When it comes to Southwestern wildflowers, most folks immediately think of the showy golden poppies that appeared last year after the unprecedented 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 cooling soils of coming winter.
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.
Wildflowers Step by Step
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.
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.
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 native wildflowers 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.
Please do not plant the non-native African daisy (Arctotis venusta). It’s seed spread easily and it is becoming an invasive and noxious 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.
If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my free lectures. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including “Month-by-Month Guide to Gardening in Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada” (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there I will get a few pennies.
© Article is copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.