PAINT
YOUR CORNER
OF TEXAS WITH
WILDFLOWERS
October 01, 2009


by Maria Sobczak,
Victoria County Master Gardener


edited by Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener
PHOTO BY MARIA SOBCZAK/VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
Wildflowers bloom through the season in well drained soil with direct sunlight and initial watering which can be reduced once the seedlings are established. Newly-opened blooms like the orange African daisies in this raised bed at Victoria Educational Gardens are deeper in color than those that have bloomed previously.
More than 40 counties expected to participate in project
PHOTO BY EDNA LAFOUR/VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
A wildflower seed mix of 15 to 20 species in a trial planting at Victoria Educational Gardens last fall resulted in numerous, colored blooms early this spring.
Editor's Note: This is the Part I of a two-part series about planting wildflowers in Texas. Maria Sobczak is the chairman of the statewide Texas Master Gardener project from Victoria County.  SEE PART II HERE.

What can be seen every day, have lots of color and need to be planted now for blooming in 2010? They grow year-round here, if you know what to look for. Though some people may call many of them weeds, we call them wildflowers.

Last year, the Victoria County Master Gardeners voted to assume the leadership role of a statewide wildflower project that has as its mission to encourage the citizens of Texas to plant numerous varieties of wildflowers from border to border.

Efforts to coordinate local county Master Gardener Associations across the state has resulted in 40 counties participating to date with several more expected before the end of this year.

Since this is the time of year to plant wildflower seeds, we want to share what we have learned from this project.

Where to Find Wildflowers

The Gulf Coast, all of Texas in fact, is prolific with more than 1,000 species of wildflowers beautifying the numerous roadways and natural landscapes, especially when Mother Nature cooperates.

Spring may bring us bluebonnets, Indian paintbrushes and evening primrose, but even into June, you can visit Brenham and view the lovely bluebells - thus the name for the famous ice cream which could result in providing two treats in one visit.

On through the summer and into the fall, wildflowers continue to grace our land. Even with the drought that much of our area is experiencing, those tenacious survivors are still trying to delight us with roadside décor.

As I recently drove to Hutto and later, to Houston, I observed some splashes of lavender color, which I have confirmed were violet ruella, often called wild petunias, along the highways.

Wild sunflowers greet you from all sides on the tollway from Highway 183 toward Round Rock and probably beyond, but I didn't travel any farther than that.

When to Plant


If you want to have your own palette of color, you will need to begin with a little bit of knowledge about wildflowers. When should the seeds be planted?

Planting dates depend on the site location and geographic weather patterns. The timetable should be decided by seasonal precipitation. According to the USDA plant hardiness map, wildflower seeds should be planted in zone 9, which is the zone for our area, between Sept. 15 and Dec. 15.

HOW TO PLANT


Referencing the catalog available from Wildseed Farms, located seven miles east of Fredericksburg, the Victoria County Master Gardener Painting Texas with Wildflowers committee members have condensed and listed our advice for planting wildflower seeds.

We also include some notations from Doug Welsh's Texas Garden Almanac to give additional guidelines for the Texas landscape.

GUIDELINES FOR SUCCESS


1. Select a site that drains well, using an herbicide to eliminate any vegetation. When that shows signs of successful control, mow that vegetation as low as possible and remove the material from the site.

2. Prepare the soil by raking or lightly tilling the surface of the soil to the depth of 1 inch.

3. Mix the seed with a carrier, such as masonry sand, perlite or potting. Proportion of mix to sand carrier would be 1 part seed to 4 parts carrier. This aids in distributing the different-sized and different weight seeds more evenly over the area.

4. Broadcast or toss of the seed mixture as uniformly as possible; then sow the remaining mixture in a direction perpendicular to the initial sowing.

5. To insure contact with the soil, do your "buffalo stomp", which means walk on or press the seed with some type of flat tool into the newly planted area.

6. Keep the site moist for four to six weeks during the establishment period.

7. Watering can gradually be reduced when seedlings reach one to two inches.

8. Do not fertilize.

Dr. Welsh suggests that your success will be more likely the first year if you purchase a wildflower mix that has 15 to 20 different species.

Then you can see which ones thrive and you can spread more of those the next year. The recommended seeding rate is pound per 500 square feet (or one pound per 2,000 square feet) for maximum color.

Some Get Bad Reputation


In the fall of the year, some folks begin to complain about having allergies due to "those yellow flowers that pop up everywhere and spread their pollen to make us miserable."

Well, don't mistake goldenrod, a yellow flowering plant in the family Asteraceae, genus: Solidago. Texas has about 30 species and most bloom in late summer or early fall. Tall goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) grows from three to seven feet tall forming large colonies from underground rhizomes. It can spread and become invasive.

However, downy goldenrod (Solidago petiolaris) is much shorter at 1 to four feet tall and has no rhizomes. It is desirable as a specimen or bedding plant.

Contrary to popular belief the goldenrod is not a major cause of asthma or hay fever. It is pollinated by insects, which love it for its abundant nectar, so the pollen is not spread by the wind. It is ragweed that is the culprit, releasing billions of pollen grains into the wind that has us sneezing and wheezing.

Instead of spending a lot of time searching for the best wildflower seeds to plant, start preparing your wildflower site as suggested above and it will be ready to till next week - and ready for your seeds.

The Victoria County Painting Texas with Wildflowers committee members will offer a look at many of the wildflowers that do well in our climate and hardiness zone.

Some will be native to this area; others suggested will have acclimated themselves very well to our environment.

Keep your garden journals available for some common, some unusual, but all beautiful wildflower suggestions in the Gardeners' Dirt article coming to you soon.
TEXAS WILDFLOWER TIDBITS
There are more than 1,000 species of wildflowers in natural landscapes in Texas.

Wildflower seeds should be planted in our area between Sept. 15 and Dec. 15.

Success is more likely with a seed mix of 15-20 species the first year.

Recommended seeding rate is 1/4 pound per 500 square feet (or 1 pound per 2,000 square feet) for maximum color.

PLANTING TIPS
1. Choose well-drained site.
2. Prepare soil by lightly raking.
3. Mix seed with carrier.
4. Toss 1/2 mixture one direction.
5. Sow rest of mixture perpendicular to first row
6. Press seeds into soil.
7. Keep site moist until established.
8. Do not fertilize.
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ROSE EXPERTS WILL CONDUCT SYMPOSIUM

Victoria County Master Gardener
Earth-Kind Rose Symposium

Saturday, Oct. 17
Victoria County 4-H Activity Center
8 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

Go to
www.VCMGA.org
or call Victoria County AgriLife Extension Office at 361-575-4581
for registration material. Registration deadline is Oct. 8.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.