The 2008/2009 Wildflower Project

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UPDATED IN MARCH 2013.

 

Brief History Wildflower Mix The Process Growth Period Results in the second year (2009)
Reports from my Neighbors Tools and Supplies      
Picture:  Seed Canister Picture:  Spider Picture:  Tapped Down Bed Pictire:  First green Pictures:  Wildflowers

In order for you to appreciate the significance of the effort and its results, please pay particular attention to the dates.

 

Brief Historical Overview

2006 Wildflower seeds were harvested and packaged for sale.  Some of the seeds were marketed in containers for consumer garden sized properties.
2007 Some of these seed containers were shipped to Burpee's in Pennsylvania for sale to end-users but Burpee did not sell all of them.  Some were stored in a warehouse until the following year.
2008 I acquired some of these left-over seeds that summer, a little late in the sowing season, and shared some with friends and neighbors but use most myself.
2009 I used more of the same left-over seeds in 2009.
2010 No new seeds were sewn. Wildflowers appeared in a few places.
2011 No new seeds were sewn. Hardly any wildlfowers appeared in previous wildflower beds.
2012 No new seeds were sewn. No wildflowers graced the beds.

 

The Wildflower Mix

The mixed seeds I obtained came in handy canisters.  This mix should do well in my garden in Southeastern Pennsylvania.  For best results, seeds should be sown in the season following the harvest, or as soon as possible after that.  Flowers will not develop from seeds that have gotten too old.  Knowing that, I did not expect the level of success one might have with one year old seeds, and decided to double the quantity of seeds per square foot in order to increase my chances of being able to enjoy the beautiful variety of colors and shapes the package promised. 

Fine seeds, sand and fillers have the tendency to sink to the bottom of the container over time.  It is, therefore advisable to turn the container upside down several times and to shake it up really well prior to opening them and sowing directly from them.  That way, seeds are mixed again and smaller seeds mix again with larger one's.  

Sowing directly from the container works well in small areas such as pots, planters and small flower beds.  For larger areas such as wildflower meadows, seeds can be poured into buckets and bags and distributed from there.  That is the method I employed.

 

The Process  (2008)

Seeds should be covered with about 1/4 inch of loose soil for best performance.  I prepared the soil by first carefully mowing the areas in which I decided to grow wildflowers.  Over the course of previous years, weeds had pretty much taken over that land.  We purposely let parts of our property "go wild" to help sustain local wildlife.  We provide a natural habitat for many beneficial insects and small mammals.  Foxes and birds of prey including owls, red-tailed hawks, Coopers' hawks as well as occasional migratory visitors enjoy our happy hunting grounds.  The property is registered as a Wildlife Habitat.  Partially as a result of these efforts, we now enjoy a large variety of birds and mammals, and one of the kids who live in a house near ours told my wife that we have the biggest spiders in the whole neighborhood.  Well, now there's something to be proud of !

Spiders are quite common on our land.  Many different species of arachnids live in the high grass and hunt smaller insects and whatever they can find.  The spider in the picture is just one example of many.

After mowing, I slowly tilled the soil to a depth of about 4 inches.  A tiller works at a set number of rotations of the tines per minute that dig into the soil .  The crawl speed, that is the speed at which the tiller moves forward, determines how loose the dirt gets.  The level of moisture in the soil and the hardness of the soil greatly influence one's success with tilling.  In general, you want to till when the ground is fairly dry.  Wet soil (too much moisture) clumps, makes tilling difficult and does not usually provide the right ground condition for sowing.  If the soil is too dry, you create dust by tilling.  Ideally, you till when you create neither clumps nor dust.

Going about 4 inches deep at a slow crawl speed allowed me to loosen the dirt and bring deep roots to the surface.  Large pieces of debris could then easily be picked up and were removed. 

Next, I hand-sowed the seeds.  Even distribution is the theoretical goal of that task.  However, it's a good idea to sow more thinly in areas that don't get much rain than in open areas that collect more rain water.  Where large trees block the sun from reaching the ground, rain is usually also deflected.

I then raked the beds to cover the seeds with dirt.  You can accomplish that with one light stroke.  There is no need to "dig" into the soil when all you need is about a quarter inch of loose dirt on top of the seeds.

For best results, you want to tap the dirt afterwards.  This, too can be accomplished quickly when the planting areas are small.  It took me several hours to do the job.  In the picture, you see the board I used to tap the dirt.

