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Duplicate desert wildflower show at home

Our desert is known for its spectacular wildflower displays when weather conditions are right. People come from all over to witness these spectacular shows. I’ll never forget one spring when the desert was seemingly painted with color in every direction.

To duplicate this experience in your yard, take note of how nature accomplishes its wildflower shows. Millions of seeds rest dormant in those desert soils waiting for the right combination of rainfall and soil temperature to germinate in the wild. This only comes about every seven to 10 years. You can supplement those conditions by watering often.

It takes gentle rains and cool nighttime temperatures for those dormant seeds to spring into life. The late Russ Grater who studied these conditions, found it took monthly rains beginning in September to bring about those spectacular displays of color. Sowing seeds now will enhance your chances, as your seedlings will benefit from winter rains plus your supplemental waterings.

The most successful wildflower species are those that grow naturally in the desert such as poppies of any kind, lupine, bluebells, blackfoot daisy, desert marigold, paper flower, desert globe mallow and numerous penstemons.

You’ll find regional wildflower mixes available, but these mixes often include species not adapted to our area and may not germinate. You can order the above desert-adapted seeds from S&S Seeds or Plants of the Southwest on their website.

Select a site to get the greatest impact such as along walkways, near front entrances, or close to a patio where you can enjoy the fruits of your labor. Remember they need full sun.

Our soils are hard, so incorporate some organic matter in them so seedlings can thrive. When the roots are happy, the outcome will be a spectacular display of color.

Here’s how to increase seed germination. Put your seeds in a quart jar, along with two cups of damp sand and vigorously shake the jar for a few minutes. This shaking scarifies the outer seed coats to enhance germination. Most wildflower seeds are tiny, and mixing them with sand enables you to have a little more control when scattering them.

Broadcast half the seeds in one direction and the remaining half in the opposite direction and lightly rake them in. It’s all right if some seeds remain visible. Remember, our goal is to duplicate what happens in our desert.

Avoid planting them too deep. They contain very little stored food and will either run out of it before reaching the surface or may not germinate because of the lack of oxygen or light.

Lightly rake the seedbed so you just cover the seeds. Spread a light covering of organic matter over the area to keep seeds damp until they emerge. Once up you won’t have to water much. Keep the soil moist until the seedlings emerge. Expect to see them emerging within three weeks. To develop and maintain a dense, healthy stand of wildflowers, keep the seed bed evenly moist. This is a step many of us skip, thinking wildflowers don’t require irrigation.

When you begin to see seedlings emerging, expect birds and rodents to find them. Cover your bed with bird netting, chicken wire, held several inches above ground level.

To encourage vigorous growth and abundant flowering, apply a water-soluble fertilizer every three weeks during the growing season.

Keep an eye peeled for unwanted weeds. Many weeds germinate during the winter and become a problem.

You may want to reseed the area for two or three years. This builds up the wildflower population in the soil and improves the odds of re-establishing itself year after year.

It is also important to allow the plants to go to seed before cleaning the area up if you want to develop a superior wildflower garden. This is difficult for many of who want to keep our garden looking good, but it’s necessary to maintain a long-term wildflower meadow.

Once your meadow is established, you will be rewarded in several ways. You will have a colorful flower display that requires only a moderate amount of water. The beautiful blossoms will invite many visitors to your garden, including butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds that are naturally attracted to wildflowers and will arrive in large numbers when your plants are in bloom. People are also enamored with wildflower meadows and will visit and enjoy your display if given the chance.

Linn Mills’ garden column appears on Sundays. He can be reached at linnmillslv@gmail.com or call him
at 702-526-1495.

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