by Terry Kramer
When you plant flowers in your garden this spring, consider doing something wild instead of grabbing the usual six-pack of petunias. Try wildflowers.
They are tough plants with delightful beauty. Even their lyrical common names, like Bird's Eyes, Chinese Houses, Catchfly, Red Ribbons, Farewell to Spring and Giant Blazing Star, will make a garden sound wild and poetic.
North Coast gardeners who grow wildflowers know that not only are they beautiful, they are also fairly maintenance-free compared with nursery variety annuals and perennials.Sunny Brae gardener Gwen Serriere enjoys growing wildflowers at home and selling the seeds through her mail order business, Sunny Seeds Up. Her specialty is growing West Coast nativeannuals, which she says are colorful and very easy to grow.
"Wildflowers actually require much less care once you get them going. They prefer lean soil. They don't need lots of fertilizer or anything special once they have germinated and grown about 6 inches to 8 inches tall. They require very little water. In fact, some are quite drought tolerant," she says.
Once you rid an area of weeds, says Serriere, all you have to do is scratch up some soil in a sunny area and sow the seeds.
"In preparing a seed bed, you don't have to till really deeply. And you really don't have to mess with compost or fertilizer. If you have some around, it is not going to hurt anything, but you really don't need to condition the soil if you don't want to.
"The main thing you have to do if you want the cleanest results as far as good bloom, is get out the weed competition, which is mainly alien grasses," she advises.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when attempting to grow wildflowers from seed is not preparing a good seed bed.
"I think the main misconception people have about growing wildflowers is that, since they are wild, you can just treat them as a wild thing and go out to some spot in the back of the house and just scatter seed about. That won't work with wildflowers, just like it won't work with other flowers.
"If you don't offer some protection and care, birds and other predators are going to see them sitting on the soil and they will wipe them out. You have to give them care in the beginning," she points out.
Over in Bayside, gardener Virginia Rumble grows wildflowers that are perennials and shrubs instead of annuals started from seed. She has been a member of the California Native Plant Society for more than 20 years.
"I don't have time to fuss with seeds and replanting them, and bringing them up, but I think it is wonderful of people who do. I just like to plop a plant in the ground and enjoy it," she says.
Rumble's garden is filled with wild current sporting pink flowers, white flowering Oso berry, Thimbleberry, Ninebark, Bleeding Heart, Creambush, Foxglove and wild azaleas, to name a few. She even has a California native clematis called White Virgin's Bower.
She prefers native wildflower shrubs and perennials because they produce beautiful flowers and are not as demanding as the usual landscape plants.
"I just love them. They are hardy. Some just need a little pruning now and then. And some produce berries after flowering that the birds just love. I think they are easier to care for, compared to horticultural varieties, because you don't do anything to them. You don't need to," she says. Rumble says her success with wildflowers is to keep them weed-free and nourished with organic matter.
"I use lots of mulch. It helps amend the soil and keep the weeds down," she advises. She places a thick layer of newspaper around the plants and then tops it with chipped tree limbs and leaves.
While both Serriere and Rumble have found that many native wildflowers are easy to grow, they are not completely deer-proof. They can survive some nibbling compared with nonnatives, however.
"Some varieties are deer-proof," says Serriere. "But like all things, it varies from region to region, depending on how much other abundant feed the deer have had that year. If you plant enough you are not going to lose a whole lot.
"We had some wildflowers growing at the Arcata Community Farm last summer and spring, and we know that deer came into that back field and they did not seem to do too much damage."
If you have a deer problem, Rumble suggests planting shrubby native wildflowers like ninebark, or wild azalea.
"I have a big wild azalea that has been here for about 35 years. It is wonderful. It is so fragrant and hummingbirds love it. Deer will eat the tender shoots, but they don't decimate it."
It is not too late to plant wildflowers from seeds or plants. Serriere says a sowing of a Pacific coastal mix of seed in April will begin blooming in June and continue through October.
So, go wild with your garden this spring. If you have any questions about wildflower seeds call Serriere at 826-7462. Or you may call Felicity Wasser of the California Native Plant Society at 826-7712.
GROW FLOWERS - Set out transplants of summer blooming annuals and perennials. Plant dahlia tubers, calla and canna lilies, gladiolus and tuberous begonias. Sow wildflower seed for beauty and the birds. Birds like to eat spent seed heads later in the summer.
PLANT VEGETABLES - Plant potatoes, onions, peas, broccoli, lettuce, chard, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower. Sow seeds of carrots, beets, radishes and mesclun greens.
FERTILIZE - Feed rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas after bloom. Fertilize the lawn if you want to keep it green and lush. Apply a complete fertilizer, like 14-14-14, to landscape shrubs and trees.
GROOMING - Cut faded blooms off spring flowering bulbs like daffodils, tulips and hyacinths. DO NOT cut back the foliage. It must be left to die back on its own if you want flowers again next spring. To spruce up beds and pots, bend leaves over in half and bundle them up with rubber bands. Tuck a few annuals in between if you want to hide bulb foliage later on. Remove faded blooms from rhododendrons.
PESTS - Greenhouse gardeners should be on the look out for whitefly, aphids and spidermites. Check all plants often. As days warm and greenhouses are vented, critters come in. Yellow sticky traps help control whitefly. Use insecticidal soap for aphids and mites. Try not to get the spray on flowers - they don't like it. -END-
Terry Kramer is a Bayside free-lance writer and owner of Jacoby Creek Nursery.
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