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. Look… if your wife, mom, or dad wants a sweater for Christmas… 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’ve been wanting, but, hey… it’s winter! Gardeners understand.
Winter rain and snow are every gardener’s dreams-come-true. I usually wait until the first rains in January to write about wildflowers, but our weather has been absolutely perfect for spreading wildflower seed. 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.
‘Beauty Beyond Belief’ is 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 Rocky Mountains for use at high elevations. The seed vendor, a family business, has been involved in producing some of Watters’ seed mix combinations. This company helped us develop an ‘Arizona Mix’ of wildflowers, our very first creation, in addition to dozens of other good local wildflower blends.
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.
Planting 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’ 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 and better flowers.
Step 2: Create your own hydro mulch. Some of the seeds in a mix are so small 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!
Until next week, I’ll see you among the living Christmas trees.