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Planting Wildflowers

A natural display of wildflowers in an area may look to be a chance occurrence, yet it may have taken years for natural forces to achieve it.  Following the guidelines below can help you achieve maximum success without the long wait.  Contact us by e-mail or call 303 688-3042 ext. 100 for further information.

1. Select A Site     4. Methods of Planting
2. Prepare the Soil   5. Care after Planting
3. When to Plant   

Select A Site 

Your site should have full sunlight exposure for best results unless you are planting a partial shade tolerant wildflower mixture.

Sites that are relatively weed free with existing stands of shorter grasses work best.  Areas that contain strong weed populations or have soil erosion problems can be used, but you'll need more site preparation.

If your site is excessively sloped, consider also using grasses in your planting.  This helps hold the soil while the wildflowers become established.

Once you have chosen a site, make note of the following factors:

  • soil type
  • amount and season of rainfall
  • availability of supplemental irrigation
  • amount of sunlight
  • altitude
  • seasonal temperature range

All these have a bearing on which wildflower species grow best on your chosen location.  The wildflower packages we sell are designed for non-mountain regions of Colorado.  We also have a mountain variety if you are interested.  Contact us for details.

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Prepare the Soil

This step is important because seed-soil contact is vital for seed germination and for the healthy rooting of seedlings.  It is also the first line of defense against dormant weed seeds that are present in the topsoil. 

Soil should be lightly scalped or scarified, but unless the site is heavily compacted, it's usually not necessary or desirable to till the soil deeply for two reasons:

  • It promotes the germination of weed seeds already present
  • In arid climates, it disturbs the upward movement of moisture through the soil, reducing the moisture-capacity of the soil.

For Small Areas

Cut and remove exiting weeds, then follow by shallow roto-tilling, hand raking or power raking.

For Large Areas

Mow the existing vegetation as short as possible and then break up the top 2 inches of soil.  You could use a tractor to drag a length of chain link fence weighted down with railroad ties across the site.

For all areas, water the area several times over a two to three week period to encourage dormant seed germination.  After this crop is up, spray them with Roundup or another short acting non-selective herbicide and remove the dead vegetation.  Do not till again, because you'll only encourage and crop of weeds.

You won't need to fertilize since wildflowers do best in soils with low fertility, though your site cannot be completely without nutrients.  If this is the case, consider using a low nitrogen fertilizer with a 5-10-10 ratio.

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When To Plant

If you are going to depend entirely on rainfall for germination and growth, you must plant in anticipation of the rainy season.  This may mean in the March to April time frame.

If you have supplemental water available, you can plant during the summer.  However, if you want your planting to survive the winter, make sure you plant no later than 8-10 weeks before the first frost. 

You can plant in late fall and allow the seed to overwinter and sprout in the spring, just like grasses.  A risk to overwintering your seed occurs when late fall rains and warm spells allow the seed to germinate, only to be killed by winter ground freezing.  And then there are the birds and rodents; the longer the seeds are on the ground, the more chance your seeds will be eaten.

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Methods of Planting

Because mixes of wildflowers contain seeds of vastly different sizes, blending an inert carrier like fine sand or vermiculite with the seed helps to ensure and even distribution.  We recommend a 2:1 sand to seed.

You may broadcast or drill the seed, but on difficult areas (sloped, no supplemental water, erosion problems or strong weed populations) you should as much as double the application of seed.

Once planted, cover your seeds to a maximum depth of 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch.  Do this by lightly raking the seed in with a hand rake, or by using a drag mat behind a tractor.

Be careful not to plant the seed too deep.  This is one of the primary reasons for failure.

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Care After Planting

Your planting should be kept moist for 4-6 weeks, using supplemental water if necessary in order to ensure germination of as many wildflower species as possible.  Once your planting is established, water can be gradually reduced.

Many wildflowers are drought-tolerant once established, but they must receive adequate water in order to germinate and to become established.

You should begin to see seedlings within 2-3 weeks and the first flowers in 6-10 weeks.  As the season progresses, you'll see several waves of color according to the blooming period for each species.

In dry climates or in drought conditions, 1/2 inch of supplemental irrigation per week lengthens the blooming period.

Mow the area in the fall to a height of 4-6 inches, after most of the flowers have finished blooming, usually in October. Mowing helps scatter the ripe seeds for next year.

You may want to consider adding new seed the next year in order to more firmly establish the permanence of the planting and to suppress weed growth.

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