While many of my neighbors have been busy germinating rye grass in manure, I have been getting ready to sow annual seeds for the glorious spring wildflower season. This year, more than usual, I am anxious to have a long-lasting wildflower season so that the garden is colorful for the backyard wedding for our son and daughter-in-law-to-be this coming June.
A few weeks ago Ginny Hunt, of Suncrest Nurseries and Seedhunt, spoke about growing annuals from seed at a meeting of the Southern California Horticultural Society. She showed wonderful pictures of beautiful and unusual annuals, many native to California, that she grows for seed production in her central California garden. (A list of seeds available through her internet, mail order seed business can be found on the Seedhunt website.) She also showed pictures of her seedhouse and seedbeds while describing ways to germinate and grow annuals from seed.
Ginny discussed germination and the need to break dormancy for some seeds. Methods to do this include using smoke treatment (chemically provided with “Super Smoke Plus”) to simulate wildfire conditions, refrigeration to mimic seasonal changes, and soaking seeds like lupines that have hard, impermeable seed coats.
Ginny prefers to grow annuals in open beds outdoors. Some seedlings are grown in seed pans and transplanted, while others are grown in raised seedbeds. All are grown in soils and conditions that Ginny has determined to be most advantageous. Typically the soil medium is extremely well-drained with a high sand content. Varying amount of organic material is added to the mix, woodland plants usually requiring more than desert or chaparral plants. These amendments can be added to a regular potting soil for raised beds and seed pans. Similar practices are followed at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. Annual wildflower beds there are also often top dressed with coarse, decomposed granite or gravel.
I knew that I couldn’t miss this talk because I was determined to ask Ginny how to prolong the wildflower season for the wedding. We discussed growing annuals that typically flower later in the spring, like Clarkias (Clarkia spp.), madias (Madia spp.), tarweeds (Hemizonia spp.), and sunflowers (Helianthus annuus). It was suggested that I sow the wildflowers over a longer period this winter. I also learned that if I cut back the clarkias before they set seed (lots of bouquets this spring!), they will continue to bloom for a longer period. And most importantly, I was told to water the wildflower beds after the rains stop and the temperatures rise. I usually don’t do this since the sidewalk garden is intended to be very low water use, but this year the rains, either naturally or artificially, will extend well into spring.
In my October 22nd post I included a picture of sprouting wildflower seeds. The cotyledons (sometimes called the seed leaves because they are the first set of leaves to appear after the seed germinates) were out. No true leaves (those that grow after the cotyledons) were present. Often it is difficult for gardeners to remember what the wildflower seedlings look like, even after they have gotten their true leaves. It is important to remove weedy annuals from the garden so that the wildflowers have a chance, and not knowing which little baby plant is which, can be a real drawback. This drawback almost led to a unfortunate consequence back in 1998 when I was a volunteer in the Cultivar Garden at Rancho. I nearly decimated the entire crop of California bluebells (Phacelia minor), confusing it for some weed I used to see on the east coast. Right now I can’t remember which one, but maybe one of my eastern readers will know. Anyway, something made me stop before doing the deed and I was relieved and rewarded by the flowers that followed.
A gardener friend of mine suggested seeding pots when you sow your wildflowers seeds in the garden. This way you have a labeled pot with just one type of wildflower. Furthermore, growing annuals in pots is truly lovely. I have done this a few times, but as you may have guessed if you have been reading this blog, I am not nearly as systematic and I would like to be. This year will be different!!!!