Grow Wildflowers

Two reasons.

One, they were armed with a lack of good information, and two, they were led to believe that planting a beautiful bed of wildflowers is so easy that a child could do it. Actually, a child could do it, and with great success. But only if that child were extremely lucky, or had a basic understanding of exactly how to plant a bed of wildflowers and achieve incredible success.

In the next few minutes I intend to arm you with enough good information so you can successfully plant a beautiful bed of wildflowers, and have your neighbors hanging over the fence asking you how ya did it.

First of all, you’ve got to understand what kind of a neighborhood wildflowers like to live in. They tend to prefer wide open spaces with at least 8 hours of sunshine each day. It’s true, they are sun worshipers. They also like the soil to be rich in nutrients, and well drained. They don’t like hard packed soil, and they don’t like to get their sneakers wet, only for short periods of time.

If you have an area that tends to be wet, wildflowers are not the answer.

Wildflowers can be used for weed control, and with a great deal of success. But you have to give the wildflowers a running start, or the weeds will keep the area “Wildflower Free”. Weeds and wildflowers are both sun worshipers, so whoever reaches the top first wins. Neither will grow well without adequate sunlight. If you use this to your advantage you can have a beautiful bed of wildflowers that requires little maintenance.

The secret is proper bed preparation. You must create a bed that is as weed free as possible. You can do this by removing all the vegetation from the area you intend to plant in, and then prepare the soil for planting by tilling or raking to a depth of just one inch or less. Do not disturb the soil any deeper than that, or you will just disturb dormant weed seeds that are just waiting to be brought back to the surface so they can grow. You should consider spraying the existing vegetation with Roundup before you remove it. This will kill all the roots that might still be in the soil.

Keep in mind that you need to spray the weeds or grass with Roundup at least three days before you disturb them. If you feel that the area you have chosen has a significant amount of weed seed near the surface, you might consider letting the soil sit for about six days after you work it, then work it again. Do this over and over, but don’t work the soil more than one inch deep. The longer you continue this process the more apt you are to get the bed as weed free as possible.

Most weed seeds germinate rather quickly, so when you bring them to the surface through your cultivation efforts, you are giving them a chance to germinate. But then when you work the soil again in six days, you will actually interrupt the germination process and the seed will be spent. The longer you continue the process, the fewer viable weed seeds you will have to contend with. Of course additional seeds are blowing in all the time, so it’s unrealistic to think that you can create a planting bed that is free of weed seed.

The most important aspect of this process is to have your bed as ready as possible, at the ideal time for planting wildflower seeds. The secret of success is to plant the wildflower seeds at the ideal time so they take off growing immediately, and beat the weeds at their own game.

The ideal time? Depends on where you live. If you’re in zones one through six, you should plant in the spring. If you’re in zones seven through 11, you should probably plant in the fall.

Wildflower seeds like warm soil. They will germinate best with a soil temperature of 68 to 70 degrees F. So if you live in a cooler region, you should wait until later in the spring to plant. There’s no point planting when the soil temperature is 45 degrees and have the seeds just lay there while some of the weed seeds germinate. You’d be much better off to continue working the soil as described above until the soil temperature is up to 68 degrees.

Make a Weed Dabber

The weed dabber is a tool used for spot treating weeds without getting the herbicide on other plants.

Start by going to your hardware store and buying a piece of 1- 1/2″ PVC pipe. You only need a piece 30″ long, but they might make you buy a 10′ section. It’s pretty cheap though. You’ll need a plastic PVC cap for one end of the pipe, and on the other end you’ll need an adapter to convert the PVC pipe to a standard pipe thread. You’ll have to let the clerk at the hardware store help you find the best combination of fittings to use. What you need to do is to get the PVC pipe reduced down to a male garden hose type fitting. Hardware stores sell brass fittings that convert standard pipe thread to the same thread used on garden hoses.

Probably what you’ll end up with is an adapter that will convert the 1-1/2″ PVC to 3/4″ male pipe. Then an adapter to convert the 3/4″ male pipe to a male garden house fitting. They also make a cap that you can install on the end of a garden hose, you’ll need one of those. This cap must have a rubber garden hose washer in it so it seals properly.

The PVC fittings have to be glued on so you’ll have to pick up some PVC pipe glue and cleaner. You have to use the cleaner to remove the film and gloss from the PVC pipe and fittings before you glue them. Once you have them cleaned, just apply a coating of glue to both the pipe and the fitting, slide the fitting on and twist it at the same time. Hold the fitting tight for 60 seconds and it will be glued tightly.

