Plant Answers  >  Wildflowers Grown by Direct Seeding in the Fall
Wildflowers Grown by Direct Seeding in the Fall
Jerry Parsons and John Thomas

To insure a constantly diverse and ever-showy cutflower bloom display in the spring from seed which were all planted at the same time in late fall, you must select a tried-and-true wildflower cutflower mix. John Thomas of Wildseed Farms ( near Fredericksburg, Texas, has spent a lifetime developing such regional mixes and offering them to customers all over the U.S.

I will focus on the Texas/Oklahoma Wildflower Mix which contains:

Texas Bluebonnet; Baby's Breath; Indian Blanket; African Daisy; Scarlet Flax; Plains Coreopsis; Tickseed; Clasping Coneflower; Lemon Mint; Black-Eyed Susan; Purple Coneflower; Mexican Hat; Drummond Phlox; Moss Verbena; Cornflower; Corn Poppy; Rocket Larkspur; Toadflax; Baby Blue Eyes; Dwarf Red Coreopsis; Ox-Eyed Daisy; Showy Primrose; California Poppy; Yarrow; Yellow Cosmos; Texas Paintbrush. Each of these plants can be seen at :

If you wait until late fall (December - January) or early spring (February - March), you would be well advised to plant the Firecracker 234 Annual Mix which contains:

Cornflower; Baby Blue Eyes; Five Spot; African Daisy; Scarlet Flax; Lemon Mint; Rocket Larkspur; Corn Poppy; Baby's Breath; Black Eyed Susan; Yellow Cosmos; Plains Coreopsis; Indian Blanket; Clasping Coneflower; Cosmos; Sweet Alyssum; California Poppy; Toadflax.

OR the Butterfly/Hummingbird Mix which contains:

Purple Coneflower; Tickseed; Cornflower; Rocket Larkspur; Blanketflower; Indian Blanket; Drummond Phlox; Scarlet Sage; Candytuft; Yellow Cosmos; Sweet William; Cosmos; Wallflower; Lemon Mint; Tuber Vervain; Standing Cypress; Black-Eyed Susan; Shasta Daisy; Coreopsis; Butterfly Weed; Sweet Alyssum; Toadflax.

Remember that every single flower in these mixes will not necessarily perform well in your planting location. These mixes contain enough diversity to assure the supreme performance of some of the wildflowers being planted. Consider the first year as a "test" to see which wildflowers are best suited to your site and culture. After the first year, (or second year if you want a confirmation), you can concentrate on those wildflower species which perform best for you. Remember that performance is the important factor when evaluating these flowers -- not country of origin. For the purists and academicians among you, be advised that the flowering plants in these mixes were chosen because of their reliable performance in providing beauty in a diversity of locations and their ability to endure heat, drought (low-water-use plants) and be pest resistant or at least tolerant. All of these plants are now, or have been in the past, somewhere in the world, classified as "wildflowers" (definition: "the flower of a plant that normally grows in fields, forests, etc., without cultivation") -- they are not all "Texas' native wildflowers" or "native indigenous" if anyone cares! Most of us don't care where the beautiful wildflowers came from -- just as long as it lives and blooms in our flower beds.

The first consideration in planting a beautiful wildflower area is location and size of planting. Start with a small section of a once-bermuda grass lawn. Then if results are satisfactory and after the best performing plants have been identified, the planting area can be enlarged. Most wildflowers require a great deal of sunlight. If your area receives at least eight hours of direct sunlight per day, your wildflowers will prosper. A few species can tolerate partial shade, but for best results even those must have at least five hours of sunlight each day. Interesting enough, these same requirements are necessary for a successful bermuda turf. When selecting a small section of the lawn to test the feasibly of over-seeding with wildflowers, you should choose a location which does have or has had bermuda grass growing. Bermuda grass requires at least 8-10 hours of direct sun daily to survive. Bermuda lawns begin dormancy in October and will not be significantly damaged by shading of wildflower foliage until June when the full bloom cycle of wildflower mix is completed. Wildflowers only thrive and bloom profusely in sunny locations -- sun-loving wildflowers that are planted in a shaded environment will produce spindly or "leggy" plants with very few blooms..

The wildflower planting procedure involves:

(1) If choosing a non-lawn area, proper site evaluation and soil preparation are the first defenses against the competition of unwanted weeds in your wildflower planting. Before planting, assess the current weed population existing within the area. Do not select a site which contains an overabundance of weeds, which is usually the case in low-lying or run-off areas where water occasionally stands. For best results, choose an area that is elevated with adequate drainage. A site which is well drained should have a limited population of existing weeds. To remove the existing weeds from the site, you have the option to treat the entire area with a nonselective (kills, roots and all, what it touches), glyphosate-containing herbicide such as Roundup, Ortho Kleanup or Finale to kill the weeds yet not damage the soil. Wait two weeks after the herbicide application before the area is cleared of as many weeds as possible and soil preparation begins.

