In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
October, 2004
Regional Report

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Sow seeds now for a colorful blend of spring wildflowers.

Wildflowers Persevere

One of my favorite plant people handed me a brown paper bag marked "Desert Marigold" the other day. Some folks exchange packages of rare gems or contraband substances; we gardeners experience sweaty palms and racing hearts over shared bags of wildflower seeds!

My friend's front yard is a colorful melange in spring, graced by lovely stands of blooming wildflowers: desert bluebells, poppies, penstemons, lupines, and of course, desert marigolds. My own front yard wildflower patch was desecrated early this year. Just as hundreds of tiny seedlings were preparing to stand on their own two feet, the homeowner's association landscaping crew sprayed them with herbicide, mistaking them for a healthy crop of weeds! Talk about sweaty palms and racing heart! It's probably a good thing the workers were nowhere in the vicinity when I discovered their transgression!

On the positive side, Mexican hat (Ratibida columnaris) came back with a vengeance this summer, ignoring whatever herbicide was there, so I'm assuming the chemical has dissipated. I'm going to sow the entire bag of desert marigold seeds and post a warning sign to those landscapers to keep out!

Sowing Wildflower Seeds
Wildflowers are the easiest things to grow if you mimic the conditions they experience in the wild. Choose an area in full sun. Very lightly rake the soil, loosening it to a depth of no more than 1 inch. This encourages good soil-to-seed contact for germination. Stirring up the soil more deeply is unnecessary and just brings weed seeds to the surface. Do not add soil amendments or fertilizer.

Wildflower seeds are so tiny that mixing them with "filler" sand or soil in a 1 to 4 ratio helps to spread them more evenly. Sprinkle half the mix across the soil north to south; the other half east to west. Press seeds into the soil with the back of a rake or gently walk across the area. Seeds shouldn't be covered any more than 1/16 of an inch or germination will be reduced.

Tending
Maintain consistently moist soil for about four to six weeks until seeds germinate and seedlings establish. Reduce watering after seedlings are about 1 to 2 inches tall, giving them a deep soaking only as needed to prevent yellowing or wilting.

The hardest part of wildflower growing for many folks, including myself, is thinning. However, it is essential to thin as soon as possible after germination if you want a healthy stand of flowers. Ultimately allow about 8 to 12 inches between each plant. Snip them at the base with scissors to avoid disturbing nearby root systems of remaining seedlings.


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