The summertime often reminds us of our uninhibited spirit. With Independence Day not far off, Floridians will be celebrating the freedom of our nation while battling the oppressive climate you can’t seem to escape this time of year. As we approach the apex of heat and humidity here in Florida, we would do well to remember the tenacity of our native wildflowers and their “spirited” survival of Florida’s extreme conditions.
Historically, Florida’s landscape was alive with color throughout the seasons. Through urbanization and cultivation we’ve lost a large part of that legacy; however, we can reestablish some of Florida’s colorful past in our own yards and neighborhoods.
In order to ensure successful planting of wildflowers it is important to properly select and prepare your site. You will want to choose a sunny-well drained area and cut any existing vegetation to the ground. It may be beneficial to put down sheets of cardboard to smother what’s left of the vegetation. This is best done in the summer in advance of fall planting.
Planting is best done late August to early September in North Florida. Soil-to-seed contact is critical so 1 day before seeding, or just prior to seeding, firmer soils need to be lightly scratched with a rake. Sandy soils might have to be made more firm to ensure that seed do not sink too deep. Broadcast the wildflower seeds at the recommended rate then press them into the soil by walking around on the planting site.
Wildflower seeds require adequate moisture during germination. After planting irrigate the site with about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of water daily for the first few weeks. After that, irrigate with about 1/2 inch water only if the wildflowers show signs of drought stress. Once established though, the meadow needs very little, if any, irrigation. Fertilizers should be avoided altogether as they promote the growth of aggressive weeds. Many of Florida’s native wildflower species are adapted to and perform well in soils with low fertility. Your wildflowers will re-send themselves if given the opportunity so wait until seed have matured before deadheading or mowing. Cut no lower than six to eight inches to avoid damaging the crowns of grasses and wildflowers.
To successfully cultivate a wildflower meadow in your home landscape, it’s helpful to select plants with the qualities to fit the conditions at your site. Also, consider blooming dates of flowers in order to provide color and interest for your landscape spring through fall. While not always possible, it’s best to purchase seeds and plants known to be Florida ecotypes. Consult with local nurseries and garden centers for more information on plant and seed availability and seeding rates. You can always contact your local Extension Office for more information. Other good sources of information are the Wildflower Seed And Plant Growers Association, Inc. (www.floridawildflowers.com); Association of Florida Native Nurseries (www.afnn.org); and the Florida Wildflower Foundation (www.floridawildflowerfoundation.org).
Growing wildflowers can restore a special sense of natural history close to home. So if you are looking for an “explosion” of color that will stand the test of time, Florida’s native wildflowers will not disappoint.