It is helpful to water the beds in really dry years.  Since rain was in the forecast I did not have to worry about watering the beds myself.  Keeping my dogs out of the beds was a much more difficult chore.  I erected a temporary fence to keep them off the loose dirt.  Otherwise, they create about 4 inch deep holes where they leave their paw prints.

 

Growth Period

After about three weeks, a few small green tips poked through the top soil, and a week later the color of the bed changed from brown to green.  The amount of time it takes from sowing to seeing first evidence of growth varies with soil quality, rain fall, or watering, amount of sunshine, temperature, etc.   

Another month later the ground started to look like a wildflower meadow.  Since this area had "gone wild" in the past, weeds showed up here and there despite the tilling.  I did not remove them.  However, I cut Canadian thistle back before they allowed their little seeds to parachute in the wind and propagate.

When you see thistle, or any other plants come up that you do not want, you may want to remove them right then.  Once the wildflowers have grown up high, it becomes more difficult to remove them.  At this early stage of development, you can still see exactly where the unwanted plants are growing .

All of the pictures shown in the grid below were taken in 2008.

2009 - The Following Year

Most of the wildflowers in the mix I had sown are annuals.  I did not expect much the following year and repeated the process in some of the beds I had prepared in the previous year but let other beds "go wild" again. Weeds took the beds I had not sown again over.  A few wildflowers popped up here and there but there were far too few to provide an appreciable degree of coverage.   The picture on the right serves as an example.  It shows a few wildflowers that had come up in a bed I had not been sown again.

Wildflowers did return to the beds I had sown again with now two year old seeds.  Canadian thistle returned in large numbers and formed clusters in some of these beds.  I cut their heads before their seeds could parachute all over creation.

 

Reports from my Neighbors

My neighbors reported less success than I had.  I attribute that partially to the location of the beds they selected and the lack of preparatory work such as tilling.   One neighbor admitted he neglected to water the beds sufficiently in a dry bed.

Wildflowers will do well in a flower pot filled with clean garden soil but if you want to grow them directly on your land, I strongly suggest you prepare the soil to give them a good start in the appropriate growing environment.

 

Tools and Supplies

If you want to start a wildflower garden on your own, I suggest the following tools and supplies.

Seeds Select seeds suitable for your geographic area and soil condition.  No matter how much you may like a "California wildflower mix", the results of your efforts will not match the picture on the package when you sew these seeds in Maine.  You won't get good results by sowing seeds of plants that typically grow in areas other than your own.  When in doubt, ask for advice at an Agway, or a similar seed store.  Your County Extension office may also offer very helpful advice, particularly if you plan to grow a lot of flowers on a commercial farm.
Tiller

For small beds, a rented walk-behind tiller from places like Home Depot and Rental World will work fine.  Tillers with wheels are easier to handle than tillers without wheels.  Some wheeled tillers are gear driven and actually crawl forward without your help.  Smaller people and those lacking the physical strength to push a tiller one second and try and hold it pack another will appreciate gear-driven tillers.

For large areas, a commercial-type tiller may be your best choice.  Some small versions can be mounted on garden tractors but most require the horsepower and lifting gear of a farm tractor, or at least a compact utility tractor.

Rake Use a rake to cover the seeds with dirt.  I use an extra wide rake with a wooden handle to which I added an extension that allows me to reach farther than I possible could with a regular handle.
Tamper I use an old table top as a tamper.  I attached a piece of rope that allows me to move the tamper without having to bend down.  I start at one corner of the bed, perform a little dance on the tamper to weigh the dirt underneath down, then move to the next square and start all over again. If you are worried about what the neighbors may think about you dancing in your garden, invite them to dance with you. You'll get done with your beds in no time.

I do not like to use a roller because it would require a tractor or some other vehicle to pull it and the tractor would compress the freshly tilled soil applies. Since rollers are weighed down with oil or water, you have good control over how much pressure is exerted on the ground.

There is a work-around solution to the tractor problem: Use a winch to pull the roller across your land. Whether or not the work required to set up a winch justifies not having to dance is a question you have to answer yourself.

Water supply You will likely need a supply of water.  This could be as easy as setting up a sprinkler system that is fed from a garden hose.

If you need to control aggressive weeds, you may want to eradicate them before you sow wildflower seeds.  I had fairly good success with buckwheat.  Buckwheat is relatively cheap and grows fast.  It keeps the sun from reaching other plants and enriches the soil with valuable nutrients.  Bees may become frequent visitors and collect nectar when the buckwheat is blooming. Some butterflies may also want to visit your buckwheat garden.

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