Welcoming Wildflowers into Your Garden

Bonnie Nowicki

The Southwest showcases a great variety of unique wildflowers. They are an essential part of our natural heritage. While spring is the grandest wildflower season because of winter rains, the summer wildflower germination can be outstanding, and begins when nighttime temperatures are over 70 degrees.

Dormant seeds rest in the soil waiting for the right combination of soil temperature and rainfall. This combination may only come about every few years in the desert. In our own gardens, we should first select a planting site with full sun and a close water source. It’s important to realize that soil is a seed bank, most likely filled with weed seed. Wildflowers and weeds have similar characteristics and growing requirements, so be prepared to eliminate weeds early. Well drained soil is ideal for all wildflowers.

Start with a small display. Select a site that provides the greatest impact—along walkways, front entrances, or patio areas. Shallow soil preparation will limit the disturbance of dormant weed seeds. When choosing seeds, read the label carefully. Some mixes are not suited to our area or include aggressive grasses. Mix several species together, such as easy-to-grow annuals with some well-adapted perennials. Then mix with a filler like sand or potting mix to help evenly distribute the seeds. Of course, if you are an impatient gardener, just purchase potted annuals and perennials and supplement watering to ensure abundant blooms.

Summer blooming plant suggestions are the golden-beard penstemon (penstemon barbatus). It’s a tall plant with sparse gray-green leaves and slender red flowers in a long cluster. The desert sand verbena (abronia villosa) is a low-growing, creeping plant with bright pinky-purple, trumpet-shaped flowers. One of the showiest wildflowers, orange milkweed (asclepias tuberosa) has spectacular clusters of bright orange flowers, which attract butterflies, so it’s often called the butterfly weed.

So dear gardeners, whether you study them in the wild or grow some in your yard; wildflowers beautify and enrich our environment. Enjoy!