You can pre­pare the ground now for sow­ing wild­flow­ers

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LIVING - By Dean Fos­dick

Wild­flow­ers are among the eas­i­est plants to grow, es­pe­cially if you copy Mother Na­ture. For cool cli­mate gar­den­ers, that means spread­ing seed over the ground after the first killing frost and be­fore the ground hard­ens. Nat­u­ral ger­mi­na­tion in­hibitors will keep them from sprout­ing if tem­per­a­tures warm.

Seeds can be sown well into win­ter for peo­ple who live in the Deep South, but it’s best to get that done ahead of the sea­sonal rains.

“A lot of (wild) grasses are good to go. You can plant them in spring or fall,” said Bill Carter, pres­i­dent of Prairie Moon Nurs­ery near Wi­nona, Min­nesota. “But for most of the flow­ers, es­pe­cially the mixes, plant­ing in the fall is best.”

Pre­pare the ground by clearing away as many com­pet­ing plants as pos­si­ble. Rake to loosen the soil and rip away roots be­fore sur­face seed­ing. Roto-till­ing makes things eas­ier if deal­ing with bare root wild­flower plants or shoots.

“Mass plant­ings can be done after some snow is on the ground,” Carter said. “You can see the throw pat­tern bet­ter. And the freeze-thaw ac­tion of early win­ter ac­tu­ally draws seed into the ground. That nat­u­rally drills it in.”

Most of Prairie Moon’s wild­flower seed or­ders come in the spring but sales for larger projects gen­er­ally oc­cur in au­tumn. “That’s when the pros do their plant­ing,” Carter said.

Choose bare root plants, plugs or seedlings if you want your wild­flower gar­den­ing to be fast and easy, said Mike Li­zotte, a man­ag­ing part­ner of Amer­i­can Mead­ows, a gar­den­ing com­pany in Shel­burne, Ver­mont.

“For most con­sumers, it all comes down to the size of the area to be planted,” Li­zotte said. “They all want speed. But once you get over 100 square feet, when you cal­cu­late how many plugs, bare root plants and seedlings are re­quired, that can amount to hun­dreds or even thou­sands of dol­lars.”

You’ll get the same re­sults with

seeds within a cou­ple of years, he said. “That makes them a whole lot cheaper.”

Most gar­den­ers like peren­ni­als be­cause they con­tinue to flower year after year. “But they won’t flower

the first year,” Li­zotte said. “In­cor­po­rate some an­nu­als for im­me­di­ate color.”

Com­bi­na­tion seed pack­ages seem to be the most pop­u­lar choice for wild­flower buy­ers, he said. “Get a good mix of peren­ni­als and an­nu­als with 20 to 30 species in it.”

Shop around for wild­flow­ers rather than seek­ing them out in the woods. The odds

are against such plants surviving be­ing trans­planted be­cause they of­ten re­quire habi­tats dif­fer­ent from those in your yard.

“It’s il­le­gal to pull them out of the ground on most public lands,” Li­zotte said. “That can draw a stiff fine.”

And be care­ful when shop­ping. Many seed pack­ages come with a high per­cent­age

of filler. Ideally, you would be able to see what’s in them or be able to de­ter­mine how much is pure seed and how much is in­ert mat­ter, Li­zotte said.

The ul­ti­mate re­sult is that the plants may not turn out like those pic­tured,” Li­zotte said. “Look for a com­pany that has a lot of ex­per­tise rather than some­body with

just a lit­tle flash pack­ag­ing.”

On­line

For more about the care and feed­ing of wild­flow­ers, see this Univer­sity of Ver­mont Ex­ten­sion fact sheet: http://pss.uvm.edu/ppp/ pubs/oh84mead.htm

You can con­tact Dean Fos­dick at dean­fos­dick@ netscape.net

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