Picking the right wildflower
Some wildflowers can accent a landscape, others can be pests
March 25, 2020
Wildflowers can be a great addition to a landscape. The cottage look is just what many gardeners are seeking. Additionally, when we hear wildflowers, we tend to think about flowers that are easy to grow, require little maintenance, and maybe even require less water than some of the other plants in the garden. However, there are a few things to keep in mind.
The term “wildflower” implies the flowers have not been cultivated and are not hybrids; the flowers should not differ from their native flower counterparts. Wildflowers are not, and cannot be, native to everywhere. It’s important to understand the varieties in the seed mix and be intentional about what is planted and where it is planted.
Most wildflower mixes have a list of the seeds enclosed. Before buying seeds, it’s important to double-check that none of the seeds the grower is interested in introducing are problematic. This can be done by comparing the contents to both the state and county noxious weed lists or by simply giving the local weed and pest office a call. Lots of weeds in Wyoming served a previous life as an ornamental.
In addition to the noxious weeds list, there is The Wyoming Weed Watchlist Field Guide available at http://www.wyomingextension.org/agpubs/pubs/B1227.pdf. The purpose of the watch list is to build awareness around weeds that are not yet present in Wyoming or are present in low populations. This is a part of the state’s Early Detection and Rapid Response (EDRR) program. The premise is that it is much easier to eradicate one weed or a handful of weeds rather than pastures and rangelands full of weeds.
Baby’s Breath is a weed in this field guide, a flower to be on the lookout for, that is often found in wildflower mixes.
Depending on the packet and mix, some seed labels also show a percentage of inert material. Inert material is essentially a mix of dirt, sand, stem pieces, broken seeds, and other miscellaneous materials. Some seed producers allow weeds to be in this inert material and some do not. So even if the seed content list looks to be problem-free, check for weeds in the inert material.
Once seeds have been verified and planted, they’ll begin to germinate. It can sometimes be difficult to identify the keepers from unwanted seedlings that simply sprouted up from having the soil watered. Although not a fool-proof plan, prolific seedlings with purplish/green undersides are often weedy. The best plan is to let the seedlings grow to aid in identification, but if they are the “bad guys” as we say in our household, pull them before they start to seed out. Otherwise the cycle continues.
Additionally, wildflowers should never be introduced to “wild” spaces such as BLM, state, or other federal land. They can be problematic in wild scapes for the same reasons they are in domestic landscapes. Oftentimes weed populations flourish because they can out-complete neighboring plants and don’t have natural predators, such as insects or wildlife, that eat them. As previously mentioned, wildflowers are wild to some places but not all places. It’s best not to alter the landscape and leave that to trained professionals who sometimes do plantings after wildfires, other disturbances, or to improve wildlife habitat.
And, a final note about wildflowers—although it can be tempting to pick wildflowers while hiking and enjoying the outdoors, it is vital to remember that some are rare plants right here in our forests, and we must do our part to support and protect them. Picking wildflowers can have devastating impacts on the wildflower populations, as well as the insects, birds, and wildlife that rely on them. Often flowers wilt right after picking. They could be enjoyed much longer if they were simply photographed. That being said, there are ways to legally collect wildflowers. You can contact the U.S. Forest Service office for more information.
“Wildflowers” give us much enjoyment, whether they are cultivated or in the wild. They are simple beauties, yet it’s good to know where they are best suited and why they’re there.