Wildflowers are native gardens that Mother Nature designs herself. They are gorgeous swaths of color that can cover miles and miles of natural meadows. You can find them everywhere in the world.
When I was researching this article, I was amazed by the incredible beauty of these vistas and further impressed by the sheer size of native flower meadows that exist all over our globe.
My husband has always said that he’d like to visit every major league baseball stadium. Well, I could counter that by saying I would like to visit national parks all over the world to see the wildflowers at their peak. (Neither of us will probably do either), but if you are a flower enthusiast think what a wonderful trip it would be to see Texas, the plains states, California, Alaska, or Vancouver when the meadows are in bloom.
If you’re like me and wouldn’t ever be able to take such a trip, I hope you enjoy the collection of meadow landscapes that I have compiled for you below. I certainly enjoyed collecting them.
I do not have the space to create a large wildflower garden, but I know that it is not as easy as buying seeds and tossing them to the wind. Not that long ago, though, it was a popular idea to try.
This is what we’ve learned since. A beautiful and self sustaining native plant garden doesn’t just happen. In fact, the first few years are rather labor intensive. You need to be patient. An established wildflower garden, takes anywhere from three to five years to mature and become self sustaining.
Sometimes we fail only because we had unrealistic expectations to begin with. Becoming educated on how to create a prairie flower garden is your first step. Then the physical labor starts.
Preparing the Land
You need to completely clear and remove all vegetation from your proposed plot. You could do this is a couple of ways.
Burn all the vegetation first and then use a weed killer to kill all the roots. You would have to leave the ground fallow, though, for awhile because any weed killer you used would also kill your new plants.
Or, if you burned in the fall and then tilled the land, you could till it again in the spring and prepare the ground like a farmer does for crops.
Once your site is cleared of all vegetation, it needs to be amended with two to three inches of mulch. This will make a nice loose place for your seeds to germinate in and will help the soil to maintain some of its moisture.
Now you have to think about irrigation. How are you going to keep your plot damp while your seeds germinate and your young plants develop? A fully mature wildflower meadow will not need watering, especially if you’ve used only drought resistant, native plants, but that’s a few years away. Until then you are going to have a way to water your garden.
Once you’ve crossed those hurdles, it's time for another three to four inches of mulch.
Now, finally, you are ready for plants or seeds. If you are going with seeds, you will need high quality seeds that are chosen specifically for your region.
There are nurseries that specialize in native and heritage seeds and plants. This is a better route to go than buying prepackaged mixtures of wildflower seeds.
The first season of your garden might be very successful and your plot will soon be covered with masses of brilliant colors, but don’t pat yourself on the back just yet. The work is not done.
The flowers that initially bloomed were all annuals, and they may or may not reseed themselves or be as colorful in year two. Chances are they won’t. The reasons for this are many. While all your annuals were sprouting so were windblown weed seeds.
Hand weeding in the first few years is not only necessary, it can be very time consuming. There are many, many non native plants around that have established strong toe holds in different regions.
They also can be aggressive, and if you don’t want them, you’ll have to be diligent about removing them often until there is no more room for them. Hand weeding and hand seeding with desired plants will help you to get over this hump.
In my region garlic mustard is such a plant, and it is the reason why many a hopeful wildflower gardener has abandoned their project. Although pretty, another non native plant that threathens our many swamps and lowlands is purple loosestrife.
People in my area concerned with maintaining our natural environment have battled for years to keep loosestrife from overpowering the native grasses and cattails that grow in our swamps. Loosestrife does not have the same nutritional value of cattails and can't support the large variety of birds and animals that call the marshes home.
Take pictures regularly of your future wildflower plot. It changes with the seasons, and the pictures will be helpful to look back on and give you a good idea of where you need to reseed or fill in during the following year.
Not all of the seeds you plant will be annuals. Some of your seeds will be biennials (short lived perennials), and others will be perennials. Neither of these will bloom in year one and may not bloom until year three. So your garden will eventually look much different than it did in year one. It is supposed to.
Your young biennials and perennials have to be consistantly protected from weeds, so that they are not choked out before they’ve had a chance to establish themselves. So keep weeding!
Planting seeds, though, is not the only way to create your meadow. Another way is to use plant plugs. Plugs are perennials that are smaller than the quart and gallon sized ones that you normally buy at a nursery.
Plugs have the advantage of being cheaper because they are smaller. This is important if you need a lot of plants. They also tend to establish themselves better than fully grown plants, which can heave themselves out of the ground during freezing and thawing if they are not buried just right or are not fully established.
You can purchase plugs from reputable nurseries that specialize in them. Again, it is not an overnight process. Plugs have to be hand planted and will take longer than full grown plants to bloom, but it is much more affordable and probably more successful in the long run.
Planting all your plugs will be time consuming, but it is much easier to guarantee what is going to grow where. You may want to do a combination of plugs and seeds. Add three to four inches more mulch to your finished plot. This will help keep down the weeds, but you can’t depend on it entirely. You will still have to weed.
For a greater color effect, plant several plugs of one species in clusters near each other instead of randomly placed all over the plot. Put your taller species in the middle if you can see all around the plot and in the back if it backs up to a wall or fence.
If your initial results are not what you want you may have to burn, till and start over. In year two reseed empty spots, or plant more plugs. Keep weeding and don’t deadhead. Let your annuals and biennials reseed themselves. At the end of the season mow everything down to the ground.
Grasses and wildflowers grow naturally together in a meadow and actually this probably is a transition stage, at least in some parts of the world. If a sunny place was completely stripped of vegetation, grasses and wildflowers would come back first, then bushes would sprout and eventually trees. The site would return to forest if left alone long enough. Natural meadows only occur at high altitudes where temperature extremes prevent trees from growing.
If all goes well you should have a self sustaining wildflower meadow in three to five years. So why create a wildflower garden if it is so hard to accomplish?
There are many reasons. Once established it is self sustaining and easy to maintain. It is also the natural habitat of many birds, butterflies, small animals and honey bees. It is naturally drought resistant and of course gorgeous.
Here is a partial list of native flowers that grow in SE Wisconsin: asters, chicory, perennial bachelor buttons, clover, columbine, coreopsis, Indian paint brush, Joe-Pye Weed, milkweed, monarda, Mullein, ox-eyed daisies, pearly everlasting, Queen’s Anne Lace, yarrow, yellow cone-flowers, wild phlox, and wild blue lupine.
This list is not comprehensive, and I did not mention any of the native sedges and grasses. This is just to give you an idea of how many flowers that we give garden space to and probably have a native cultivar.
If you are really serious about starting a wildflower garden, I would contact an expert in your region for more specific information and cultivars.
One catalog that I think is especially informative and specializes in wildflowers and native plants is High Country Gardens out of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Their catalog is divided into regions across the country and their stock is excellent.
So you’ve taken your first step to your own wildflower garden. Enjoy the many pictures below of wildflowers from all over the world and send me your own when your garden is in bloom. I’d love to share them with everyone.
If you have a wide open space with lots of sunshine maybe a wildflower garden is the garden for you. It takes some work to get it established, but eventually you will provide a welcome refuge for many birds, butterflies and pollinating insects.
In addition, many wildflowers are drought resistant once established and possibly hardier than their cultivated cousins.
Thanks for gardening with Julie.
Gardening for Bees
Gardening for Nature
Starting a Garden
Perennial Garden Ideas
Annual flower Garden
Gardening for Nature
Cutting Flower Garden
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