Wildflower Gardening Step-by-Step
When to plant:
For spring wildflowers, plant the previous fall (Oct-Nov); for summer wildflowers, plant in spring or early summer.
Selecting wildflower seeds or plants:
Buy wildflower seeds from nurseries, botanic gardens, or seed order catalogues as seed mixes or individual varieties; beware of non-native exotics sometimes included in mixes. Many perennials may be purchased in nursery containers, or planted as seed.
Where to plant:
Start small in a location that gets sunshine most of the day; check the condition of the soil to see if it needs improving.
Dealing with weeds:
Eliminate weeds before planting wildflower seeds; water plot and allow weed seeds to germinate, then pull; learn to recognize weeds by pressing a sample onto an index card. Avoid pre-emergent herbicides as these kill ALL seeds.
Preparing the soil:
Soak the ground a few days before planting to loosen the soil for easier digging; rake aside any rocks or gravel in the plot and reserve. Dig and turn soil to a depth of 8" or so. Fertilizer is not needed but adding compost and sand (if lacking) may help improve soil for germination. Rake the bed gently leaving plenty of small clods and depressions to hide the seeds from animals and provide pockets for water retention.
Sowing the seed:
Mix the seed with sand and scatter over the bed. Lightly rake once east to west and once north to south; cover with a thin layer of soil or sand/compost; then tamp down gently with rake or hands. Cover the seed bed with the reserved rocks and gravel.
Water the bed very gently; use a nozzle to soften the flow, and to avoid washing away the seeds. Continue to water each day or two, depending on weather conditions, to keep soil moist until seedlings appear. After that, water once a week if no rain falls. Sandy soils will need more watering and clay or sticky soils less. Check the soil with your finger to see if it is moist or dry, then water as needed.
Protecting from critters:
Birds, especially quail, rabbits, squirrels and other seed-eating desert animals may need to be kept out of the seed bed; build a simple wire enclosure of stakes and chicken wire with bird-netting on top secured by clothes-pins. The cage needs to be high enough to permit growth and allow the gardener to reach inside. The netting can be removed when flowers begin to bloom.
If the seedlings come up in thick patches they may need to be thinned. Overcrowding results in stunted growth. Larger wildflowers can easily be thinned to a few inches apart. Tackle very thick groups of seedlings by pinching out tufts here and there.
End of season:
Flowers dry up and seeds ripen; collect seeds or allow them to fall into the soil for next year. Watch plants carefully for signs of seed ripening – each has its own method for seed dispersal. When seeds have fallen or been collected, rake away or snap off dried stems.