By Marty Fisher, Colorado Master GardenerSM, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver County
Growing wildflowers from seed is a not as difficult as some books would like you to believe.
First, you must determine which flowers would grow best in your garden. Is it a dry, hot area near the south side of a building or along a walk or driveway? Then a prairie wildflower would be best. If your planting area is shaded by mature trees, on the north side of a building, or near a sprinkler, then a mountain wildflower would thrive in that spot. These flowers do best when their soil and moisture conditions are similar to the ones they have in nature.
Local gardening centers carry good wildflower seed from regional seed companies and usually have a section set aside for wildflowers and perennials. Purchasing seed is better than collecting them in the wild and depleting this extraordinary treasure that help makes Colorado unique.
Most seed packages contain detailed instructions for growing the seeds. Some seeds may need to be soaked in water before planting, some may need a period of cold, some should be scratched lightly with sandpaper, and others may not need any special treatment. These methods are attempts to replicate what would happen to the seed in nature before the seeds begin germinating.
Proper growing medium is important. Germinating soil should be lightweight to provide airspaces for the seeds. It should also absorb water easily and be sterile. Small purchased pots or recycled household containers are perfect for starting seeds.
Care should be taken to plant the seeds at the proper depth. Large seeds need to be covered about twice their width. Tiny seeds should not be covered at all but sprayed with water so that they remain near the top of the soil. Covering the seeds with plastic wrap and spraying them lightly when they become dry will ensure good germination.
Wildflowers take much longer to sprout than annuals. Columbine will appear in 30 days but penstemon and coneflower will take from 2 to 4 months or longer. Do not worry if the first sets of leaves dont look like the classic leaves of your wildflower. These are cotyledons and the second set of leaves will have the expected shape. After the leaves sprout there will not be much to observe for a while but a peak underneath will assure you that the plants are making good roots that will gather water and anchor them to the ground for many years to come.
Plants can be moved outside to their permanent location when they seem strong and healthy and the weather is warm enough to provide good growing conditions. All new plants need to be watered the first year, even the xeric ones, to help in establishing their roots and producing leaves.
After all this long process, you will still not see much progress this first year. Most wildflowers wait until the second year to bloom. However, the wait is worth it. From the second year on you will have beautiful flowers that will thrill you year after year.
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© CSU/Denver County Extension Master Gardener 2010
888 E. Iliff Avenue, Denver, CO 80210
Date last revised: 01/05/2010