Cut a piece of pipe 30″ long and glue the pipe cap on one end, and the PVC to pipe thread adapter on the other end. Apply a small amount of pipe dope or Teflon tape to the threads of the adapter, and screw the male garden house fitting onto the adapter. Screw the garden hose cap to the male garden hose fitting.

Now back to the end of the pipe that you glued the pipe cap to. Drill a very small hole right in the middle of the pipe cap. You might have to experiment a little with the size of the hole you need, but make sure you start with a very small hole. I’d start with 1/16″. Cut a piece of regular household sponge in a square about 1-1/2″ square. What you are going to do is place this sponge over the small hole you drilled in the pipe cap, and secure it there by covering it with a piece of lightweight screen or mesh cloth. Maybe even a piece of an onion bag. You can secure the mesh to the PVC pipe with a hose clamp, or electrical tape.

Remove the garden hose cap from the other end of the PVC pipe, and fill the pipe with pre-mixed (ready to use) RoundUp. Replace the garden hose cap and you have yourself a weed dabber. The RoundUp will seep out the hole in the end of the pipe cap and be absorbed by the sponge. As long as the garden hose cap is tight, the vacuum in the pipe will keep the herbicide from running out too fast. Once the sponge is damp, you can start dabbing weeds. Remember, you only want the weeds damp and not dripping wet. As long as you are leaving some RoundUp on the weeds as you dab them, the herbicide should kill them.

Build Fences

Layout of your fence. The basic theory is that you stake out where your fence will be and stretch a string between them. This will be a guideline when you are installing the posts. If your fence starts with your house you will probably like to have it at a right angle. It is a simple procedure to get this right. First stake the spot where you like your fence to start. Fasten a string to the stake and stretch it out roughly perpendicular to your house. Measure out 1,5-meter out on the string and mark it. Mark a point on your house one-meter from the stake. Hold a tape measure diagonally between the one-meter mark and the 1,5-meter mark and move the string until the distance between the marks is 2-meter.

Tie down your string at this place, and it would be perpendicular to the house. Mark the position of your first spot, then measure out for the line to mark the rest of the posts. Thee string should be at the outside of this post, so you have to measure in from the string for center of the posts. Mark this with a stake so you can see them. If your fence goes down hills you have two choices, you can have top of the fence to follow the slope of the hill or you can keep the fence sections level and step the fence down at each post. If you like to have step down fence, estimate the height different from top and bottom of the hill and divide this number by number of sections. And you will get the amount to step the fence down at each post.

Digging holes. You can use a clamshell digger to dig your postholes but this is a very hard fork and if you got plenty holes or you have hard ground it could rent a power auger but you normally have to be two people to run it. In most areas you need to have the postholes below the frost line to make sure that the post will stay in place when the ground starts to heaves due to the frost. As a guideline you should bury about half of the corner posts and about a third of the line post underground.

Setting posts. It’s a good idea to put a 30-40cm layer of gravel at the bottom of each hole to prevent rot and decay. The gravel will allow water tat collects at the bottom of the hole to drain away. Set the end post first and line up the post edge along your layout string. To prevent water from running down between the post and the concrete you should fill the hole little bit higher than the ground and slope the top of the concrete away from the pole a little. Brace the post in place while the concrete cures. The line post doesn’t need that much support. Normally it’s enough to set them with dirt. Use a spacer to get a consistent distance between them and shovel dirt around them when you have the posts in position. When you have 15 cm filled with dirt pack the dirt down and keeps filling it up. When you have all posts set hard, trim of the tops to get proper height.

Spring Planting

Let’s start with B&B plants. B&B is short for balled in burlap. Closely examine the ball on the plant that you have purchased. Did the diggers wrap twine around the ball to hold the plant secure? If they did, you should at least cut the twine and lay it in the bottom of the hole, or remove it completely. Pay close attention around the stem of the plant where it emerges from the root ball, as diggers often wrap the twine around the stem several times as they tie the ball. This is extremely important because if the string is nylon, it will not rot and will girdle and kill the plant two or three years from now.

When B&B plants are stored in the nursery for extended periods of time it becomes necessary to re-burlap them if the bottom starts to rot before the plants are sold. If the plant that you buy has been re-burlaped it is possible that there could be nylon stings between the two layers of burlap, so check the stem carefully. As long as the nylon string is removed from around the stem of the plant, it is actually harmless around the rest of the ball, and you do not have to remove it.

Is the root ball wrapped in genuine burlap, or imitation burlap made of a non-biodegradable plastic material?

