Wildflower Meadows

 

Meadow Bordered by Fence

 

Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries
Urban Wildlife Program Series:   Wildflower Meadows for Wildlife

ADVANTAGES OF WILDFLOWER MEADOWS

  • Natural Beauty with Low Maintenance
    Have you ever seen black-eyed Susans or coreopsis blooming on the side of the road in the summer when it hasn't rained in weeks? Do you wonder how they manage to survive in the intense heat and dry conditions? To some those are weeds, to others, wildflowers. Did you know there are plenty of wildflowers you can grow in your yard that are just as tolerant of harsh conditions? Growing wildflowers can add a tremendous burst of color to your yard and be quite maintenance free. You can have native flowers blooming from spring right through to early fall.

     

  • Reduce Lawns, Reduce Mowing
    Planting a wildflower meadow is a great way to reduce the size of a lawn that requires constant upkeep. By reducing the size of the lawn, you will spend less time mowing, use less fertilizers and lawn chemicals, and water less in the summer. If your yard gets a minimum of six to eight hours of sunlight a day, you can plant wildflowers. When done properly, you can transform a portion of your yard into a meadow that will last for years with very little annual maintenance.

     

  • Wildlife Habitat
    Wildflowers provide habitat for a host of insects and other small critters. Bees and butterflies, hummingbirds and lizards will all find something to their liking in a wildflower meadow. Many recommended wildflower species are highly sought after by butterflies and hummingbirds. Most will provide nectar and some are host plants for the larval stage of certain butterflies. The flowers themselves make excellent arrangements when cut, and the colors they provide can be stunning.

 

Larger Wildflower Meadow

CREATING A WILDFLOWER MEADOW

  • Take Time for Planning
    Establishing a wildflower meadow takes some planning and patience. You could run down to the nearest discount store and pick up a bag of wildflower seeds (complete with mulch and fertilizer), read the directions and BAM! instant meadow. This would give you some flowers, but more than likely, you would be disappointed with the end result. Many of these wildflower "kits" contain species that are not adapted to this climate or region and won't perform as advertised.

     

  • Use Native Species
    What you want is a mix of seeds that is tailored specifically to the region you are in. Most of Louisiana is in the U.S.D.A. plant hardiness zone 8. The coastal parishes are in zone 9. Look for this on seed packages. You also want seeds that are recommended for the southeastern United States. Seeds and seed mixes for other areas will not perform well here. You can find prepared seed mixes in catalogues that specialize in wildflowers. You can also create your own mix by selecting seeds for those flowers you like. Selecting natives ensures that the plants are adapted to the region and should perform well, although many of the exotic species have naturalized and also do well in this climate. The exotic species listed in Appendix I are naturalized species.

Things to Consider

  • Species Height and Blooming Season
    When choosing seeds to plant, there are several things to think about. Some plants bloom in early spring, others in late summer, and some bloom for several months. There are short wildflowers and some that reach four or five feet tall. You don't want to plant tall varieties that may obstruct your view of other areas. On the other hand, you can use tall varieties to screen off areas you wish to hide. You can create a mix of plants that bloom from early spring all the way into the fall. Selecting species that bloom at different times can ensure that you have flowers throughout the growing season. This can be done with only two or three species, or with many. The more species in the mix, the more variety you will have in flowers.

    Be aware that some wildflowers are annuals, some perennials and a few are biennials. Annuals complete their life cycle in one season and die. They are only replaced if they reseed themselves. Perennials will come back from the roots each year, and may also reseed, producing more plants. Biennials require two growing seasons to complete their life cycle and then die, but may reseed themselves.

     

  • Location, Location, Location!
    Selecting a location is as important as anything else. The most important consideration is sunlight. The more sun, the better. Wildflowers perform best in full sun, but can grow with six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day.

    Choose a well-drained site. Avoid areas that stay wet for prolonged periods. You might think that moist soil would be good for the plants, however, wildflowers prefer drier sites and require little water. Wildflowers would be out-competed by weeds on moist, rich soil. This is one of the benefits of meadows. Unlike a lawn, wildflowers do well during dry periods without watering. The only time wildflowers need supplemental water is during prolonged droughts when the plants start to show stress.

