Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Horticulture News
Wildflowers - Nature's Loveliest Gifts
Nothing beats Mother Nature. Many gardeners consider wildflowers to be among Nature's loveliest gifts. They are carefree, simple, and abundant. In local prairies and meadows they provide a changing panorama of colors, shapes, sizes and heights. It is the informal look created by wildflowers, the mixture of colors and species, and the changes that occur as the growing season progresses that make them so delightful to the viewer. With the destruction of many wild areas, many individuals are interested in recreating or establishing natural areas in their landscapes. An additional benefit of incorporating wildflowers in the garden is the fact that many are excellent butterfly plants and wildlife attractors. It is no wonder that wildflowers have become popular with home gardeners.
Simply put, wildflowers are flowering plants that grow in their natural state with little interference from man. They are not bred or cross-bred the way hybrids and other cultivated annuals and perennials may be, and generally may be considered "natural" because they grow in open fields without someone planning where they should be planted. Wildflowers may vary a fair amount in coloration, plant size and plant habit. This natural variability is a desirable quality, providing interest and is one of the reasons why wildflowers are so popular.
One of the many appeals of wildflowers is their low maintenance. Having evolved in nature to tolerate natural growing conditions, once established, wildflowers usually require less attention than "cultivated" types.
Another appeal is their less formal nature within a species wildflowers may vary greatly as to height, plant shape and coloration. As their name implies, they are more "wild" than "tamed," and should be appreciated for it.
Today, growing wildflowers is easier than ever. Unlike past decades when finding sources of wildflower seeds or plants was difficult, today's marketplace abounds with choices, often right at local nurseries and garden centers, or through mail order seed sources. Check the Hendry County Extension Office for information on sources of seeds and plants.
Read seed packet and plant label descriptions carefully to avoid disappointment. Many perennial wildflowers will not perform at their best until after they have been established in the garden for a year. A number of wildflowers are also biennial, meaning that they bloom every other year, and some wildflowers are annuals, and you have to plan on either replanting the following year or count on the plant re-seeding itself.
It is important to note that a botanical reference to genus and species is given in wildflower listings many wildflowers do not have true variety names. Often plants will have "common" names, but these can be different from one area to another. Asclepias curassaica, for example, is commonly known as "butterfly bush," and also as "scarlet milkweed". When choosing wildflowers it is best if you know the botanical names of what you want, and then check the packaging. By law, wildflowers must be listed by genus and species.
For success with wildflowers it is important to match the plant with their preferred environment. Just like other plants, wildflowers will have specific preference for growing conditions: sun or shade, wet or well drained sites, cool or hot season, etc. Make sure you choose the right plant for a particular site. Be sure to pay particular attention to climatic zone adaptation. This is especially true when purchasing plants from mail order catalogs or from large nation-wide retail outlets. Some or many of the wildflowers they stock may simply not be adapted to our south Florida climate leading to disappointment. Look for plants that are adapted to zones 9 and 10.
Wildflowers can be purchased as seeds or plants, as a single species or in mixes. If you want only a few specific wildflowers, purchasing growing plants or buying seed packets may be your best choice. Started plants offer you the advantage of avoiding the germination stage and may give you a better idea of what a plant really looks like.
Mixtures are a popular way of retailing wildflowers.. Mixtures offer the advantage of combining a wide range of species that offer the opportunity for a full season of color and growth. Like plants and seeds, mixtures come in designations that will do best in sunny locations or shady locations. Regional mixes designated as "Midwest Mix," "Southern Mix," "Northeast (or New England) Mix," etc. - have been blended with annuals and perennials suited to a particular growing area, which takes some of the guesswork out of what will grow where. Be careful when considering mixes, a so-called "Southern Mix" may not be at all adapted to south Florida conditions. You may want to do some research on the species listed. Make a list of the species and check a garden reference.
Individual plants of wildflowers are often available at retail outlets and through mail-order catalogs. The advantage is that you can get right to the growing on stage. If you are unfamiliar with a certain species, started plants, even though small, can give you a better idea of what it really looks like.
Maybe it's time to think about going a little wild in the garden. Good luck and good gardening.
Gene McAvoy is the horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service. Direct your horticulture questions to PO Box 68, LaBelle, FL 33975, e-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 863-674-4092 or 863-983-1598. You are also welcome to visit the Hendry County Extension Office at 225 Pratt Blvd., LaBelle. Office hours are from 8:00 - 5:00.
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