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Growing Wildflowers In The Summertime

July 13th, 2012

Who doesn’t appreciate the beauty of vibrantly colored wildflowers? Whether on a scenic drive or appreciated in the backyard – wildflowers are a genius idea for beautifying areas that may need more color and texture. Given the right care and plenty of rain, wildflowers can make front entrances, walkways, patios and even brown gravel instantly come to life with carpets of blooming flowers. Although wildflowers grow best in the Springtime, there are a handful of varieties that do quite well specifically in the summertime during monsoon season. Therefore, if you live in the Southwest or in an area that receives plenty of rain in the summer months – wildflowers are a wonderful option.

Some Background On Wildflowers

The lifecycle of an annual wildflower includes: germination, growth, flowering, setting of seed, and death. The sexual parts of the plants are the flowers and fruits, which must successfully thrive if a plant is to reproduce. In nature, it is vital that these short-lived plants are able to flower and produce seed in order to ensure survival of the species.

Annual wildflowers grow best in warm-arid climates.  In fact, there are no annual plants in the polar regions of the wet tropics for this reason! In the driest areas of the Southwest, like in the sandy flats near Yuma, Arizona – up to 90% of plants are annuals. Yet, not every attempt at growing wildflowers ensures a spectacular wildflower garden. Mass germination and prolific growth depend on rains that are both early and frequent.

When To Grow Wildflowers

In the desert southwest, spring is by far the best wildflower season.  However, there are small group of summer blooming wildflowers that respond very well to summer rains. This includes the annual Devils’ Claw and Arizona Poppy.  For these summer blooming wildflowers, the strong rains of July and August coax the heat loving wildflowers into bloom.  Therefore, these seeds are best planted in May or June. If you are considering planting wildflowers this year, now is the time!

If you prefer to wait for peak season, the winter-spring species are the most numerous. These are the flashy ones that attract the most attention in the spring. The most common showy winter annuals in the southwest are the Mexican gold poppy, Lupine, and owl clover.

Deciding Where To Plant

When planting wildflowers, it’s best practice to not begin with overly impressive plans.  You may not be able to plant a vast meadow of wildflowers right away. Start with areas that will get noticed: near front entrances, close to the patio, or along walkways. Start small and add on more each year or growing season.

Ironically, weeds and wildflowers need similar conditions to grow. So be sure to plant in areas with full sun exposure, and aim for a minimum of 8 hours a day.   However, if you notice the soil is impacted – some work may need to be done if you suspect dozens of dormant weeds are waiting underground to sprout.

The End Of The Season And Collecting Seeds

Annuals finish their life cycle in one short season. At the end of the cycle, they may dry up, shrivel, and become unsightly for you and your neighbors. Do keep in mind that if you’ve used a variety of both perennials and annuals, the die off won’t appear as harsh. When handling the annuals, wait to remove the plants until after they have set seed. Seed build-up improves chances for increased germination in the following season. For seed savers, this is a real treat during the growing season. Learning to identify when the seeds of different flowers are ripe can be a challenge, but when you get the hang of it, many find it’s very rewarding.

When cleaning up at the end of the season, remove the annuals by pulling the entire plant, or by cutting them at ground level. Cutting the plant at the ground allows the root to decompose naturally into the soil, which can provide nutrients for next season’s wildflowers. Perennials may be left in the garden to bloom again the next season, or can be cut back for new growth if needed.

Some Additional Tips:

*Planting summer wildflowers in the early summer works best – before or just as the monsoon season begins.

*Extreme heat during the initial development can reduce the bloom. So plant as early in the summer as possible!

*Seeds of different species have different germination requirements. Timing and temperature, along with quantity of the first rain that triggers germination, determine which species will dominate or even be present at all.

*To help ensure mass germination, there should be a soaking rain of at least 1 inch.  Following the initial moisture, frequent monthly rains are necessary for vitality and growth.

*If subsequent rains are few and far between, plants may be short and small, and may only produce one flower with a few seeds. While wimpy, this can be enough to ensure future generations.

*Keep intruders like tumbleweeds, buffel-grass and other weeds out of the wildflower gardens, as they are a real threat to wildflowers survival!

Friends, would you consider growing wildflowers in your yard? Which varieties would you love to grow?

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