It Starts With a Seed
The sun is shining. The buds are bursting. And gardeners everywhere are itching to get into their gardens. With the moisture that a Colorado spring can bring, now is a good time to plant seeds. Now, some seeds, such as sunflowers and pumpkins, need the soil to be about 65 degrees Fahrenheit to grow. Around here, that means waiting until mid-May or later to plant. However, many of our native wildflowers aren’t so picky. In the spring, I find myself watching the forecast for the next snow shower, so that I can time wildflower planting to take advantage of Mother Nature’s own sprinkler system.
However, “wildflower” means different things to different people. If you buy a “wildflower” seed mix, even one targeted to our region of the country, you do not necessarily get plants that are native to our area. Most seed mixes will list the plant species included, and gardeners should read those lists carefully before buying seed. California poppies and sweet alyssum, to name a few I’ve seen in mixes, aren’t native to our shortgrass prairies, but Mexican hat coneflower and showy milkweed are. Also, some “mixes” may yield a monoculture of, say, tickseed, just because that seed was healthier, or your site was very tickseed-friendly …perhaps not what you were planning!
It’s worth it to track down which wildflowers you really want in your landscape. Maybe you want Rocky Mountain beardtongue (Penstemon strictus) so you can watch those sweet little bumblebees foraging for pollen and nectar, or blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata) because the rabbits won’t eat it, but the butterflies love it. For example, these are the wildflower seeds we plant most often in the Butterfly Pavilion habitat gardens:
Asclepias speciosa (Asclepiadaceae) – Showy Milkweed
Chrysopsis villosa (Asteraceae) – Hairy golden aster
Cleome serrulata (Capparaceae) – Rocky Mountain Beeplant
Gaillardia aristata (Asteraceae) – Blanketflower
Verbena stricta (Verbenaceae) – Hoary vervain
There are seed companies in the area, such as Applewood Seeds in Arvada (www.applewoodseed.com), which can get you as much as you like of these native beauties. Broadcast separate swaths of each species, or make your own customized mix for a meadow effect.
Now we get to the fun part- planting those seeds! With wildflowers, gardeners don’t have to worry about straight, even rows. You can simply rake part of your garden, broadcast the seed and then sprinkle a little soil or compost on top. Or, you can do something much more fun and plant “Earth balls”.
“Earth balls” are the perfect way to get younger gardeners involved with seed planting. After all, what could be more satisfying than squishing mud between your fingers AND throwing dirt without getting yelled at?
To make “Earth balls”, take half a bucket of soil from your garden, preferably from a non-weedy area. Add water, just enough to make a firm mud that you can mold with your fingers. Add two cups of wildflower seed to the mud, then mold golf ball-sized lumps and lay them out on a tarp to dry in the sun. Voila! You have “Earth balls” galore, and before the next rain or snow, all the kids in the neighborhood can come over to throw these little seed packets into the garden. In a few weeks, you’ll have a little more color and a little more pollinator habitat in your garden for not too much money. The only thing you have to worry about is starting a major dirt clod fight.
Posted by Amy Yarger, Horticulture Director
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