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Mr. Smarty Plants - Wildflower meadow in Mobile, AL

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Saturday - January 31, 2009

From: Semmes, AL
Region: Southeast
Topic: Wildflowers
Title: Wildflower meadow in Mobile, AL
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I live in Mobile, Alabama. I have 1 acre of land that is partially shaded and covered with centipede yard grass. I would like to completely get rid of all the grass and replace the whole acre with wild flowers permanently. I also would like to do it just once instead of planting wild flowers every year. I think that would be too costly to do every year. Remember, this is on the Gulf Coast,I don't know what kind of flowers are best.

ANSWER:

What you are talking about is a wildflower meadow, which is wonderful. We have several How-To Articles we suggest you read to give you a good background. The first one is Using Native Plants, which explains what you appear to already know, that using plants native to North America as well as to the area in which they are being grown is the most efficient and cost-effective way to landscape a large area. The second article we would like for you to read is A Guide to Native Plant Gardening. Next, Getting Started on Large-Scale Wildflower Planting. And, finally, Meadow Gardening, which pulls together all the other information you have been absorbing. 

Before we list some appropriate plants for your project, there are a couple points we need to cover. Initially, before you can do anything else, you have to get rid of the centipedegrass. You might want to read this article on Centipedegrass by Richard L. Duble, Turfgrass Specialist, Texas Cooperative Extension to get some feel for what is involved. We don't like to recommend herbicides, because that can not only contaminate the earth where you want your meadow, but can migrate to harm other plants you did not want to destroy, and wash off into water sources nearby. So, it needs to be removed manually. The first thing you can do is stop watering it, if you have been. Centipedegrass does not tolerate drouth well; but, of course, you may still have rain in Georgia (which seems to have stopped in Central Texas) and you can't control that. Now, read this article from HGTV.com Sod-Busting: Tips, Tools and Methods. We have no personal experience with this job, but after reading the article and some other information, we would say it would probably be worth the money to hire someone with a sod removing machine to come in and do it for you. They would know how to operate the machine, have transportation for it, and be done probably much more quickly than you could do yourself. 

The other thing we want to emphasize is that you want both wildflowers and grasses, annuals and perennials. The How-To Articles mention this also, and that addresses your desire not to redo the meadow every year. Whether annual or perennial, these plants will reproduce themselves, and the strongest ones will be the most likely to return or increase. At least for the first year of your garden, you are going to have to defend your plants from animal and insect predators and, of course, from weeds. Most wildflower seeds sow themselves in the Fall, and, while many will sprout the first year, many more will lie dormant in the soil, waiting for the ideal time to pop up. Meanwhile, the original plants will have bloomed and seeded, also. You might have to make a staggered plan of planting some grasses and perhaps some perennial flowers as small plants in the Spring, and then do a mass seeding of wildflowers in the Fall. In the South, heat is a greater enemy to small plants than cold, and any plants you put in the ground should be planted fairly early in the Spring, to allow them to establish themselves before hot weather strikes. That is also why seeds should be put out in the Fall; if they germinate too soon, and stick their little heads out of the ground, they get fried.

Now, we're ready to recommend plants for your wildflower meadow. We're going to go to Recommended Species, click on Alabama on the map, and NARROW YOUR SEARCH by selecting first "Herbs" (herbaceous flowering plants) under Habit. On the next sweep, we'll select "Grasses", again under Habit. There are other choices you can make on that search, like soil moisture, sun exposure, even color or time of blooming, but since you didn't specify any of those, we'll leave it to you to go back and make your own selections with those added specifications. Follow the plant links below to the page on each plant, and find out their expected height, propagation information, color, etc. These plants are all commercially available, but if you have difficulty locating them, you can go to our Native Plant Suppliers location, type your town and state into the "Enter Search Location" and it will give you a list of native plant nurseries, seed suppliers and landscape and environmental specialists in your general area. 

HERBS

Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly milkweed) - perennial

Conoclinium coelestinum (blue mistflower) - perennial

Coreopsis tinctoria (golden tickseed) - annual

Gaillardia pulchella (firewheel) - annual

Ipomopsis rubra (standing-cypress) - biennial

Monarda citriodora (lemon beebalm) - winter annual

Phlox divaricata (wild blue phlox) - perennial

Rudbeckia hirta (blackeyed Susan) - annual

GRASSES AND GRASS-LIKE PLANTS

Andropogon gerardii (big bluestem) - perennial

Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama)  warm season perennial

Panicum virgatum (switchgrass) - warm season perennial

Carex blanda (eastern woodland sedge) - perennial


Asclepias tuberosa

Conoclinium coelestinum

Ratibida columnifera

Gaillardia pulchella

Ipomopsis rubra

Monarda citriodora

Phlox divaricata

Rudbeckia hirta

Andropogon gerardii

Bouteloua curtipendula

Panicum virgatum

Carex blanda

 

 

 

 

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