Fall planting, spring surprises “My miracle!’ That’s what the gardener at leftcalls her back lot when fall-sown seeds burst into glorious bloom fromearly March into May.
African daisies–in shades from cream togold–and laterblooming baby blue eyes provide a changing color show ona gentle slope adjacent to her Carmel, California, garden. You may not have the space for a display as sensational as this,but you don’t need an acre or a vacant lot to enjoy the pleasuresand surprises of growing your own wildflowers. And wildflowersaren’t your only fall-planting opportunity, as you’ll see onthe next six pages.
Make small plantings of wildflowers in raised beds or containers,in strips between sidewalks and street curbs, or along a fence ordriveway. They also make attractive fillers between recently plantedshrubs, or a low carpet under spring-flowering bulbs, trees, or shrubs. In the West’s mild-winter areas (low elevations of Californiaand Arizona), prime sowing months are October and November before rainsstart. Sowing wildflower seeds A wide variety of wildflower seeds is available.
Plants range fromlow-growing (6 inches) to tall (about 2 feet), and come in myriad shapesand flower colors for sun or shade. Some packaged seeds are collectedin the wild, some are provided by plants grown from seeds gathered inthe wild, and some are cultivated varieties. Some, such as Africandaisy, are introduced from abroad. One or two packets of mixed wildflower seed (about $1.50 perpacket) will produce a generous spring or early summer bouquet in alarge clay pot, a barrel, or other wooden container. Some kinds, suchas California poppy, will self-sow year after year.
For large areas, figure that 1 ounce of wildflower seed (about $5)will cover 150 to 200 square feet. In small gardens, prepare the seedbed by digging to a spade’sdepth. Rotary-till large areas.
Afterward, rake to break up clods,leaving a level, smooth-textured surface. If the soil is very poor,work in a slow-release fertilizer. Broadcast seeds evenly (it helps to mix them up with sand orfine-screened soil), then rake in lightly to provide good contact withthe soil. Sprinkle the planting area thoroughly but gently with a fine spraythat won’t uncover or dislodge the seeds.
If weather remains dry,continue sprinkling to keep ground moist. Seed sources Look for seeds at nurseries, or order them by mail. For a list ofmail-order sources that specialize in Western wildflower seeds, see page242. Photo: “The field seemed to explode overnight!’ In earlyMarch, cream to gold African daisies (Dimorphotheca) blotted out thegreen. Two weeks later (below), baby blue eyes (Nemophila) took over,with a sprinkling of California poppies. In bouquets (bottom), poppieslast up to three days, stay open at night in warm, bright rooms Photo: Fall sowing.
For even coverage, wildflower seeds arescattered over tilled soil lengthwise, then crosswise; light rakingcovers them. Instead of raking, some prefer to settle seeds withthorough but light sprinkling