Vail Daily column: Time is near to plant wildflowers
Rocky Mountain Gardens
Vail, CO Colorado
Sometime before the snows start sticking it will be time to put down wildflower seed, but that’s not quite yet.
Wait until it is cold enough that seeds won’t germinate. As many exposures (southern) throughout the valley don’t hold snow early, you have several weeks yet.
Most wildflower seeds are easy to grow. They’re used to growing in the challenges of nature. Two native examples give evidence of their tendencies to want to grow from seed – columbines and harebells.
Columbines are seeded on the surface or barely scratched in to pin. They are easy to grow from seed and the seeds are also easy to harvest and store. They’re also easy to start indoors. Remember, some species (and subsequent hybrids) are native to drier and hotter climates, but they love to grow anywhere here.
Golden (also called golden spur) columbine is a top perennial that is native to a somewhat hotter climate. Its color is really a nice light yellow, not flower golden by definition. (Black-eyed Susans are an example of “golden.”)
Some other columbine species are not as heat-tolerant, but any of the large columbine varieties have a good measure of versatility. Some columbines are alpines, some are part-shade plants, but there are some that are native to high deserts and they like it here.
Scottish harebell is a good perennial for cooler gardens, and also works in part sun downvalley. It takes sun fine, but goes to seed much earlier. It’s a seed mine, and it is easy to grow, too.
Penstemons aren’t hard to grow from seed, but are a little more involved. Wild seed needs to be set in the fall, or seed must be stored properly and “stratified.” Stratification is the cold period some seeds need before their cycle will let them germinate. Different penstemon species have different stratification requirements. Any source that sells unstratified seed will tell what you need to do.
Mulching or pinning seed should be done as needed. The challenge with wildseeding is seed eroding away, whether wind or water. Clean straw, not hay, works in many situations as it lets light and moisture through. (Some seeds are light-germinated.) Tackifiers that adhere seed or mulch to soil help.
Avoid the tendency to overseed. If seed is to be scattered, try to spread it so the seed falls far enough apart for adult size. For single plants, placing seed lets you grow individuals where you want them. Neither technique is difficult. It’s easy to seed right.
Erigerons and wild asters are simple. Desert globemallow isn’t hard to grow, it just doesn’t get used. Sulfur Umbrella (Eriogonum umbellatum) is dazzling, and is one of the top 10 for native garden beauty.
The list of good wildseed choices is long. Try to stick with regional natives, rather than delve too much into plains wildflowers and beyond. The local palette is so good, there is no reason to look elsewhere. I’ve mentioned Beauty Beyond Belief wildflower seeds, sold at a few stores locally. Call around and ask. Wildflower Farm in Edwards has an extensive selection of flower seeds, including good regional native selections.
It’s a good time to get seed, and you can still order and plant perennials. Check out Southwest Native Plants, and Western Native Seed online.
Watch here for the fall bulb column.
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