Grow Desert Wildflowers in Your Yard

When it comes to Southwestern wildflowers, most folks immediately think of the showy golden poppies that appeared after the unprecedented 2018/19 rains in California. Well, you can grow that in your yard – and more!


Why Plant Now?

Spring wildflowers bloom in the Sonoran and Mohave Deserts in response to the winter rains off the Pacific Ocean. Thus you have to get the wildflower seed into the soil now, because their genes are telling them that now is the time to grow. Now, in the cool soils of winter.


Wildflower Species

The best wildflowers to grow here are the ones that are native to here. For example, the Mexican gold poppy (Eschscholzia mexicana) is better adapted to Arizona conditions than the California gold poppy, (Eschscholtzia californica). Along with poppies, also select from: Arizona lupine, desert bluebells, desert coreopsis, desert marigold, desert trumpets, desert senna, ghost flower, golden dyssodia, Mohave aster, nama or purple mat, owl’s clover, Parry’s penstemon, spreading fleabane, and thread-leaf verbena. Plus, if you have a sandy soil, consider the sand loving native wildflowers like sand verbena, arroyo lupine and sand lupine. Take this list with you to a local nurseries or botanical garden. The big box stores will not carry our native seed.

Desert bluebell. Photo by Beth Hargrove of Rillito Nursery and Garden Center.

Step by Step to Wildflower Beauty

Select a site.

Most wildflowers prefer a sunny location. Many do well in filtered light, say under a palo verde tree. Ideally, your wildflowers should get early morning sun. Thus after a winter frost they get warming sun right away.

Make the bed.

Or, as the books say, “prepare a proper seed bed.” Remember, these are desert plants, so preparation is mostly making sure the seed will be in contact with true soil, not gravel mulch or an artificial weed barrier often placed below gravel mulch.

Mexican gold poppy seeds are tiny. This is a millimeter ruler!

Sow the seeds.

Do this evenly over the surface. If the seeds are tiny, mix them with sand for ease of scattering. After sowing, gently water to moisten seeds and help mix them into the soil. Next cover the area with a quarter inch of sand to hide the wildflower seed from the hungry seed-eating birds.

Protect Seeds and Young Seedlings – Part I.

There are a lot of hungry critters that love to eat seeds and seedlings. Bend a layer of chicken wire to rest about two inches off of the soil. Birds hate to land on this and gophers won’t walk on it either. Once wildflower seeds start growing and have a few leaves, they start producing the defensive compounds that keep them from being eaten. Your wildflowers will grow large enough to hide the chicken wire, or you can remove it.

Mexican gold poppy has “floral guides” in each blossom to help guide the bees in to pollinate them even on cloudy days.

Protect Seeds and Young Seedlings – Part II.

Wildflower seedlings need protection from a hard frost – below 28 F. The best protection is to start the seeds early enough. If they don’t come up right away, it may be because the soil is still too warm. Don’t worry if you don’t see tiny leaves for a month. If you planted natives they should be fine.


Every living thing needs water! Yes, these are natives and live with little water, but extra water gives better flowering results. Water two to three times per week as the seeds first germinate. Once established, seedlings would appreciate a weekly watering for best show.

The non-native African daisy is highly invasive PLUS toxic to wildlife. Please do not plant it!

Natives preferred.

Please do not plant the non-native African daisy. It’s seed spread easily and it is becoming an invasive weed in the desert, pushing out our lovely natives with its toxic roots, and killing baby quail who eat it unknowing. There are so many pretty natives to plant instead of this killer.

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More about growing wildflowers in your landscape in this book – Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press).  This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit “Tierra del Sol” may get a few pennies.

© Article copyright Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. You can use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit, plus you must include a link back to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.

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