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Note: 

Naturalizing is giving plants very little help, if any, after the 2nd or 3rd year of planting.  In our meadow, with its sandy, beach-like soil.

Despite what the article below suggests, our rudbekia,  purple coneflower (echinacea) and gaillardia,  get no hand watering and little weeding look better and  suffer less from extended dry periods than those planted in a tilled, weeded bed.  Our daylilies also do better with a minimum of weeding. 

Gaillardia,  rudbekia (black-eyed susans), and helianthus (false sunflower) withstand drought better than most naturalizing ornamentals.   Rugosa roses are a must for sandy, beachy soils like ours.  Ours came from sister-in-law Liz, in Maine, where they grow wild along the beaches and roadsides.   Yarrow grows wild in our meadow, so we don't plant it. 

Asclepias 'tuberosa', or Butterfly Weed, also a perennial, blooms this month.  It is extremely attractive to butterflies its deep taproot makes it adaptable to New Hampshire's sandy, dry growing conditions.  One transplant survived in the meadow.  In Virginia's clayey soil, our asclepias grew as tall as 30" and its flowertop formed a seed capsule much like a dandelion or milkpod,  with dozens of seeds attached to be distributed by the slightest wind.  

See also Butterfly Gardens  and Woodland and Meadow Plantings. 

 

Wildflowers for the Home Landscape - Nebguide

Dale T. LindgrenUniversity of Nebraska Cooperative Extension educational programs abide with the non-discrimination policies of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the United States Department of Agriculture.
Extension Horticulturalist


Wildflowers and native plants can be a unique and interesting addition to the home landscape. The terms wildflower and native plant are often used synonymously; however, in many cases they are not the same. Wildflowers are described as flowering herbaceous plants (forbs) that grow with little or no human assistance. They can be native or introduced. Native plants in the Great Plains are generally described as those found growing in a defined area prior to the arrival of European settlers. Native plants may be grasses, forbs, shrubs or trees. Wildflowers and native plants also may be classified as annuals, biennials or perennials.

Wildflowers can be used as landscape plants, as fresh cut flowers, in dried floral arrangements, to attract butterflies and for planting in mini-meadows or prairies. They also may be used in low maintenance areas and in sites requiring drought tolerant plants. However, some native species may be less drought tolerant than non-native species.

Site Selection and Preparation

A wildflower planting in the home landscape may vary from a single plant in the flower garden to multiple plantings in large areas. Start with a small wildflower planting and expand it as time permits. A site that will not grow other plants and weeds or has some type of soil problem will probably not be ideal for wildflowers. Sun-loving wildflowers require sunny sites and shade-loving wildflowers require shady sites. The site and the wildflowers used there should be compatible.

Prepare a site for wildflowers by working the soil using a spade, rototiller or plow. If needed, improve the soil by adding well-rotted manure at the rate of 15 to 20 bushels per 1,000 square feet.

Eliminate weeds, especially perennial weeds, before planting to reduce weed problems later. Eliminate perennial weeds by using cultivation or herbicides such as Glyphosate, also known as Roundup or Kleenup1. To help reduce annual weeds in a wildflower planting, water a previously tilled site to encourage weed seed germination, then cultivate again to destroy young weed seedlings.

Plant Material

Plant material can be obtained through various sources including local nurseries, mail order companies, wildflower societies and other organizations. It also can be collected from wild or cultivated plants, but caution should be used when collecting plants or seed from native sites. Wildflowers growing in natural areas often do not survive transplanting and sometimes natural populations can be disturbed, damaged or eliminated by collecting plants or seeds. Seed from some wildflower species require special conditions to induce germination. Some wildflowers are endangered or rare and should not be collected.

Wildflowers can be purchased and planted as individual plants or as seed. Seed may be planted as individual species or as a mix of several species. Prepackaged wildflower seed mixes are commonly available. Study the package label to learn package contents, how large an area it will plant, and the type of site to which it is adapted, such as sunny or shaded, wet or dry. Not all mixes perform equally as well in all areas and some species in a mix will dominate other species. Many commercial wildflower mixes contain common annual garden flower seed such as sweet alyssum, cosmos, bachelor's button, and California poppy, rather than Nebraska native flowers. These wildflower packages do produce attractive plantings but are not considered native plants and will not always reseed or survive more than one year.

