The unrelenting sun often forces us indoors at summer’s end, seeking refuge from oppressive heat. Thankfully, the recent rain and break in temperatures has us thinking about the garden again. In addition to planning for fall, it’s also time to think ahead to the spring garden.
Each year, landscapes across Texas herald the arrival of spring with bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, winecup and other wildflowers. Texas roadsides are nationally renowned for brilliant wildflowers. Those impressive highway displays are rooted in beautification efforts by Lady Bird Johnson. She was the driving force behind the Highway Beautification Act, which promoted scenic development of U.S. roadsides.
When to Plant
How many times have you longed for your own wildflowers while appreciating them along Texas highways? But by then, it’s too late to plant spring wildflowers.
Fall is the best time to plant wildflowers, preferably from mid-September to November. Mother Nature does most of the work when you sow wildflower seeds.
You can typically find individual seed varieties as well as regionally appropriate seed mixes. For the most success, look for native seeds, which will perform better.
You might want to start with a Texas wildflower mix. Bluebonnets do particularly well in our Central Texas alkaline soil and limestone. As they bloom, note which ones seem to do best in your garden, and then plant more of those seeds next fall.
With a few simple steps, you can enjoy vibrant ribbons of wildflowers, changing month-to-month as the succession of wildflowers open, each in their own time.
Three steps to wonderful wildflowers
1. Find the right location. For most Texas wildflowers, you’ll need a sunny spot. There are wildflowers for shade as well; be sure to research which seeds are right for your conditions.
2. Clear the soil. Wildflowers need direct soil contact to germinate. Your best chance is to clear the planting area of weeds and competing plants.
They don’t like mulch. Even if one germinates under mulch, it will be less likely to push through that barrier.
You’ll have the most immediate success if you plant in an area with a high percentage of bare soil. You can even walk around on the seeds to compress them into the soil but don’t put soil on top of them.
If you are sowing seeds in a turf area, you’ll need to scalp the grass and sow. You’ll have less contact, but over time wind and weather will also help some seeds find their way down to the ground, just like Mother Nature does every year. It may just take longer.
You may find it easiest to spread the seed with a hand-crank spreader to keep it even.
3. Water properly. Seedlings need regular water to germinate and should be kept moist until they come up and become, taller, stronger seedlings. Don’t use the jet setting on your sprayer though, as that will splash the seeds all around. You want a gentle shower setting or a watering can with multiple holes.
Once up, you should water them very lightly about twice a week for two to three weeks. Then you can water occasionally, depending on whether or not we get rain this fall, but don’t overwater them once they’re up and going.
Most wildflowers also prefer well-drained soil, so if your garden is in heavy clay, you might want to amend the planting area with something like a little sand or decomposed granite. Unlike some other plants, they don’t want to be babied.
Once the wildflowers germinate in the fall, they start developing a little foliage to carry them through the winter. They will grow slowly, using the cold weather to grow roots in preparation for spring.
If we’re not getting any rain at all, you’ll have a much better crop of flowers if you give them a drink now and then. Don’t fertilize them once they’re growing — that will encourage lush, healthy foliage, but you won’t get many blooms.
After your wildflowers have bloomed and are done going to seed, you can cut them to the ground. If you have a variety of seeds, you’ll want to be sure to wait until all the different flowers are done blooming and the seed pods have turned from green to dry and brown. Then leave them on the ground to open and reseed for next year.
Landscape Designer Diana Kirby helps garden lovers by educating, designing and installing successful gardens. For in-person or social-distance consulting follow her at dianasdesignsaustin.com , Diana’s Designs on Facebook or dianasdesignsaustin on IG.