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Fri, Jan. 24

Plant the Wild Ones with Wildflowers

I know spring is coming. On Wednesday I witnessed a flock of more than 100 Canadian geese flying over my house migrating north. All 100 were talking up a storm as the flock circled and landed in an alfalfa field. They looked like they needed a little rest and sustenance before they started their way north once again.

Now is the time to plant wildflowers. They are becoming an increasingly popular landscape item to add color and natural beauty to any area. Wildflower gardens have the appeal of low maintenance by requiring little water and reducing trimming frequency.

Wildflowers will lure many types of wildlife such as brilliantly colored hummingbirds and graceful butterflies to your garden and yard.

In general, wildflowers need a considerable amount of sunshine. Many species however, can tolerate partial shade. If your area receives at least six hours of sunlight per day, your wildflowers will grow fine.

February and March are the most favorable time to plant wildflowers. Seed like California Poppy have a thick outer husk that needs the freezing and thawing temperatures of the early spring season to help them germinate.

Proper seed to soil contact is essential to achieve a successful stand of wildflowers. Casually broadcasting the seed on an unprepared area will bring disappointing results. A little work and patience will reward you in the long run by producing a much more successful stand of flowers.

There are four easy steps to a successful wildflower garden: Step 1: Prepare the planting area by raking and loosen the top 1-2 inches of soil to prepare the seed bed.

Better growth occurs the first year when a plant food is raked in the seed bed. There are two that I have found highly effective over the years. The first is any new lawn-starter fertilizer. This type of plant food is designed to promote root growth on lawn seed, but also works well on wildflowers seed. My favorite is a slow release fertilizer by Fertilome named "Start-N-Grow." This plant food will release small amounts of fertilizer every time rain falls or the irrigation is turn on.

Step 2: Hand broadcast the seed in the areas to be planted. Many of these wildflower seed are very light and fluffy. They can be difficult to spread evenly. A little trick my father-in-law taught me ten years or more ago was to mix the wildflower seed in with a small bag of dry sand. The added weight of the sand makes it much easier to spread the seed evenly across the seed bed.

Step 3: Lightly rake over the area to establish proper seed to soil contact. I have even turned my rake flat side down and raked across the seed bed. Seeds that floats on the surface of the soil will not germinate and the additional raking greatly increases your success rate. A thin layer of mulch or compost will help the germination. Make sure not to put too much on though. About one inch is plenty.

The layer of mulch will also decrease the amount of seed any birds may find. I don't know if you have looked at the price of wildflower seed lately, but its right up there with the price of gold per pound. The last thing you want to do is throw out the world's most expensive bird food.

Step 4: With these last few rains the moisture is just right for putting wildflower seed out in the yard. If the soil temperatures stay on the warm side you could see your wildflowers germinate in about 14-20 days. Other seed will germinate more slowly.

Regardless of planting location, your wildflowers will require supplemental water if it doesn't rain enough to keep the seedbed moist. Be careful not to walk on them as well.

Over fertilizing your wildflowers will result in producing larger foliage at the expense of blooms. Once your wildflowers are beyond the critical seedling stage, they will survive long dry periods, but may not flower as often. Occasional watering during dry spells will insure maximum bloom color.

Let your wildflowers re-seed themselves in the summer and fall months. Wait about two weeks after the flowers have faded before you trim them back. This will allow time for the seed in each flower to spread. Giving you even more color next year.

Wildflowers always look their best the second season. The first season will be rooting and the growing of foliage. The second season will have mature roots and magnificent flowers.

You have all seen the beautiful can sitting on the shelf at the nursery filled with supposed wildflower seeds. Don't be fooled by their high gloss packaging. Most of what is in these cans is simply fillers like vermiculite with very little seed. Many of the seed won't do well in the Prescott area, or are mostly annual seed. They will look good this year, but may not come back next year.

The best seed I have found has been from an earthy looking guy out of Colorado that loves to go out in the mountains and just collect wildflower seed and package them in zip lock bags. His company's name is Beauty Beyond Belief. With many different mixes available my recommendation would be the 'Arizona Wildflower Seed mix'. Many of the seed in this mix will bloom the first year with minimal care and infrequent watering.

If you are able to water and take care of the area at all the most beautiful wildflower mixture will be the 'Rocky Mountain Mix'. The flowers will bloom larger in this mix with bright, rich colors showing in waves of color all spring through fall.

If you want wildflowers in a container or spot them out in the yard or perennial garden plant a growers plug. This is a great way to have spectacular color this spring and summer. You only see growers plugs at the nurseries in the early spring season when the perennials are still dormant, and the nurseries are just potting their spring supply of perennials.

Plant them now while they're dormant at about half the price they will be in the months of May and June. Of course in May and June these flowering gems are like candy to gardeners with their stunning displays of color and textures. If you can read the tags and use a little imagination you can have your flowers and save a lot of money at the same time. These two-year roots are surefire to bloom this season with dozens and dozens of varieties to choose from.

I love the rain we've had this week, but I'm ready for the picture perfect Prescott days we see in spring. I'm ready for the sunshine.

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