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Plant wildflowers in the Spring for Fall color.

Scattered beauties

Plant wildflowers in the spring for fall flowering, or in the fall for spring color.

Springtime is a time of renewal, change and new beginnings. One new beginning is the cycle of growth for the wildflowers of the desert Southwest. 2006 was a year that brought heavier than normal rains, and with it some of the most dramatic arrays of flowers that had been seen in many years.

The above photo was taken in Southeastern Arizona near the New Mexico border. The flowers seemed to cover the desert, as you can see. But look closer…if you were to walk out into the desert a ways, you would find that the wildflowers merely appear to cover the ground in a thick carpet. They actually were patches of flowers here and there, dotting the landscape with masses of color. Depending on the area of the Southwest you live in, you might find prairie sunflower, rabbitbrush, jimmyweed, asters, globemallows and jimmyweed, to name a few.

Wildflower Carpet

Now, you might say, I’d like to have an array such as this in my own Southwestern backyard this year.

Aha! To do this, your first task is to start half a year in advance and plant the seed. Germination should occur in March if you’d like to see blooms this fall.

If you’re planning on some fall wildflowers in your yard, here’s how to get the best results:

  • Find the right kind of seeds for your area. Different plants grow in different regions, and at different altitudes. So it’s a good idea to check with your local garden center to find what kinds of wildflowers grow in the area, and get some of those types of seeds to plant. You might want to look at a natural history museum, a botanical garden or a native plant society.

One of my favorite spots for information on native plants in Tucson is a place called Desert Survivors. It’s a nursery with a twist. They rescue and resell plants from the area that would otherwise have been destroyed, such as ones where a home is begin built.

  • Then you must prepare the ground. Don’t assume that because wildflowers grow on their own in the desert that this is the best way to grow them. Give them some TLC and they will reward you with their best color. One option is to use an established flowerbed. Another would be to plant them around your yard in a more natural arrangement.

Wildflowers in Bloom If you want your wildflowers to look natural, don’t plant them in square beds, and don’t try to cover your entire yard in flowers. Take a look at the desert and try to mimic the look achieved there. Plant small patches here and there, or create a natural flow look by making a path through your existing plantings and attempt to create a “river” of color. Over time the plants will grow, die and reseed, and eventually reward you with the natural look you are trying to achieve.
  • For Spring wildflowers, simply reverse the plan and plant around October, when the soil temperature is about 65 degrees.

  • Remember these are desert plants. They thrive on sun and warm temperatures, so plant in the sunshine.

  • Protect the seedlings from ants, birds and animals, and give them plenty of water. Animals, birds and ants can destroy your seedlings very quickly, so be ready with netting, ant poison (organic methods for me) and deep soakings. To get the best color from your seedlings, treat them like hothouse beauties. Baby them while they are small with deep waterings (in the absence of soaking rains) to allow them a chance to develop deep root systems. In return, they will do their best to show you their best colors.

  • Then when the first blooms appear, water less to create a natural stress. This is what will stimulate the best flowering. Give a smaller amount of water after the initial withholding period.

If you follow these guidelines, you should find yourself with a wonderful wildflower display that you can be proud of. Be generous, however. Gather seeds when the flowers die, and pass them on to friends. In this way, the desert can come alive with color and beauty.

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