When should you sow those wild (flower) seeds? | VailDaily.com

When should you sow those wild (flower) seeds?

Tom Glass
Vail CO, Colorado

The price of wildflower seed being what it is, it takes a real leap of faith to walk out and scatter a pound of seed costing the equivalent of a meal (including wine and dessert) at any of the finest restaurants up and down this valley.

So the question becomes how can one get the most flowers out of the seed? Do you sow it now, or do you sow it in spring?

Sowing wildflower seed in autumn most closely mirrors nature. It is the most commonly accepted way of growing wildflowers from seed around here. After all, the real wildflowers of this past summer having gone to seed are now being scattered naturally across the valley. It would stand to reason that planting now would yield the full potential that nature allows, and it does, which is less than the full potential of the seed.

Fortunately, for farmers of every sort, nature can be inefficient. Subjecting a seed to the highs and lows of the remaining autumn and winter, coupled with six months of being available as fodder for rodents and rot, pretty much takes out the overwhelming majority of the seeds naturally and manually scattered about.

The trick is to shorten the amount of time a seed is exposed to the elements before it becomes a sprout. So, why not just cut out winter and sow in spring as one does with zinnias? Well, there are other factors involved.

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Many alpine plants and other wildflowers grown in this region require a cold period known as winter or cold stratification. Successful seed stratification can be done in a baggie holding moist peat kept six weeks in a refrigerator, but it’s too big a pain in the neck for the average gardener to keep a watchful eye on a pound of seed stewing in their fridge, and even then things can go wildly awry.

A compromise is to let Mother Nature do the stratification in April. The temperatures are right and the last of the snow allows one to see how evenly the seed has been scattered. Before sowing, to cut down the shock of being tossed outdoors, chill the seed for a week in your refrigerator, not the freezer. Ideally, sow the seed just prior to a snowfall, to prevent it from becoming birdseed. To make it easier to sow evenly and not overly dense, combine the seed with some sand, four parts sand to one part seed.

Sowing seed on the backside of winter eliminates all of the pitfalls remaining in autumn and places a seed closer to being a sprout in spring.

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