting a wildflower garden
« Reply #6 on: August 26, 2015, 09:33:18 AM »
Good luck! I am trying to reclaim a small area in the front of our house (previously covered with ivy and other aggressive non-natives) and it is slow going but enjoyable and encourages me when I see the bees and occasional hummingbird visit. For various reasons I am doing it via plants rather than seed, but if you have a nice sunny spot doing it by seed is much more cost effective.

bognish

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Re: Starting a wildflower garden
« Reply #7 on: August 26, 2015, 01:52:20 PM »
I am in SLC so maybe a similar climate. I completely re-did the landscaping at our house over the last 7 years and am trying to go for low water use plants. The wildflower seed mixes never worked for me. I could never tell what was a weed, or bi-annual.

Some things that have done really well and never get watered now after they are established: hummingbird trumpet - looks great and slowly spreads over our parking strip. Flowers for a long time and attracts lots of birds & bees. Russian Sage is similar. Blue flax and Alyssum (basket of gold) are nice flowers 1-2 feet tall that stay in a large clump. I planted a pack of sunflower seeds 5 years ago and they keep reseeding and going nuts. They attract a huge variety of birds and bees. The sap in sunflowers also keeps other things from growing which is great for weeds in the sun flower patch, but you have to keep them out of the other gardens.

partgypsy

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Re: Starting a wildflower garden
« Reply #8 on: August 26, 2015, 03:33:15 PM »
I am in SLC so maybe a similar climate. I completely re-did the landscaping at our house over the last 7 years and am trying to go for low water use plants. The wildflower seed mixes never worked for me. I could never tell what was a weed, or bi-annual.

Some things that have done really well and never get watered now after they are established: hummingbird trumpet - looks great and slowly spreads over our parking strip. Flowers for a long time and attracts lots of birds & bees. Russian Sage is similar. Blue flax and Alyssum (basket of gold) are nice flowers 1-2 feet tall that stay in a large clump. I planted a pack of sunflower seeds 5 years ago and they keep reseeding and going nuts. They attract a huge variety of birds and bees. The sap in sunflowers also keeps other things from growing which is great for weeds in the sun flower patch, but you have to keep them out of the other gardens.
If by trumpet vine you are referring to crossvine, depending on where you live, it can be invasive. We had some naturally growing over the back of our wood fence, but it was growing through the fence, pulling down parts of it and also shoots are coming up in different parts of our backyard. We didn't plant it (think it's native) but knowing what I know I would never willingly plant it that. The other plants mentioned are good. the bees around here go nuts for Russian sage.

gillstone

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Re: Starting a wildflower garden
« Reply #9 on: August 27, 2015, 08:20:42 AM »
I am in SLC so maybe a similar climate. I completely re-did the landscaping at our house over the last 7 years and am trying to go for low water use plants. The wildflower seed mixes never worked for me. I could never tell what was a weed, or bi-annual.

Some things that have done really well and never get watered now after they are established: hummingbird trumpet - looks great and slowly spreads over our parking strip. Flowers for a long time and attracts lots of birds & bees. Russian Sage is similar. Blue flax and Alyssum (basket of gold) are nice flowers 1-2 feet tall that stay in a large clump. I planted a pack of sunflower seeds 5 years ago and they keep reseeding and going nuts. They attract a huge variety of birds and bees. The sap in sunflowers also keeps other things from growing which is great for weeds in the sun flower patch, but you have to keep them out of the other gardens.

One of the few inherited plants we have that isn't fussy has been bachelor button which is attractive to bees, spreads well and has a unique purple flower which blooms twice in late spring and again in early fall.

bognish

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Re: Starting a wildflower garden
« Reply #10 on: September 01, 2015, 01:56:21 PM »
Nope not trumpet vine. Hummingbird trumpet. Its a low plant, maybe 6 inches high, that gets covered in bright red flowers for August & September. It spreads out in a slow creeping expansion, but would be easy to keep in check if you wanted.