Besides seed, wildflowers also can be propagated using cuttings, division, layering and tissue culture. These propagation methods are discussed in other references.

Plant selection for a wildflower planting should be based on the intended use of the planting. For example, some plants will attract butterflies better than others. When selecting wildflowers, consider size of the plant, time of flowering, color, and competitiveness with prairie grasses. Also consider the disadvantages or inherited weaknesses of some plants, such as a short life span, short flowering time, aggressive growth, height restrictions or problems with volunteer seedlings.

Table 1 lists 22 common perennial wildflowers that can be grown in most sunny garden sites in Nebraska. Many others can be considered but are not always as easy to obtain and grow. This list may include plants not classified as wildflowers by all vendors and gardeners and characteristics may vary with source of plant material. Consult the publication, Wildflowers for Nebraska Landscapes (MP35), and other references for more detailed descriptions, including strengths and weaknesses of each species.

Planting

The planting may consist of a single plant or many types of plants and/or a combination of domesticated flowers, grasses, native plants and wildflowers. Mini-meadows or prairie plantings can be used in small residential plots and commercial landscapes. Prairie plantings are alternatives to traditional lawns and may be used to attract butterflies and wildlife. Design by planning. For complex designs and plantings on large commercial sites, consider consulting a landscape designer or someone familiar with prairie restoration. Check local regulations which may limit the type of wildflower plantings you can use.

For small plantings transplants are easiest to use. They may flower the first year they are planted, but usually will not flower until the second year. Plantings in large areas may be broken up into smaller plantings by setting transplants of perennial wildflowers out over a period of several years. For large areas where wildflowers are planted alone or in combination with grasses, plantings are usually direct-seeded. Seeding rates will vary with the type of plants and size of seed, but 3 to 5 ounces of seed per 1,000 square feet is an average seeding rate. Seed should be evenly distributed on the site. Lightly rake the seed in and then pack it into the soil. A light mulching of straw may be necessary to reduce erosion caused by wind or rain. Fall or early spring is usually the most desirable time to seed. With larger prairie or mini-meadow plantings, be patient. Do not expect an instant prairie. Much of the first year's growth of perennial plants will occur as root activity with minimum top growth. It may take several years to establish a planting. Wildflower seed does not always germinate reliably and uniformly, and weedy plants can be a problem in newly seeded areas. Supplemental watering may be needed, especially during establishment.

Maintenance

Aggressive competition from weeds can be a problem in wildflower plantings. In addition, some wildflowers produce large quantities of seed and can dominate other plantings. Periodically, weeds may need to be eliminated. Herbicides may be used in some plantings, but no one herbicide is available that will control all weeds without harming some wildflowers or grasses. Hand pulling weeds is effective on smaller plantings. Mowing is an effective weed control method during the first year on direct seeded, larger sites. Mow to a height of about 6 inches. Annuals and perennials planted together can complicate mowing especially during the first growing season.

Providing the right amount of moisture is important. For example, do not overwater plants adapted to dry sites. Over-seeding may be necessary when some species start to disappear.

Some professionals recommend an annual burning of a prairie. However, this is unfeasible, extremely dangerous, and is not recommended for home landscapes. A good mowing, followed by raking the loose material, should take its place.

This publication discusses the basic concepts of wildflower plantings. For those interested in more specific information on wildflowers and native plants in Nebraska, consult one of the sources listed in the References below.

