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Mr. Smarty Plants - Bluebonnets and wildflowers for Nashville TN

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Tuesday - March 10, 2009

From: Franklin, TN
Region: Southeast
Topic: Wildflowers
Title: Bluebonnets and wildflowers for Nashville TN
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have several packets individually of both bluebonnets and of wildflowers, and want to plant them on 2 hills that we have around our home. We live near Nashville, and aren't even sure if the bluebonnets, especially, will even grow here? Second, how do I get all the seeds out, most efficiently, onto these 2 hills? Can I scatter them? The grasses appear to grow in clumps vs. horizontally. Can I do this now, in early Spring? Last, the hills get lots of sun and of course offer good drainage.

ANSWER:

There are a number of different species of Lupinus that look similiar to Lupinus texensis (Texas bluebonnet), but we assume that is the one you are talking about. Also, wildflowers are area-specific, growing best only in the area in which they have always grown, because they are adapted to the climate, rainfall and soil of that area. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is focused on the care and propagation of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which they grow naturally. You may very well not even know what the plants are in the wildflower packets, perhaps they are listed on the envelope. 

To begin with Lupinus texensis (Texas bluebonnet), if that is what you believe you have, it is not shown on this USDA Plant Profile as growing anywhere beyond Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Florida. And those other states than Texas are probably the result of being naturalized, rather than being native to those states.  Also, we checked the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone for Williamson County, in central Tennessee. It seems to be in Zone 6b, with average minimum temperatures of -10 to -5 deg. F. Most of the areas where bluebonnets grow wild in Texas are in Zones 8a to 8b, with average minimum temperatures of 10 to 20 deg. F. The bluebonnet is a winter annual, putting up rosettes close to the ground usually before Christmas and going on to bloom in late February through April. They might not be able to withstand your colder temperatures, so we would suggest you grow them in pots. The flowers in nature seed themselves in May and June, so you could do the same. The dirt and moisture begin to work on their rough, hard coats, and they are usually ready to start germinating in late Fall. In Texas, we tend to plant them in the Fall, sometimes after boiling them, or soaking them overnight to loosen that coat. We had thought to encourage you to grow lupines native to Tennessee, but after looking in our Native Plant Database, out of the 54 species of the genus Lupinus, not one was native to Tennessee. 

Now, on to the packets of "wildflower" seed you have. It would concern us if groups of mixed, unidentified seeds were broadcast in your area. Many of them are probably non-native to your area, and some of them could become invasive and begin to take over, pushing out the naturally-occurring wildflowers. Unless you have a list of the plants and are assured that they are natives to Tennessee, it would really be better if they were discarded, and not in the compost pile, where they could REALLY grow. 

We applaud your desire to grow wildflowers on your property. We advise that you stick to native wildflowers. Your best source of information on what those plants are, where to obtain seeds and when to plant them is the Tennessee Native Plant Society. That link takes you to their Home Page with contact information; they will probably be happy to help you out. Another resource is the University of Tennessee Extension Office for Williamson County. Their home page has contact information, they apparently have courses and Master Gardeners, and can give advice on seeding.

Finally, as a consolation prize, may we offer you a list of wildflowers native to Tennessee? Many wildflowers are perennials, but the annuals are the ones more normally planted from seed.

ANNUAL WILDFLOWERS FOR TENNESSEE

Coreopsis tinctoria (golden tickseed)

Gaillardia pulchella (firewheel)

Monarda citriodora (lemon beebalm)

Rudbeckia hirta (blackeyed Susan)


Coreopsis tinctoria

Gaillardia pulchella

Monarda citriodora

Rudbeckia hirta

 

 

 

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