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Go wild about wildflowers

WildFlowers_Oct14

I’m still wild about them, even if they are running a little wild.

That’s how I feel about the wildflowers my husband and I planted five years ago this month and that have, ever since, enriched our lives and apparently the lives of all kinds of fluttering, zooming, dashing, creeping and scurrying creatures.

That meadow came about in 2009 when we decided to convert part of our lawn into a more natural landscape. Our goals for this one-third-acre plot of land were to reduce the maintenance demands of our lawn and to attract more birds, bees and butterflies to our yard.
We’ve met both goals, in spades, and in the process we’ve learned a lot about the evolution of a meadow and a bit about how we could have done it better.

Because we wanted the area to be as natural as possible, we used no herbicides to kill off existing grasses or weeds in the area. Instead, a tractor-owning friend plowed the spot for us; then we hand-scattered a wildflower seed/sand mixture that contained more than 15 different native southeastern wildflower species across the area.

That following year we were rewarded with a spectacular progression of blooms, beginning with a blue mist of lupines in early spring that segued into an ocean of bright yellow lance-leaf coreopsis. As the summer advanced, the meadow became a patchwork of colorful blooms—purple coneflowers, red-orange gaillardias, yellow-to-orange rudbeckias among them—all of which continued to bloom well into the fall.

This happened without a drop of irrigation water or fertilizer and we only mowed it once that year, in early winter when most of the seeds had either been eaten by birds or had fallen to the ground, ready to come up again next year.

WILDFLOWER_FIELD_oct14

We were so pleased with ourselves and this enchanted space. Then a weedy reality crept in that second spring. That was the year that long-dormant weedier plants, which had previously had been controlled by regular mowing when the area was a lawn, began sprouting among the flowers. Okay, we thought, this is only natural and, still trying to avoid the use of chemicals, we opted to hand-weed the area, something we continue to do to this day. It is sciatica-inflaming work, but it’s also good exercise and we feel so virtuous.

This year the meadow was particularly weedy—we had a massive crop of too-tall goldenrod that we’ve been struggling to control—and it certainly didn’t look very manicured. But its wild beauty lured in a plethora of bees, dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies and other beneficial insects as well as hummingbirds, songbirds, box turtles, rabbits and a number of other four-legged creatures, all of which we are delighted to see.

In fact, thanks to this wildflower patch as well as some other native plants and wildlife-friendly features we’ve added to our landscape, our yard is now designated as a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat, something you, too can do whether you garden on a few feet of land or a few acres. (Look for more on this in a future column or learn more HERE.)

And keep in mind that you don’t have to create an entire meadow to enjoy the benefits of wildflowers. Just plant them in a flowerbed or some other small area of the yard and watch them work their wild magic. It’s best to use wildflower seeds that are native to the Southeast and buy them from a vendor that doesn’t add filler to the mix. You’ll get more blooms for the buck that way.

For more details on planting and maintaining wildflowers and information on seed sources, check out the Alabama Cooperative Extension System publication ANR 623, Wildflowers in Alabama Landscapes HERE. Then go ahead, go a little wild!

October Gardening Tips
  • Plant lettuces, spinach, turnips, radishes and onion sets.
  • Clean and oil garden tools and wash out empty pots for winter storage.
  • Harvest and dry or freeze herbs for winter use.
  • Continue mowing lawns until no sign of new growth is evident.
  • Plant shrubs and trees.
  • Turn compost piles and apply compost to garden beds.
  • Keep bird feeders and birdbaths filled.
  • Test soil and add amendments as needed.
  • Dry and save seed.
  • Take cuttings of tender perennials.
  • Plant a winter cover crop (ryegrass, etc.) to protect and enrich soil.

Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at katielamarjackson@gmail.com.