Why Wildflowers?

Photo: istockphoto.com/vera bogaerts
Bored with your urban landscape? Had enough impatience, pansies and begonias? Consider a wildflower garden. Native plants make excellent choices for gardens because they have adapted to the local ecosytem, needing less water, fertilizers and care. A wildflower garden will save you time, energy and money as attracting birds and butterflies to your yard. Year two is the winner You have to be patient, though. Establishing a wildflower garden takes some initial and it's the first year that is tough. Most long-lasting perennials take between two to three years to bloom, which can be disappointing particularly if you've envisioned fields of colour after scattering your seeds. This is why most garden centres recommend a wildflower mix that include annuals as well as perennials so you will have some colour during the first year. You can pick your mix according to your region or for a specific purpose, such as attracting butterflies or birds. Most will show between 6-12 weeks after the first seed has germinated. The timing depends entirely on your region. For example the late May Northeast planting produces blooms in June or July while the southern regions can have blooms as early as April. What blooms first? Typical annuals include wild baby's breath, usually the first to bloom, as well as red poppies, scarlet flax, cornflowers, and plains coreopsis. Common perennials include echinacea purpurea, black-eyed Susan, perennial lupine, sunflower, lavender hyssop, shasta daisy, sweet alyssum, butterfly plant, forget-me-not, Johnny jump-up and prairie aster. In the first year perennials will have heavy root growth with very little top growth but by year two will have strong, sturdy flowers. Once the perennials are established you will have an array of colours for years to come. How to tell the weeds from the flowers Weeding a wildflower garden is not as straightforward as your classic vegetable or flower garden. There are usually volunteer grasses growing alongside. In fact, some wildflower experts recommend adding some grass mixture to your wildflower. What you want to avoid are weeds taking over and choking out the flowers. This won't be a problem as your perennials get grown denser, leaving little room for weeds. In the meantime, how do you tell the flowers from the weeds? If the plants look fairly evenly distributed and is spread out over a wide area, chances are they're the wildflowers. If the placement is more random, a clump here or there, it's probably weeds. Control the weeds by either ripping them out or cut the tops off before the seedpod ripens. Waiting for water You should try and keep your seeds moist for the first four to six weeks so they can germinate. After that you can ease up on the water. Lack of water won't kill your wildflowers. Deprived of water, most simply go dormant and won't bloom. So if it's really dry, water them but during normal weather let them wait for rain. After following these steps, sit back and let Mother Nature take over. Shelagh McNally is the editor of Green Living Online. She planted her first wildflower garden in the summer of 2005.