If you’re looking for low-care flower-garden ideas, wildflowers may be your answer. They are native plants and are less likely to be damaged by insects and diseases. Wildflowers also nurture beleaguered pollinators, butterflies and birds. Here’s how to create your wildflower garden…
Prepare a spot. Clear a wide, open area, or prepare a curb strip or driveway or walkway border. Evict the weeds. Improve poor soil by digging in organic matter such as compost, bagged dehydrated cow manure and/or topsoil.
There are two ways to proceed…
For quick results, sow a “meadow mix” according to the can or label directions. These blends consist of colorful annual wildflowers along with some grasses. The hope is that the annuals will go to seed in autumn, and their offspring will show up the following spring. Be choosy: Buy your meadow mix from a wildflower nursery or regional specialist, not at a hardware or box store.
Or invest in young perennial plants. Aim for a variety so there will always be something to admire.
Discover the sun-lovers. Many sunny-garden flowers actually are native meadow plants—sometimes the original species…sometimes improved varieties. These include black-eyed Susan, coneflower, coreopsis, yarrow, salvia, New England aster, meadow rue and bee balm. Depending on where you live, there may be other choices unique to your region—the bluebonnet in Texas…or lupines in Maine, for example.
Add native grasses. Native grasses bring an authentic “meadow” look and keep your display interesting when wildflowers are out of bloom. These are clump-formers—not at all like lawn grass. They grow waist high or taller and often have appealing flower spikes. Garden-appropriate grasses: Little and big bluestem, quaking grass and sideoats grama.
Include annuals for fast color. Interspersing annuals carries the display while the perennials are establishing. Examples: Bachelor’s button, California poppy and/or larkspur.
Fill a woodland glade with flowers. Plenty of wildflowers prosper under deciduous trees in nature, and you can recreate that look. Preparation is important—get rid of weeds, ground cover and shrubby plants, rocks and debris. Spread topsoil and other organic matter to a depth of four to six inches. Avoid areas directly under bigger trees.
Woodland wildflowers bloom in spring, when sunlight still reaches the forest floor. These flowers will go dormant in summer, but they’ll return next spring. Some to try: Foam flower, bloodroot, columbine, Solomon’s seal, trillium and bunchberry.
Get small, healthy plants from a good native-plant nursery. To help them settle in: Water and mulch them…and tear out or clip back encroaching plants or weeds.
Don’t be a purist. When you go shopping for wildflowers, you’ll see “cultivars” (cultivated varieties). These are the variations and improved versions mentioned above. Their growth habit may be shorter or less rangy, and flower production is better. Sometimes the flowers themselves are improved—a shade garden with a patch of big, fluffy “Multiplex” bloodroot flowers is more spectacular than any you’d see in the woods.
Color variations also are available. Example: Coneflowers come in a rainbow of bright colors, including orange, magenta and yellow.