Time to plant wildflowers, conservation grasses now
With the chill in the air, gardeners may be thinking more about putting the landscape to bed than about planting for spring. However, wildflower meadows and grass plantings for fuel breaks, dust or weed control, or wild area management need to be seeded now for spring growth. Often gardeners plant wildflower and conservation grasses in the spring, and then wonder why they are not successful. Native plant seed self-sows in the fall, not in the spring, and gardeners must mimic this cycle by sowing now.
Native seeds need winter chill, or “cold stratification,” to germinate in the spring. Spring-sown seeds that are not cold stratified may sit dormant for a year after sowing. Generally, since Northern Nevada receives most its moisture during the winter, fall-sown seeds can soak up the moisture in the winter in preparation for spring germination. Late fall or early winter is the best time to sow native seed mixtures. If seeds are sown too early, they may soak up any early fall moisture, germinate too quickly, fail to harden off, and die in winter’s freezing temperatures.
Before planting, take time to plan the area you want to cover with wildflowers and grasses. Do you want a flower meadow or a mixed grass/flower meadow? Sod-forming conservation grasses are very aggressive and will out-compete wildflowers. However, bunch grasses are less aggressive and can coexist with flowers. Grasses usually come up first in the spring, while wildflowers bloom in early to mid-summer. A wide variety of seed, with different heights, colors, and blooming times, is available from nurseries and growers such as Comstock Seed.
Seed to soil contact is critical. Remove all weeds from the area or, at the very least, clear some bare soil areas to decrease competition from other plants for new seeds. Disturb the top inch or two of soil. Mix seed with three parts dry sand to one part seed for easier spreading. Broadcast one-half the seed/sand mix over the planting area in a horizontal pattern, and then sow the rest in the opposite direction, in a vertical pattern. Lightly rake the area to about one-sixteenth of an inch deep for flowers, and one-half an inch deep for grasses. Seed raked in too deeply won’t grow.
Keep in mind that seeds will not germinate without water. If we have a dry fall and winter, seeded areas will need to be irrigated on days when the soil is not frozen and can absorb water. More irrigation will be necessary if the spring is also dry; as the seedbed needs to be evenly moist so young sprouts don’t dry out. Native plants will become drought-resistant after they reach maturity.
This information was adapted from Comstock Seed’s “Procedures for Germinating Seed.”
Contact me, 887-2252 or email@example.com, or your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office for more gardening information. Check out many useful horticulture publications at http://www.unce.unr.edu. “Ask a Master Gardener” by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City / Storey County Extension Educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.