Wildflowers are technically flowers that naturally grow in the wild, meaning that they are not intentionally seeded or planted. This also means that they are not genetically manipulated. Wildflowers are often native to woodlands, prairies, and mountains. Per the USDA, wildflowers are beneficial to agricultural operations and ecosystems as they help improve soil health, prevent erosion, improve water quality, and even enhance forage conditions for livestock. They also produce bold and colorful blooms that are critical for pollinators, beneficial insects, and wildlife. Their seeds, nectar, pollen, and leaves are an important source of food and life; thus, they are important to the environment.
Though native flowers are generally less prone to diseases, many wildflower species have been lost to development and the spread of invasive plants. Thus, it is often helpful to reintroduce wildflowers to the environment via seeds or small plants. The longevity of wildflowers varies. Annual wildflowers have a one-year life cycle, but given proper conditions, they may regrow each year by reseeding. Perennial wildflowers return year after year and die back over winter. Whereas biennials have two-year life cycles. For folks looking to plant a low-maintenance wildflower garden, a mix of annual and perennial wildflowers is recommended. Perennials tend to get a slower start than annuals, thus, a mix helps to ensure that your garden is full.
When choosing flowers, select those that are non-GMO*, easy to grow, of varying heights and colors, and have overlapping or long bloom seasons. Some seeds do best when started inside about 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date. Once that time is up, they are ready to be transplanted to your garden area. Others are direct sow and may be planted into your prepared soil. Tossing seeds is never a good idea as seeds generally need contact with soil at specified depths to grow. They also require beds that are adequately enriched and weed-free.
For best results, pay attention to the sell-by dates listed on seed packets. One must follow planting and watering directions on the packets. Also, understand the wildflower requirements, soil conditions, drought tolerance, and the amount of sunlight and water required for flowers to thrive. If you wish to simplify your choices, pollinator garden seed sets are available for different planting zones that generally feature a variety of flower seeds to attract beneficial insects, unusual pollinators, pollinator-attracting blooms, bees, and hummingbirds. Happy planting!
We welcome you to share your best wildflower garden tips with us.
*Non-GMO plants are cultivated through pollination as hybrid seeds or as open-pollinated seeds; thus, they are considered more genetically pure.
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Not to worry. There are no wildflower, annual, or vegetable seeds available to homeowners that are genetically modified organisms (GMO’s). A few are available to farmers, which usually become feed for livestock. Certain GMO’s, such as Bt corn and yellow rice, are beneficial because they don’t have to be sprayed for borers (corn) or they contain genetics that make beta-carotene (rice), which has saved the eyesight of over a million children in developing countries. The hype surrounding GMO’s is misguided and grossly exaggerated.
I’m glad to see your footnote indicating that non-GMO’s can be hybrids or open pollinated varieties. Many people consider hybrids to be the same as GMO’s, but, of course, they are not. GMO’s have genetic material “injected” into their nuclei that came from an unrelated species.
One point about attracting pollinators, including butterflies, is that simple, single flowers usually have more nectaries and pollen. The fluffy double- and triple-flowering varieties in many cases have lost those structures altogether. Plant breeders bring to market varieties that catch the attention of customers, so that’s why we see so many thickly-petaled flowers in garden centers, and fewer single flowering varieties or species. Breeding often sacrifices the male and female flower parts in favor of an extra row or two of petals…and more sales at garden centers.