Genuine burlap will rot quickly underground and does not have to be disturbed before planting. If you’re not sure or suspect a poly type burlap, you don’t have to remove it completely, but should loosen it around the stem of the plant and cut some vertical slices around the circumference of the ball.

Now here’s the critical part. What kind of soil are you planting in?

If your soil is heavy clay, I highly suggest that you raise the planting bed at least 8″ with good rich topsoil. If you can’t do that for some reason, install the plant so that at least 2″ or more of the root ball is above the existing grade and mound the soil over the root ball. Keep in mind that plants installed this way could dry out over the summer, but planting them flush with the ground in heavy clay can mean that the roots will be too wet at other times of the year.

The “experts” suggest that when planting in clay soil you dig the hole wider and deeper than the root ball and fill around and under the plant with loose organic material. That sounds like a really great idea, doesn’t it? Some of these experts also recommend that you dig the hole extra deep and put a few inches of gravel in the bottom for drainage. Where do you suppose they think this water is going to “drain” to?

Keep in mind that most B&B plants are grown in well drained soil. That means that the soil in the root ball is porous and water can easily pass through. Now imagine if you will, a root ball about 15″ in diameter, setting in a hole 30″ in diameter. All around and under that root ball is loose organic matter. Inside of that root ball is porous soil. Now along comes Mother Nature with a torrential downpour. There is water everywhere, and it is not going to soak into that hard packed clay soil, so it is just flowing across the top of the ground searching for the lowest point.

When it reaches our newly planted tree surrounded by loose organic matter, it is going to seep in until the planting hole is completely full of water. (Remember my article on getting rid of standing water and the French drain system?) By using this planting technique we have actually created a French drain around our poor little plant that cannot tolerate its roots being without oxygen for long periods of time. Because the bottom of this hole is clay, even though we’ve added gravel for drainage, there is nowhere for the water to go, and this plant is going to suffer and likely die.

If you cannot raise the planting bed with topsoil, and are planting in clay soil, I recommend that you install the root ball at least 2″ above grade and backfill around the ball with the soil that you removed when you dug the hole. Backfilling with the clay soil that you removed is actually like building a dam to keep excess water from permeating the root ball of your newly planted tree. The plant is not going to thrive in this poor soil, but at least it will have a chance to survive.

Once again, raising the bed with good rich topsoil is the best thing you can do to keep your plants healthy and happy.

No matter what kind of soil you have, be careful not to install your plants too deep. They should never be planted any deeper than they were grown in the nursery. Planting too deep is a common problem, and thousands of plants are killed each year by gardeners who just don’t understand how critical planting depth is.

Staking newly planted trees is always a good idea. If your new tree constantly rocks back and forth when the wind blows it will have a very difficult time establishing new roots into the existing soil. Stabilize the tree with a stake. You can use a wooden stake, a fence post, or for small trees I often use 1/2″ electro magnetic tubing, (conduit), available at any hardware store.

You can secure the tree to the stake with a single wrap of duct tape. In about six months or a year the sun will dry the glue on the duct tape and it will fall off. Check the tape to make sure that it has fallen off. You don’t want to girdle the tree with the tape.

Container grown plants are much easier. Follow the rules for depth of planting as described earlier. Before gently removing the plant from the container, check the drain holes in the bottom of the container for roots that might be growing out the holes. If so, cut them off so they will not make it difficult to get the plant out of the container.

The easiest way to remove the plant from the container is to place your hand over the top of the container and turn it completely upside down and give it a gentle shake. The plant should slide right into your hand.

Examine the root mass as you hold it in your hand. Sometimes when plants have been growing in a container for a long time the roots start to grow in a circular pattern around the root mass. This is not good, and you should disturb these roots before planting so you can break this circular pattern. You can take a knife and actually make about three vertical slices from the top of the root mass to the bottom. This will stimulate new roots that will grow outward into the soil of your garden. Or you can just take your fingers and loosen the roots that are circling the root mass and force them outward before you plant them.

What about fertilizer, bone meal, peat moss, and all those other additives they are going to try and sell you at the garden center?

Raise your planting beds with good rich topsoil and forget about the additives. Be very careful with fertilizers, they can do more harm than good. I landscaped my house 14 years ago and I haven’t got around to fertilizing the plants yet, and have no intention of doing so. They look great.

As far as bone meal and all those other soil additives are concerned, don’t get too caught up in all that stuff. The only thing that I know for sure is that they will make your wallet thinner, but I don’t think you’ll see a difference in your plants. Over the years I’ve landscaped several hundred homes with fantastic results, and I never added any of these additives to my planting beds.