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Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA

More information on soil preparation and mulching is detailed in Deer in My Garden, Vol.1: Perennials & Subshrubs and Deer in My Garden, Vol.2: Groundcovers & Edgers!

CA poppiesFall-sowing a meadow
Creating a natural landscape

by Carolyn Singer
October 23, 2010

Lingering rains this past spring brought a beautiful show of wildflowers and native grasses. As I drove down Greenhorn Road I was distracted by a meadow of blue lupine. Memories of the California of my youth, with hills of lupine and poppies in lush abundance, were once again vivid.

Fall is the perfect time to sow your wildflowers. The soil will remain warm for several weeks and more early rains may provide the perfect conditions for germination. Moisture in the first few weeks is critical for germination and young root development. Plan to irrigate every few days unless rains of a half-inch or more occur each week.

Sow each species of wildflower in conditions perfect for its requirements. This improves germination and subsequent growth. Study the natural habitat of the flower and grasses for the best success. Festuca 'Siskiyou Blue'A "meadow in a can " or any of the wildflower mixes available are tempting with an interesting mix of seed, but the flowers may not all germinate or thrive. Habitat, growing conditions, sun and water requirements, and even deer-resistance are specific to each wildflower.

MuhlenbergiaEven if soil remains wet through the winter the seed will not rot. Some seed will need the cold of winter before it germinates in the spring. This is called stratification. Occasionally seed providers will recommend refrigerating packets of seed. In this day and age of frost-free refrigerators, this is not a good idea since it may dehydrate the seed. Mix the seed with vermiculite and moisten the mix before placing it in the refrigerator. A couple of weeks of cold treatment may hasten germination.

The ideal soil for planting wildflowers is good native topsoil. Unfortunately, few gardeners in the foothills have this rare commodity! Begin with your clay or rocky soil and add some compost to lighten the texture. Add fifteen to twenty pounds of organic phosphorus per hundred square feet, and five pounds of oyster shell.

The area prepared should be as free of weeds as possible when the fine seed of wildflowers is broadcast. Sow the seed on the soil surface and do not cover it. Most wildflower seed needs light to germinate.

yarrow lawnJust before the gentle rain this past weekend, I sowed the very fine yarrow (Achillea millefolium, photo of fall-sown 6-month old "lawn", right) in an area near a native oak. The soil has had a few weeds growing in it but competition will probably not be a problem for the yarrow if I can get early germination. The yarrow makes a perfect lawn substitute, requiring little or no water once established.

The seed was sown on the loose soil surface where plant material was decomposing from a low summer mowing. Within an hour of sowing, I noticed about twenty quail very busy feeding. I hope they were after the seeds they usually eat in that area, and not my expensive yarrow seed!

If you have lots of birds, deer, wild turkeys or rabbits enjoying your wild gardening efforts, consider covering the seed bed with wildlife netting or 30% shadecloth until plants have begun growth. Seed is expensive! In the next few years plan to gather seed from your own plants, store it in a cool and dry location, and each year increase the beauty of your native landscape with a fall sowing.

CA poppies

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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