This spring while driving through Oklahoma travelers couldn’t miss the beauty of wildflowers growing on the side of the road. Mother nature grows many of the wildflowers seen, but many have been planted by man. September and October are the months to plant wildflowers for next spring.
There is a common misconception today that wildflowers are easily grown from seed. Some species require a little more effort than spreading seeds on the soil and waiting for the flowers to grow. Most wildflowers require specific soil and temperature conditions and a certain degree of personal attention and patience.
The area to be planted with wildflowers needs to receive at least eight hours of full sunlight. Many wildflowers grow best in rather poor soils, where they don’t have to compete with vigorous growing grasses.
The soil should drain well because most wildflowers will not tolerate boggy, saturated soils. A site that presently has plants on it will most likely grow wildflowers. Bare sites where the topsoil has been removed or has a high pH are too poor for even wildflowers to grow and should be avoided.
September and October are the most favorable months for planting wildflower seeds in Oklahoma; however, it’s the soil temperature, 60 degrees or lower, that dictates planting in the fall.
Site preparation begins with as much vegetation removal as possible. Plants present should be removed or treated with a herbicide, such as Roundup, at least one week prior to tilling.
The site should not be tilled deeply, probably no deeper than 1 inch. Garden sites that have been worked and weeded for several years can be tilled somewhat deeper. Rake the soil to smooth and remove clods or debris that might hinder germination.
The most common cause of poor germination is planting too deep. Wildflowers should be planted 1/16 to 1/8-inch-deep in the soil or as nature would do. Most spring flowering types wildflowers will drop their dried seeds onto the ground. If seeds are planted too deep beneath the soil surface, the seedling will exhaust its food reserve prior to reaching the soil surface causing it to die.
Seeding rates vary tremendously from species to species, so follow directions for the species or wildflower mixture selected.
For small areas, hand broadcast seeds, adding a carrier, such as sand, to the seed to make application easier. Use a grass seeding unit or fertilizer spreader to plant large areas, again using a carrier. The soil should be raked and then rolled with a water-weighted roller, available at most rental stores.
If the seedling is to survive, it must emerge from the soil and quickly begin to produce its own food. Keep the planted area moist for four to six weeks after seeding. Light frequent watering will be needed to keep the ground moist. As plants emerge, reduce water, without allowing the area to dry out. Fall planted wildflowers may need to be watered during warm, dry spells in the winter.
Wildflowers normally do not need fertilizing unless the area has been depleted of nutrients. If a fertilizer is needed broadcast 1/2 to one pound of nitrogen per 1000 square foot in the spring or early summer. For best results, a nitrogen fertilizer, such as 10-20-10, will be sufficient.
To encourage reseeding of annual varieties and promote perennial regrowth, mow the area at a cutting height of 4 to 6 inches two weeks after the last species bloom. The percentage of dead foliage should be much greater than floral color at the time of mowing. Annual mowing aids in seed dispersal, reduces competition of unwanted weeds and grasses and allows sufficient sunlight to penetrate to the lower growing plants and emerging seedlings.
There are several retail stores specializing in Texas wildflowers that will grow in Oklahoma. If a mixture is bought, make sure it is made up of types native to and adapted to our region.