With the newest gardening trend of planting wildflower gardens, I thought I'd give it a try. After all, my husband doesn't have to mow all the nooks and crannies of our country property; I had a perfect spot. Besides, I am a seasoned gardener and was looking for a new challenge.
Last year the seed catalog included three wildflower seed mixtures for purchase: Pollinator gardens, Butterfly gardens, and one for attracting Beneficial Insects. Each came in a sizeable four-ounce package and promised to produce 640 square feet of variety and vibrant color. No matter which seeds I chose, they promised that the insects, butterflies, or pollinators, would benefit not only my vegetable garden but the gardens in the entire neighborhood, if not the whole of Northern Wisconsin.
I was hooked. Now to find someone to do the heavy lifting required if I wanted my wildflower plot to be successful year after year. Who did I know that had a skid-steer?
Ever the eager-beaver, my eldest son mentioned that he always wanted to own some heavy equipment, and a skid-steer might be an excellent place to start his collection.
But back to the project. I read that the first step in creating a habitat is the most important because it will make all the difference between a sustained plot and those that return to those other natives (weeds) after only a year. I knew I had to follow the directions closely. I also learned the area couldn't just be rota-tilled. That would simply reincorporate the weeds and grass back into the soil. We had to be brutal and get rid of all the vegetation, period.
Removing all the sod was the first and hardest step. With the area I had determined to use, it would have taken a week to finish phase one using a shovel only. The skid-steer cleaned things up nicely, and with the scrapings, a berm on the north side of the future garden was created. Before we planted, we dragged over a wooden swing and placed it in front of the new berm, which would be planted in hostas as a contrast to the wildflowers.
After making sure we had removed all the visible weeds and grass, we waited for two weeks to see if anything else started to grow. It didn't.
On a calm day when all danger of frost had passed, we roughed up the soil with a rake and distributed the seeds. After first mixing them with ten times as much sand to make the distribution more even.
We scattered the mixture by hand and used a rake to tamp the soil. We could have used a roller to help push the seeds into the ground, but my husband said our water heater was still working fine and that we could not use it as a roller. He did volunteer to be in charge of generously watering the area every few days for several weeks. He was the one who added a light layer of straw to keep the birds from feasting on the seeds that had been scattered.
We begin to see the first flower shoots in about six weeks. By high summer, the colors were spectacular, many varieties of plants which we had never seen before whether they were large or small.
I walked through the wildflowers collecting the dried seed heads for replanting in the original bed the following spring in the late fall. Seeing this was our first year, and the package of seeds we received did not say if the mixture contained just annuals or if some perennials will come again this year. It was recommended that the plot could be mowed to scatter the seeds, but, once again, why scatter annuals? That's why they're called annuals; you have to plant them fresh every year. I chose to collect seeds and have many of them that I will scatter again this spring.
A recent trip to the garden center to look at more seeds opened my eyes to the back-to-nature phenomena everyone seems to be getting into by jumping on the wildflower bandwagon.
This year there are individual packages of seed collections available for attracting songbirds or hummingbirds. There are seeds for sunny spots and shady spots, for short plants, and plants grown for cut flower arrangements. Some growers have even separated seeds into annuals and perennials. Hallelujah!
Something tells me that more people than I am are going wild here in the frozen north, and why not? Once the plot is ready, wander out in spring, throw some seeds into the air, and step back and prepare to be overwhelmed when the area is spilling over with an abundance of flowers. The bees and butterflies, and other pollinator insects are busy flitting from habitat plant to plant and then easing over into the vegetable garden, creating a better crop of whatever you've produced.
And think of what those wildflower pollinators are not only doing for the neighborhood gardens; they might be aiding the whole of Northern Wisconsin!