Hello fellow readers, It seems we’re all aching for fields of green with pops of color. This week several asked about starting wildflower gardens. Adding a wildflower meadow as an eco-friendly lawn alternative is appealing. Folks think you just toss seeds out in the field, and voila – instant garden. Not!
A Wildflower Meadow can be low maintenance in the long run, but developing one takes much more doing than most are willing to do. Like all gardens, soil preparation and weed control are essential.
Cut the area as close as your mower allows, rototill, then remove debris and clumps. Some would then use an herbicide such as Roundup, which I am a strong naysayer of. I would suggest an organic alternative such as Burnout instead. Depending on the formula of herbicide used, you should wait up to 3 to 4 months to replant a treated area which will give you time for a double whammy – cooking weed seeds. The technique is called solarization, and summer is a perfect time. Smooth out the surface to remove air pockets. The soil needs to be damp to kill seeds and pathogens effectively. Place plastic sheets (1.5 to 2 mils thick) and bury the edges in the ground, anchoring with stones or bricks to ensure a tight seal. Clear plastic is most effective for sun rays to pass through, while black plastic absorbs and deflects part of the heat. However, black plastic in cooler areas prevents weeds from growing beneath during low air temperatures. After 8 to 10 weeks, remove the plastic without disturbing the soil as the sun’s weed-killing heat only penetrates a few inches.
Plant wildflower seeds in the late fall or early spring. Native species that fit your site conditions offer the most significant success; deer-resistant mixes are often crucial.
During the first growing season, cut your meadow to 8 inches each time the garden reaches 18 to 20 inches, even if in bloom. It’s hard to cut down bright faces. But if you don’t trim your meadow, the competing weeds will prevail, and what started as beautiful will be taken over by nasty invaders.
After your garden is established, my trick is to fill empty or boring patches with plugs. Plugs are young plants raised in individual cells, ready to be transplanted. They’re typically sold to growers to transplant into gallon pots. It’s kind of like The Hair Club for your garden.
Column updated 8/3/22