     

  • Size of the Meadow
    The size of the meadow is up to you. You can do an entire acre if you have the space, or just a small corner of the yard. Wildflowers make great borders along fences. They are also good for filling in areas that are difficult to mow such as a hillside or slope. Most wildflowers do well in poor soil. In fact, it is not recommended that wildflowers be fertilized. If a soil test indicates that the soil is depleted of nutrients, you can add a low nitrogen fertilizer. Fertilizing plants after they are established, though, tends to make the plants put on thick foliage, few flowers, and it encourages weed growth.

Purple Coneflower and Milkweed - Butterfly FavoritesPREPARING THE SITE

In order to plant a wildflower meadow, the site must be prepared properly to avoid having problems with weeds and other grasses. Any existing grass and weeds must be removed. The easiest way to do this is to treat the site with a systemic, broad spectrum herbicide such as Roundup ©. After the grass is dead, rake and remove the dead vegetation. Lightly till the site to a depth of not more than one inch. Don't till deeper than one inch! You don't want to release dormant weed seeds that are buried in the soil. Scraping the ground with an iron rake is sufficient.

Once the site is prepared, mix the seeds with some inert material such as sand or loose potting soil and broadcast the mixture over the area. The seeds must be pressed into the soil by rolling or by pressing a board down onto the seedbed. You can just walk over the entire area to pack down the soil. The objective is to have good contact between the soil and seeds. Some seeds will still be visible when you are done.

Keep the area moist for four to six weeks to ensure germination and allow the plants to establish themselves. Do not allow the area to dry out while the seeds are germinating. Do not saturate the soil either as this can drown the seedlings. Once the plants are established (one to two inches), you can gradually reduce watering to only when the plants begin to show stress.

As mentioned earlier, wildflowers prefer dry sites so resist the temptation to keep watering to make them grow. At this stage, some unwanted weeds and grasses may appear. Remove these as they appear to avoid problems later. If you are not sure what you are looking for, plant some of your seed mix in a container and use that to compare to what grows in the seedbed. There are herbicides available that kill only grasses and are safe to apply over the top of the wildflower plants (which are broadleaf plants).

WHEN TO PLANT

In Louisiana, the best time to plant wildflowers is in the fall. This gives the plants time to germinate and become established before winter. It is also easier to kill the existing grass before it goes dormant in the winter. When spring arrives, the plants will be ready to take off and bloom at the proper time. Wildflower seedlings are hardy enough to survive our mild winters, but if a prolonged cold period is expected, or a hard freeze, lightly mulch the area with pine straw. Avoid using a mulch that contains other seeds such as hay. You don't want to introduce weeds. Lightly rake the mulch aside when it warms up. If you wait until spring to plant, the temperature may got too hot too soon for the plants to germinate and grow well.

Rocks Set Among Wildflowers

WHAT NEXT?

By now you have selected a suitable location, prepared the soil, planted the seeds and kept them moist until they germinated. You now have a bed of wildflower seedlings that are only a few inches wide and low to the ground. It is early March and the temperature is on the rise. If you have selected spring blooming varieties, you should expect to see flowers soon. The summer and fall bloomers are still small plants waiting their turn. A few weeds will inevitably find their way into the area, so remove them as they appear. Other than enjoying the view and the many visitors that the area will attract, an occasional sprinkling during extremely dry times is all that is required.

Once the blooming season draws to a close, it's time to prepare the area for next year. About two weeks after the final blooms lose their color and turn brown, it's time to mow. Cutting the plants down to four to six inches will scatter the seeds of the flowers, and clean up the look of the area. You may want to mow over it twice to fully break up the stems and pieces. This allows sunlight to reach the ground and start the germination process all over again. It also helps to reduce competition from other weeds. Many seeds will begin germinating soon after mowing if they get enough moisture.

Both annuals and perennials will come back next year. The annuals will reseed and the perennials will resprout. The second year should be more spectacular than the first.

