Wild About Texas – October, 2007
Last month, we explored the how-to of planting a wildflower meadow. It is just as important to understand what it takes to maintain such a garden in future years. How you manage your wildflower area depends on what stage of maturity it is in, the species you have and the look you want to attain.
Annual species such as bluebonnets, Indian blanket and Texas star germinate quickly and visually dominate a site the first year after planting. Although many perennials germinate the first year, including most grasses, they typically don’t flower until the second or third year. As the plantings mature, grasses will begin to overpower the garden. If it is a priority to continue to provide areas for annuals, biennials and weak perennials, you will need to thin out some of the grasses periodically and allow good soil contact for seeds.
If tall or aggressive annual weeds begin to out-compete your wildflower seedlings, mow at a setting higher than the wildflowers. Most of these “early successional” weeds will be annuals. Mowing them before they set seed prevents them from reseeding and crowding out your desirable plants. In some cases, particularly if perennial weeds begin to take hold, if the annuals have seeded out of control, or if mowing would severely damage your wildflower crop, you may need to hand-weed or spot-apply an herbicide (many annuals are fragile enough to be killed by “organic” herbicides such as horticultural grade vinegar).
Annual and biennial wildflowers must be allowed to reseed to produce a strong stand the following year. If the area begins to look overly messy, you may opt to mow when at least half of the late-blooming species have dropped seeds. Generally, early summer is a reasonable time to mow early and mid-spring bloomers. Mowing at this time also leaves taller warm-season grasses to bloom later in the season. Although you can mow grasses in late fall when they are dormant, you may want to leave them intact until late winter to provide food and cover for wildlife and add texture and color to an otherwise barren winter landscape. However, in order to supply as much sunlight as possible to your spring-blooming annuals that grow as rosettes over the winter, you may want to mow tall or dense grasses by the beginning of the year.
As the wildflower garden matures, you may decide to reseed or spot-transplant to fill in bare spots or try new species. Weeding will become less of a necessity as perennial wildflowers and grasses become more established.
Managing a wildflower garden is not as simple as sprinkling a can of seed and forgetting about it until spring flowers appear. As with other manners of gardening, it is a style of gardening that requires attentiveness, trial and error, and personal vision.
For information about native plants and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, go to www.wildflower.org.
About the author: Andrea DeLong-Amaya is Director of Gardens and Growing at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin.