En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
1 rating

Monday - September 20, 2010

From: Houston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Wildflowers
Title: Fertilizing hayfield with wildflowers in Brenham TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have property near Brenham, TX that produces wild bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush and other wildflowers each year. I would like to fertilize the pastures to help with hay production (the grass is harvested after the wildflowers have gone to seed). Is it okay to fertilize the pastures in the spring before the bluebonnets bloom or will it harm the wildflowers? Thanks, Ken Wright

ANSWER:

We used to live in Brenham, for a few years, and still drive through it frequently. We were always so impressed by the beautiful fields of wildflowers in Spring. You are to be congratulated for mowing sensibly for the seeding of those flowers. This is not a subject that has come up for us before, but it is bound to be an issue. We'll see how much information we can pass on to help you make your decision.

Our first thought is that fertilizing the field when the rosettes of the bluebonnets are up (usually early in January or even before Christmas) is that nitrogen-rich fertilizer might cut down on the blooming of the flowers. Since you are planting grasses for hay, obviously, the nitrogen-rich fertilizer is what you want for grasses, but it might retard the blooming on the wildflowers. The bluebonnet itself is a nitrogen-fixing crop, and it could be that the hay and the wildflowers will both benefit from this nitrogen, saving you from fertilizing, or at least not as much. With fewer blossoms, there will be fewer seeds, and then perhaps a more sparse bloom display. Once the seeds are set, and blooming is over, very little can hurt those hard-shelled bluebonnet seeds. Although Nature plants them naturally when the seed pods mature in May to June, the experts say that if you are planting the seeds yourself in a garden, you should do so in November.

From this Iowa State Extension website Fertilizing Pasture we extracted the following information about legumes (bluebonnets) and grasses in the same fields:

"Legume-grass pastures normally do not need nitrogen. Legumes fix nitrogen from the air for their own use and for grass growing with the legume. If the forage stand is one-third or more legume, do not apply nitrogen fertilizer. If the legume portion is less than one-third, the grass in the mixture is likely to respond to nitrogen fertilizer. Legume or legume-grass pastures have a higher requirement for phosphorus and potassium than do grass pastures. These two nutrients not only increase legume yields but also enhance disease resistance, winter hardiness, and longer stand life."

It doesn't sound like you need instructions for seeding, your wildflowers seem to be taking care of themselves. However, please read this How-To Article on How To Grow Bluebonnets, to give you some more understanding of the life cycle of the bluebonnets.  Castilleja indivisa (Entireleaf indian paintbrush) which you mentioned grew in the same fields, is hemi-parasitic, meaning it will extend its roots into the roots of other plants, drawing nutrients from them. That is why it is so frequently seen with the bluebonnet, because of all the nitrogen the bluebonnet is injecting into the soil. Because these plants are native to Central Texas, they should not need fertilizing. Does your grass? As you will note from the information above on fertilizing pastures, the legume-grass pasture may have a higher requirement for phosphorus and potassium, and the two nutrients will increase legume yields, as well as the grasses.

So, it would seem that fertilizing the grass should not hurt the wildflowers, depending on when you fertilize, as well as the composition of the fertilizer. As we mentioned before, a high-nitrogen fertilizer on the developing plants in late Winter can suppress blooming, while encouraging greenery. But, if you can use a lower-nitrogen and higher-phosphorus and potassium mixture, that should not be an issue. You probably already know that the bluebonnet seeds ripen about 6 to 8 weeks after the blooms, and the field can then be mowed, scattering the seeds for next year. Hopefully, we have given you enough information about the bluebonnet that you can determine when you want to fertilize, since we don't know much about grass fertilization.

Since we are aware that people in the know in Brenham consider both the bluebonnets and the hay-making as important, we are going to suggest you double-check this with the AgriLIFE Extension Office for Washington County.

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:


Lupinus texensis


Lupinus texensis


Lupinus texensis


Lupinus texensis


Castilleja indivisa


Castilleja indivisa


Castilleja indivisa


Castilleja indivisa

 

 

 

More Wildflowers Questions

Pink wildflowers on DFW runways in April-June
October 10, 2013 - I fly thru DFW quite often and have noticed in April-June timeframe the runways are dotted with a light pink colored wildflower. Have asked the DFW Customer Service folks for the name, ones I've ask...
view the full question and answer

Color year round, welcome to Austin Texas.
December 04, 2011 - I am new to Austin and want to plant colorful flowers for fall and winter that get a "wow" reaction. I have not seen much at the local nurseries. Any and all suggestions are greatly appreciated!
view the full question and answer

Care of wildflower meadow dried out in drought
June 30, 2011 - Mr Smarty Plants, Our wildflower patch is completely dried up here in Lucas,Tx. What do you do with the field? Mow it? Trim it? Let it be? The patch is about 1/2 acre.. Thanks,
view the full question and answer

Culture and location of native Stachys coccinea
May 10, 2006 - What are the soil, light, and water requirements for Texas betony (Stachys coccinea) and in what area(s) of Texas does it naturally occur?
view the full question and answer

Propagation of wildflower seeds
November 13, 2008 - I recently planted seeds for bluebonnets, winecups and pink evening primrose. The bluebonnets have germinated and are growing, but no sign of the other two. Do the winecups and pink evening primro...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center