Table I. Common perennial wildflowers for use in the home landscape.*


Average
Height
(feet)
Principal
Flower Color
Principal
Flowering
Time
Blackeyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

1 - 3 yellow/orange June - July
Black Sampson (Echiniacea angustifolia) 1 - 2 pale purple June - July
Blue Flax (Linum perenne)

1 - 2 blue May - July
Blue sage (Salvia azurea) 2 - 5 blue Aug. - Sept.
Bracted Spiderwort (Tradescantia bracteata)

1 - 1-1/2 blue/purple/pink May - June
Butterfly Milkweed(Asclepias tuberosa)

1 - 2-1/2 orange/orange-red June - Aug.
Coreopsis (Coreopsis spp. [many species]) 1 - 3 yellow June - Sept.
Dames Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) 2 - 3 purple June
Dotted Gayfeather (Liatris punctata) 1 - 2 pink/lavender Aug. - Sept.
Gaillardia (Gaillardia spp.)

1 - 2 yellow/orange June - Aug.
Leadplant (Amorpha canescens) 1 - 3 violet/blue June - July
Maxmillian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliana) 4 - 10 yellow Sept. - Oct.
New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae) 3 - 5 pink/rose/deep blue Aug. - Oct.
Penstemon (Penstemon spp.)

1 - 4 mixed May - June
Purple coneflower(Echinacea purpurea)

2 - 3 pink/purple June - July
Purple Poppy Mallow (Callirhoe involucrata) 1/2 - 1 crimson/purple June - July
Purple prairie-clover (Dalea purpurea) 1 - 3 rose-purple June - July
Small Soapweed or Yucca (Yucca glauca) 3 - 5 greenish-white June
Stiff Rigid Goldenrod (Solidago rigida) 2 - 4 yellow/gold Aug. - Sept.
Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) 4 - 5 pinkish-rose July - Aug.
Thick-spike Gayfeather (Liatris pycnostachya) 3 - 5 rose/lavender July - Aug.
Yarrow (Achillea spp.) 2 - 3 white/yellow June - Aug.

*Height restrictions, moisture requirements, light requirements and aggressiveness may limit the use of some of these plants.

Wildflower References

Nebraska Sources

Farrar, J. 1990. A Field Guide to Wildflowers of Nebraska and the Great Plains.
NEBRASKAland Magazine. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, NE.
Lomnasson, Robert C. 1973. Nebraska Wild Flowers, University of Nebraska Press,
Lincoln, NE.
Nebraska Statewide Arboretum. 1982. Common and scientific names of Nebraska plants.
Publ. 101. Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, Lincoln, NE.
Salac, S.S., P.N. Jensen, J.A. Dickerson and R.W. Grays, Jr.1978. Wildflowers for
Nebraska Landscapes. MP35. The Agricultural Experiment Station., University
of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, NE.
Stubbendieck, J., S.L. Hatch and K.J. Hirsh. 1986. North American Range Plants.
University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE.
Stubbendieck, J., J.T. Nichols and C.H. Butterfield. 1989.Nebraska Range and
Pasture Forbs and Shrubs. University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension. EC89-118.
Stubbendieck, J., J.T. Nichols and K. Roberts. 1985. Nebraska Range and
Pasture Grasses. University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension. EC85-170.

Other Sources

Art, H. W. 1986. A Garden of Wildflowers -- 101 Native Species and How to
Grow Them. Storey Communications, Inc., Pawnal, VT.
Bare, Janet E. 1979. Wild Flowers and Weeds of Kansas. Regents
Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS.
Barr, Claude A. 1983. Jewels of the Plains. University of Minnesota
Press. Minneapolis, MN.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden. 1989. Gardening with Wildflowers and
Native Plants. Handbook No. 119, Vol. 45, No. 1. Brooklyn Botanic
Garden, Inc., 1000 Washington Ave., Brooklyn, NY.
Johnson, J.R. and J.T. Nichols. 1982. Plants of South Dakota
Grasslands. Bulletin 566. Agricultural Experiment Station,
South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD.
Jones, S.B. and L.E. Foote. Gardening with Native Wildflowers.
Timber Press, Inc., 9999 Southwest Wilshire Blvd., Portland, OR.
Urbano, C.C. 1989. The Prairie Community. American
Nurseryman Magazine, Dec. 15, 1989, pages 24-31.

Use of trade names does not imply endorsement of the products named nor criticism of similar ones not named.

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