Happy Spring! Planting Wildflower Seeds
Happy Spring and happy April from Desert Rose! In this month’s blog, we will review how to plant wildflower seeds. If you have a large patch of dirt, or a small area that is bare, a variety of wildflowers will make that area explode with colors and textures. Growing plants from seed are very cost-efficient when you compare them to purchasing a grown plant. The amount of soil, water, labor, and time for that plant to grow is always reflected in the price tag. By starting plants from seed, you not only get more bang for your buck, but you also have the satisfying feeling of knowing that you put in the work to make all of your beautiful plants grow. Wildflowers are always a great choice as they are often drought tolerant and thrive well in our high desert climate. A great place to buy wildflower seeds that are mixed specifically for Santa Fe and surrounding areas is at Plants of the Southwest. They have several different mixes of wildflower seeds to help give you the look you want in your landscaping, raised beds, or pots. They also sell a variety of grass seeds if you are turning your patch of dirt into a small meadow.
Whether you are planting a small meadow or scattering wildflower seeds, the process is essentially the same. We suggest planting in early spring (unless grass or wildflowers need to be cold stratified) to reduce the chance of your seeds being eaten by birds or magically disappearing (as they seem to do). Cold stratifying is a process that occurs when a seed is subjected to cold temperature and moisture over a course of time. All seeds experience this naturally during the winter months, but not all seeds require it. Larkspur, St. John's Wort, Milkweed, and Prairie Coneflower are all common wildflowers that need this process to germinate. Often during late fall and even some warm winters, several days of warm weather can cause seeds to begin to germinate too early. Once another cold day comes around these tender seedlings are unfortunately killed. In order to prevent this, some plants have evolved to produce thicker seeds that need to be broken down through long periods of cold, moist weather. This process can be simulated in a refrigerator in order to prepare the seeds for germination (with instructions being easily found online).
After you select your seeds, the next step is soil preparation. When the soil is no longer frozen, remove all weeds from the area (even the dead ones) and till the soil about 2-3" deep (you can use a pick to break up the soil, being sure that no large chunks remain). Amend the soil with mulch and mix until evenly distributed. Level out the area by lightly raking it. Now it is time to spread the seeds - we recommend using a hand spreader (like what you would use to spread fertilizer on your grass), which allows for even distribution of your seeds. Apply approx. 1 oz of seed for every 125 sq. foot (12.5' x 10' area). If you are making a meadow, spread both grass and flower seeds (separately) on the same day. Walk slowly while you crank the hand spreader, making sure to evenly cover the area. Walk the length of the area with the first pass, then the width of the area for the second pass to ensure everything is evenly covered. Cover the area with a seed covering mat (made of twine and hay) or cover with hay to help maintain moisture and prevent birds from eating the seeds (Note: If you use hay there is a good chance that it will get blown away).
After spreading the seeds and, give the area a good soaking, being careful not to flood the area (which will carry seeds away with water runoff). The goal is to dampen the soil so that it is wet 3-4" deep, which should ideally be done with a low-pressure spray. Keep the soil moist for about 3 weeks to allow seeds to germinate. Do not let the soil dry out or germinated plants will die. After three weeks, water less often but more deeply to encourage deep root growth for the new plants. After six weeks, carefully remove weeds from the area to prevent the weeds from overtaking your wildflowers. If there are empty or patchy spots don’t worry, simply allow wildflowers to go to seed (do not deadhead) and gently rake the area in late fall to help move seeds around. Within a year or two the area should fill out nicely! Have questions about creating a wildflower garden? Don’t hesitate to send them our way!