Remember that thousands of buried weed seeds lie dormant beneath the soil, ready to germinate if the ground is disturbed too deeply. Extensive
roto-tilling the soil greater than one inch in depth will release the dormant weed seed found within the sub-soil. Improper soil preparation can create an uncontrollable weed problem in your wildflower area that could have been avoided. For these reasons, the best mechanical tool to create a shallow cultivation of the soil or bermuda lawn area is a lawn dethatcher (known as a thatcher or lawn comber and available at equipment rental stores) with a number of revolving, vertical blades which can be lowered or raised to "cut" or cultivate to the desired depth. Using the lawn thatcher, disturb the trial section of the bermuda turf area or planting bed no later than September 15.

(2) Mow the existing bermuda or killed vegetation as short as possible before aerating or using the thatcher. Immediately after plugging and aerating the lawn area and/or thatching the wildflower planting area, sow the seed. The most common cause of poor germination associated with wildflowers is the depth at which the seeds are sown. Small seeds should be planted on the soil surface and pressed or rolled in for best results since they contain only enough stored food for a limited period of growth. If the seedling is to survive, it must emerge from the soil and quickly begin to produce its own food. If seeds are too deeply buried beneath the soil surface, the seedling will either exhaust its food reserve prior to reaching the soil surface causing its death, or lack of sufficient oxygen will prohibit germination altogether.

It is helpful to thoroughly mix a carrier of inert material such as masonry sand, perlite, potting soil, etc., to the seed to increase volume and aid in even distribution over your site. I recommend a minimum of 4 parts inert material to 1 part seed. Broadcast one half of your seed as uniformly as possible over the prepared area. Sow the remaining seed in a direction perpendicular to the initial sowing. Press the seed into the soil by walking or rolling over the newly planted area. Do not cover the seed any deeper than 1/16 of an inch. Some of the seeds will remain visible. The turf grass surface will be "roughed" enough from the dethatching process to provide enough soil-seed contact to enable seed germination.

(3) After sowing the wildflower seed, thoroughly water the area. Wildflower seeds will require ample moisture to germinate and develop into healthy seedlings. For best results, the area should be kept moist for 2 to 3 weeks during the establishment period. If natural rainfall is inadequate, supplemental watering with a garden hose may be necessary. Light and frequent applications of water should be applied to keep the ground moist. Once your wildflowers begin to germinate do not over-watering the area. If the soil becomes overly saturated, the seedlings could die from the lack of oxygen supplied to the root system.

How frequently you water the newly planted area will depend on local rainfall and soil types. Water every couple of days in lieu of rainfall. After seedlings are 1 to 2 inches in height, watering should be gradually reduced and applied only if the plants show signs of stress. If adequate moisture is not provided, you will run the risk of disappointing results.

4) Competing grassy winter weeds can be controlled by spraying the planting with herbicides which kill grass-only such as Ornamex, Ortho Grass-B-Gon, Over-the-Top, Greenlight Bermuda Grass Killer and Poast. These herbicides can be sprayed directly onto wildflowers and will kill surrounding grass BUT NOT DAMAGE THE WILDFLOWERS which are not grass. If, however, other broadleaf weeds such as henbit or clover begins to over-shadow the wildflowers, you may have to intervene with a bit of weed pulling exercise -- there is no herbicide which will kill other broadleaf weeds and not kill broad-leaved wildflowers.

(5) AND LAST BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST, before you even plant the first wildflower seed, be reconciled to the fact that YOU MUST REMOVE (shred and mow) the large wildflower plants IMMEDIATELY after they bloom next June or you can and will damage the bermuda grass turf. You MUST realize that this is a new and sophisticated technique of beautifying a dull, brown bermuda grass lawn area -- NOT a technique of insuring a wildflower-weedy, lawn-pasture for eternity by allowing plants to remain dying and ugly until seed are mature in June. Over-seeding will occur every fall so that designs and colors can be altered. Whichever wildflowers naturally reseed in your test planting area can be determined after several years of trialing this turf reclamation procedure.

For a detailed description of how to plant wildflowers explained by the God-father of Wildflowers, order the video hosted by John R. Thomas President of Wildseed Farms from:

Enjoy the bluebonnet photo gallery at:

and see some information about the maroon bluebonnet at:
and especially notice the A&M Parking Tag!

We even have a streaming video of the history of the colorful bluebonnets at:

More horticulture videos will soon be available on the video archive:


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