Sunday, February 22, 2009

Call of the Wild (Flowers)

(ARA) – At a time when “green” is the color of thoughtful lifestyles, gardening practices are going greener, too. Some gardens awash in the biggest, brightest, newest flowers are sadly lifeless, lacking the buzz of the bees, the fluttering of butterflies and the zip of hummingbirds. To make these creatures welcome, gardeners need to go a little wild themselves, setting aside their visions of gardens groomed and sprayed into submission.

Gardeners need to re-imagine their gardens as an outdoor café and build safe havens for birds, bees and butterflies. How? By setting the table with nectar and seeds that are on the menus of local wildlife. This spring, plant a patch of wildflowers and watch the garden come alive.

Wildflowers and their dependents -- insects and birds -- work together in harmony with local climates. Naturally adapted to soil, sun and moisture conditions, wildflowers offer more than simple grace and unaffected charm.

They represent an earth-friendly, attractive alternative, thriving without fertilizers, pesticides and constant irrigation.

In nature, wildflowers mark the seasons with glorious bursts of color. Spring bluebells and columbines might give way to yarrows and rues, which in turn leave the season’s last word to coneflowers and asters.

The wildflower patch is typically an exuberant and ever-changing continuous carpet of carefree blossoms. Since the look is more relaxed than that of formal garden beds, wildflowers can beautify areas that are very difficult to maintain -- hillsides, woodland edges, lake borders or that awkward strip between the driveway and the property line.

While the aim is a casual, unstudied appearance, wildflower gardens do require some planning. One key is choosing a seed mix created for your region, taking into account the hardiness zone, elevation and typical soil, sun and moisture conditions. offers a wide variety of blends for nine areas of the country, from the rainy northeast to the dry southwest. The company also has specialty mixes specifically designed to attract beneficial insects and butterflies -- as well as a blend deer find unappealing. Each mix includes 10 to 20 plant species, providing flowers season-long and a mix of annuals and perennials for both quick color and staying power.

Site preparation is important and a little up-front effort can pay big dividends. Follow these steps:

* Choose a sunny, well-drained location. Most wildflowers want six to eight hours of direct sunlight and few will tolerate “wet feet.”

* Remove any sod and till to a depth of just 1 or 2 inches. More will only bring additional weed seeds to the surface.

* Weed control is crucial to get wildflowers off to a good start. Instead of using a strong, chemical pesticide to kill weeds, manage weeds naturally. Encourage weeds to grow with regular watering and then pull the weeds before sowing wildflowers, or use a low-toxicity herbicide.

* Sow seeds according to directions -- the maximum amount recommended will produce a dense patch, the minimum a more scattered look.

* For easier sowing, mix seed with dry sand, which is more visible against the soil. Blend well, using a ratio of one part seed to one or two parts sand.

* Good seed-to-soil contact encourages germination. A lawn roller is ideal, but stepping across the bed, compressing soil underfoot, will do the job.

* No fertilizer is necessary, but the seedbed should be kept moist for about four weeks until seeds sprout. Then watering can taper off unless conditions are unusually dry.

Once established, a wildflower garden requires little routine maintenance. A once-a-year mowing to 4 to 6 inches in late fall will keep tree seedlings from intruding and spread the season’s crop of seeds.

To see wildflower mixes offered for your region and view details on individual species, visit

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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