California poppies and lupine

Fall is prime planting season in the desert for a great show of spring wildflowers, and with an El Niño season under way, this should be a good year for planting.

Wildflowers are some of the happiest plants you can cultivate. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors, and they often spring from some of the most unlikely places (rocky landscapes, along busy highways). Plus, they are easy to start. Sun, seed, water – that’s all you need to get a wildflower patch going on your property. We carry locally owned Wild Seed wildflower seed packs at the shop. We are also happy to order quantities for you as well.

We love all wildflowers but are partial to the orange and purple combination of California poppies and Lupine with a bit of scarlet flax thrown in. But you could go crazy with several types of penstemon, a bright orange/red/yellow gaillardia and a fuzzy looking owl’s clover. Or if you like more of a sunflower look, the shy Mexican hat is perfect.

The point is to have fun. So here’s how:

1. Grab a pack of wildflower seeds – we like the Wild Seed brand from the well-respected Tempe company of the same name. Each small packet from Wild Seed will cover a 100 square foot space, so make sure to get enough for your space. You can get individual varieties as well as nice mixes. If you have a lot of space we can order larger quantities that arrive quickly.

2. Work your planting area with a hard rake. The point is to scratch up the surface a bit – no hard digging is necessary.

3. Mix your seeds into a bucket with a couple of scoop fulls of soil or compost – you can use soil from the planting area or any potting soil you have around. The mix helps in two ways: First, it enables you to see where the seed is broadcast; second, it helps to weigh down the seed.

4. Gently distribute the seed mix in your planting area. Then rake it around to even it out.

5. Water well on a regular basis, but not so well that you’re making streams that move the seed. We suggest you keep the seed bed relatively moist for three to four weeks after planting and until seedlings appear. Then time your watering around winter rains – assuming we get some. If there is no rain you’ll need to continue watering on a less frequent basis, weekly will work well.

After you get your great show of flowers, you can let them dry and go to seed right where they were planted. With amply rain or moisture, many will reappear in subsequent years.

Check this website in early spring for information on the best places to view wildflowers: http://www.desertusa.com/wildflo/wildupdates.html