Unleash your Wild-flower

11/23/2012 | Ken Lain, mountain gardener Flowers

One of the New Year resolutions Lisa and I made for 2011 is to walk together more often. Besides keeping us in shape, trudging up and down Prescott’s hills keeps my back more comfortable, which should make spring gardening chores easier. Because we always take along our chocolate Lab, Baja, and our new Scottish terrier, Bailey, not only do Lisa and I spend more time together but also all four of us are happier and healthier.

Our walks take us around the neighborhood and next to the wilder parts of the Yavapai Tribes reservation. The snow has melted and landscapes are beginning to thaw with new seedlings beginning their spring journeys into bloom. The wild yarrow and four o’clocks are already up, not blooming, but showing strong growth. It’s very exciting for a gardener to spot signs of spring in January!

Over a month ago, just before that nasty storm hit, I dedicated a column to planting wildflowers. If seed had been sown back then, new seedlings already would be showing spring growth. Now the weather has turned so nice that I thought another reminder as to the best planting technique and seed types was apropo. It’s not too late to plant wildflowers, but for best germination you do need to get these wilder seeds into the ground before the middle of March.

The high country of Arizona has the perfect climate for wildflowers, but there are a few secrets to successful sowing. First has to do with the seed mix. A seed mix that works really well and is really easy to use is the ‘Ultra Wildflowers’ seed collection by AmTurf. It includes the mulch, seed, and fertilizer premixed in one easy-to-use bag. It’s a very good mix for our region.

‘Beauty Beyond Belief’ is the seed of choice for wildflower purists. It is the best collection of truly wild seeds collected throughout the Rocky Mountains for use at high elevations. This family business is so helpful to local garden centers that, by working together, we were able to develop an ‘Arizona Mix’ of wildflowers. This mix is my favorite of the dozens of good local wildflower mixes I sell.

You have plenty of time to plant your wildflowers, but try to finish by the end of February. 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 those that are shade loving, need a considerable amount of sunshine so choose an area that receives at least six hours of sunlight daily.

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 use. 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. Buy a bag of composted mulch, pour it 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 by the end of February through April, as soon as soil temperatures warm. Regardless of planting location, your 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 every time 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 help spread your wildflowers for the following spring. 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!

My mind has been on wildflowers because today’s garden class is ‘Wildflowers Unleashed’. If you like hands-on demonstrations this is a great opportunity, and the class is free. Class starts today at 9:30 and, held inside our largest greenhouse, it is toasty warm even on a chilly morning. See all of this spring’s garden classes on my Watters facebook page under the events listing.

I also will be covering wildflowers in depth on the radio today on KQNA 1130am & 99.9fm from 11:00 to noon. With this hour of garden interviews, tips, tricks, and techniques plus the info in this column, you could become an expert wildflower grower!

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The folks at Google just sent me a 5-minute video specific to me. I run one of the largest garden Internet sites in the state and this was their way of saying thank you. So funny I had to watch it a couple times myself. This is the beauty of Facebook; when I see something shareable it’s easy to post for others to see.

Until next week, I’ll see you at the garden center.