There are few better ways to connect with nature on a regular basis than by growing a garden in your own backyard. And wildflowers like black-eyed Susans, wild bergamot and butterfly weeds are the perfect way for gardening newbies to get their start: not only do they regrow each year with relatively little maintenance, but even just one square foot can support your local ecosystem, providing food for pollinators like bumblebees, butterflies, and songbirds.
Plus, every little bit helps—shockingly, we lose more and more acres of grasslands and native wildflowers every year. And that’s bad news for all kinds of wildlife.
The U.S. Great Plains region alone has lost 33 million acres of these habitats since 2009 (equal to half the size of Colorado!).
Conservationists and even companies like Air Wick are helping with the cause too. They’ve teamed up with the World Wildlife Fund to reseed one billion square feet of wildflowers and grasslands across the U.S. over the next three years. Want to do your part? Here are the steps to take (and the tools you’ll need) to get planting.
1. Prep your space.
Wildflowers don’t need much to thrive, but they do like a lot of sunlight. Choose a spot in your yard—at least one square foot—that gets at least six hours of direct sun each day. Fall is the ideal time for building your flower beds, and there’s still plenty of time to plant, depending on when frost will arrive in your area (you should aim for an 8 to 10-week window, but talk through your plans with a local gardening expert).
You’ll want to start with a blank slate, so grab a pair of gloves and other gardening tools that’ll make the work easier on your body. Gently break up weeds and clods of dirt with your hands or a grub hoe, clearing the area of existing vegetation, rocks, or other debris. Finally, use a rake to level the soil into a flat surface.
2. Study your soil.
While you may already have certain flowers in mind that you’d like to plant, they may not be compatible with the native growing conditions in your area. Before ordering seeds or visiting your local gardening center, you need to know the local climate and soil type. Use the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map to determine which plants are most likely to thrive where you live.
Only consider flower varieties with your zone number or lower so they’re sure to survive the winter. An additional way to see which wildflowers will work best in your yard is to measure your soil’s acidity and drainage texture with a simple pH test, available at your local garden center.
3. Choose your seeds.
Once you know the type of soil you’re working with, a gardening expert can suggest an ideal mix of seeds to suit your space and budget; this will help ensure that everything you plant is a good fit for where you live. (You can also request free seeds from Air Wick that are tailored to your region). All wildflowers attract pollinators, but certain types are more likely to attract specific species of birds, bees, and butterflies, so you can also take that into consideration.
4. Plant your plot.
When you first see the seeds, you’ll likely be surprised at just how small and dust-like they are. To plant them evenly, start with moist soil, then mix the seeds into a small pail of sand, and sprinkle the mixture across the bare ground. This will make it easy to see where you have and haven’t seeded. For good measure, gently rake the area too, then apply a thin layer of mulch or shredded straw atop it all to retain moisture. As the last step, water the area to keep everything in place.
Tip: Don’t plant all of your seeds at once. Instead, save some for when the garden starts growing in. That way you’ll have some extras on hand to fill in any bare patches you may have missed.
5. Give the flowers some TLC.
While wildflower gardens are self-sustaining in the long run, they do require some follow-up care, especially early on. Once seeds germinate (which can take up to three weeks), they need consistent moisture to make strong seedlings that will grow into vigorous plants. Be prepared to water the garden every day, if it doesn’t rain, especially if the weather is hot and dry. Don’t drown the soil though—just give it a nice soak until the water seeps in several inches.
6. Plan ahead for next season.
Weeds are an unfortunate natural byproduct of any wildflower garden, but there are steps you can take to limit their growth. Once perennials have gone dormant for the season (usually by late fall), mow the plants down to about four to six inches to help reduce off-season weed growth.
In the spring, the first plants to emerge in your wildflower garden will be cool-season weeds. Mow these down before the weeds have time to bloom and make seeds. By this point, the wildflowers, which are mostly warm-season plants, will be just a few inches tall at that time, so when you mow, you’ll wipe out the weeds but spare the wildflowers. This will give your garden plenty of time to blossom, creating one square foot (or more!) of beautiful space for you and your local wildlife to enjoy all season long.
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