by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
Gardeners are some of the “tough customers” on our seasonal gift lists; it’s hard to know what they’d like. Here are a couple of suggestions: Wildflower seeds for the gardener in your life will trigger winter-long dreams of spring. A Watters Gift Card as a stocking stuffer is always well received. Of course, … if your wife, mom, or dad wants a sweater for Christmas… be sure to get that sweater! But if folks you care about really love their gardens… a gift card from Watters makes perfect sense. Next spring they can stop by and pick out exactly what they want or really need. We all know it’s not the same as the living plants they wish they could be planting, but, hey… it’s winter! Gardeners understand.
Winter rain and snow are every gardener’s dreams-come-true, and not just for those winter-hardy perennials to stand up to cold temperatures. I usually wait until the first rains in January to write about wildflowers, but our frosty weather has been absolutely perfect for spreading wildflower seeds. (If we receive a few more good storms, wildflowers should be spectacular this spring!)
The high country of Arizona has the perfect climate for wildflowers, but there are a few secrets to successful sowings. First, there’s the seed mix. I’ve found a seed mix that works really well and is really easy to use.
The owner of a first-class seed business is a family friend who developed Watters’ ‘Arizona Mix’ of wildflowers, the very first wildflower mix I helped to create. In addition to dozens of other good local wildflower blends from this company, Watters carries ‘Beauty Beyond Belief’, the seed of choice for the wildflower purists here at the garden center. It is the best collection of truly wild seeds collected throughout the high country of the west for use in Arizona.
One requirement of wild seeds is their need for cold, and the freeze-then-thaw of winter and early spring. You have a few weekends to plant wildflowers, but try to finish by Valentine’s Day. There are four simple steps that really make a difference between wildflower success and failure. Here are the specific planting techniques that I count on to guarantee breath-taking crops of wildflowers:
Step 1: Select and prepare the planting area. Wildflowers, except for those that are shade loving, need a considerable amount of sunshine, so choose an area that receives at least six hours of sunlight daily during the growing season.
Sowing in weed-free soil assures optimal results, so pull out any growth you don’t want mixed in with your wildflowers. Then rake the seedbed to loosen the top 1- 2 inches of soil. I find that better growth occurs when a natural plant food is raked into the seedbed when loosening the topsoil. My ‘All Purpose Plant Food’ 7-4-4 is well suited for this. It releases slowly throughout the spring and is exactly what’s needed during the germination period because slow feeding creates healthier roots that nurture better flowers.
Step 2: Create your own Hydro-Mulch. Some of the seeds in a mix are so tiny you can barely tell if you’ve spread the seeds evenly across the soil. Pour a bag of Watters Premium Mulch into a wheelbarrow and mix in the seed. Spread this seed-mulch blend over the prepared seedbed. This simple trick helps you see where the seed is placed, ensures good seed to soil contact, insulates the seed, and camouflages it from hungry birds.
Step 3: Keep the seedbed moist. If sufficient moisture is present, seeds will start to germinate from the end of February through April, as soon as soil temperatures warm. This looks to be a good year for natural moisture, but keep an eye on the bed. Wildflowers will require supplemental water if it doesn’t rain enough to keep the seedbed moist. A layer of snow over your seedbed is perfect for wildflowers. It maximizes germination without extra watering.
Step 4: Re-seed. In the fall, after the blooms are off and the seed heads are ready to drop, you can lend a hand in spreading seed for the following spring’s wildflowers. Just trim back the drying plants with a weed whacker. Besides pruning back the flowerbed, this will send a mixture of seeds flying throughout the garden for next season’s growth!
A Lain Christmas tradition is to attend our church on Christmas eve, followed by much food and drink, then all the family presents are opened. Later that evening Santa fills the stockings with trinkets for next morning’s start of a festive Christmas Day.
Join the Lain clan at the Heights Church Christmas Eve . The family friendly services and reenactment of Bethlehem are followed with hayrides, ice skating, kids’ crafts, children’s train rides, and dancing light shows. It’s lots of fun and temporarily eases the materialism that often dominates the season. Even my Jewish friends would enjoy the activities; attend the service or not, but come for the family fun. It is an event that extends a community-wide welcome and heartfelt hospitality.
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Watters closes at 2:00 on Christmas Eve, remaining Closed the 25th & 26th. December 27th all holiday plants will be half price, including Christmas cactuses, and remaining miniature living trees.
From all of us at Watters: ~ Merry Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah ~