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

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Wednesday - April 13, 2011

From: Willow Springs, MO
Region: Midwest
Topic: Wildflowers
Title: Best time for wildflower planting in the Ozarks
Answered by: Guy Thompson

QUESTION:

Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, I live in the Ozarks, and have an open bottomland valley area I want to transform into more natives for many reasons. I am starting a 2 acre field of NATIVE grasses (warm season, with some cool season) combined with NATIVE wildflowers/forbs..about 60/40 ratio. I have talked with and studied many parts of the prep, plant & management of this project. My field is finally ready for planting my seed. I'm told by local agronomists & native seed companies that the grasses can be put in, but much of the wildflower seed needs stratification first and it would be more ideal to plant those seeds in January. Yet another agronomist told me it is best to plant them now, or soon, the same time as the grasses, since the ground is ready -- and to use a roller to help them be in contact with the ground..and most would have a chance to germinate as long as we have moisture. (I am broadcasting the seeds.) April is good for the moisture. The roller is available. The field has great drainage. Question: Do you think it would be best to plant it all soon, OR to plant grasses soon, and hold flowers/forb seeds back until Jan, then broadcast them?? Thank you so much for any advice you can give.

ANSWER:

I expect that many of the wildflowers/forbs you have in mind naturally germinate in the fall and grow slowly during the winter as rosettes. They are then poised with good roots and leaves for the warm growing season of the next spring. If some that you might plant now do germinate in late spring or summer they would lack the resources to bloom this year and might have trouble surviving the hot summer with possibly irregular railnfall. Mr. Smarty Plants likes to let nature take its course, meaning in this case following the normal course of seed ripening, dropping to the ground in due course, and most likely germinating with the fall rains.

The problem is one of inconvenience - having to plant grass seed and coming back later for the wildflower seeds. It will be important to have the wildflower seeds make contact with the mineral soil, but your young grass plants should not greatly decrease the chances of that happening, especially if you roll again.

I feel that you will have a much greater survival rate of your wildflowers/forbs if you delay planting their seeds until fall. I see no advantage in waiting until January. You should then have a beautiful visa of color in the spring.

 

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