With a little luck, some patience, and the right weather and soil conditions, you will have a beautiful flower display for years to come. It is a great way to reduce the size of the lawn you currently maintain. Put out a little work in the fall when the weather is cool and mow once or twice a year. Sounds better than mowing every weekend from March through October!

COMMON REASONS FOR POOR RESULTS

  1. Several factors contribute to problems with wildflower gardens. One mistake is planting on an improper site. Remember, lots of sun and good drainage is a must. Wildflowers do not like wet or shady ground.
  2. Another problem you may encounter is too much competition from weeds. This can be a result of not properly removing the existing vegetation prior to preparing the site. It can also be a result of tilling the soil too deep. Most soils contain thousands of dormant weed seeds that are released when the soil is disturbed. Tilling too deep will result in many of these seeds being released.
  3. Planting the seeds too deeply will give poor results. When the seeds germinate, the seedling must reach the soil surface to survive. If planted too deep, the seedlings never reach the surface. Walking over or rolling the seedbed will give proper seed/soil contact for germination.
  4. Trying to cover a large area with too few seeds will give poor results. Pay close attention to seeding rates, especially when mixing seeds of different species.
  5. Planting at the wrong time of year can cause complete failure of a wildflower meadow. October, November and December are good times to plant seeds in Louisiana. The seeds that do not germinate right away will sprout early in the spring when the soil temperature rises.

APPENDIX I

WILDFLOWERS SUITABLE FOR GROWING IN LOUISIANA

Common Name Scientific Name Type of Species Origin
African Daisy Dimorphotheca aurantiaca A D
Baby's Breath Gypsophila muralis A D
Bird's Eyes Gilia Tricolor A N
Bishop's Flower Ammi majus A D
Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta A* N
Blanket Flower Gaillardia aristata P N
Blazing Star Liatris spicata P N
Butterfly Weed Asclepias tuberosa P N
California Poppy Eschscholzia californica A* N
Catchfly Silene armeria A* D
Chicory Chicorium intybus P E
Clasping Coneflower Rudbeckia amplexicaulis A N
Cornflower Centaurea cyanus A D
Cosmos Cosmos bipinata A D
Crimson Clover Trifolium incarnatum A E
Dame's Rocket Hesperis matronalis P E
Drummond Phlox Phlox drummondii A N
Dwarf Red Coreopsis Coreopsis sp. A D
Evening Primrose Oenothera lamarckiana A N
Five Spot Nemophila maculata A N
Gay Feather Liatris pycnostachya P N
Indian Blanket Gaillardia pulchella A N
Gold Yarrow Achillea filipendulina P E
Johnny-Jump Up Viola cornuta A* D
Lemon Mint Monarda citriodora A* N
Mealy Blue Sage Salvia farinacea P N
Mexican Hat Ratibida columnaris A* N
Moss Verbena Verbena tenuisecta P E
Ox-eyed Daisy Chrysanthemum leucanthemum P E
Plains Coreopsis Coreopsis tinctoria A N
Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea P N
Red Corn Poppy Papaver rhoeas A D
Rocket Larkspur Delphinium ajacis A D
Rose Angel Viscaria oculata A D
Rose Mallow Lavatera trimestris A E
Scarlet Flax Linum rubrum A D
Scarlet Sage Salvia coccinea A* N
Shasta Daisy Chrysanthemum maximum P D
Showy Primrose Oenothera speciosa P N
Standing Cypress Ipomopsis rubra P N
Sweet Alyssum Lobularia maritima A D
Sweet William Dianthus barbatus A* D
Tahoka Daisy Machaeranthera tanacetifolia A N
Tickseed Coreopsis lanceolata P N
Toadflax Linaria maroccana A D
Tuber Vervain Verbena rigida P E
Yellow Cosmos Cosmos sulphureus A D
Yarrow Achillea millefolium P E

A      Annual
P      Perennial
A*     Frequently and annual, occasionally a short term perennial
A      Annual, not to be mixed with other species. Will crowd out other flowers.

N     Native to North America
E     Exotic, not native to North America
D     Domesticated; genetically altered species (usually exotics) that do not reproduce. Must be replanted each year.

Urban Wildlife Program


Wildflower Meadows for Wildlife

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