Friday, August 28, 2020

Growing Florida's wildflowers from seed

 Fall is the best seed-sowing season for Florida's native wildflowers

I used a vegetable bed that would be fallow from late fall
through winter as a nursery for the wildflower seeds. 

We were going to be out of the country from January through March of 2020, so I had not planted any winter crops. After the warm-weather crops had been harvested, I mulched those beds with a thick layer of pine needles to allow them to remain fallow. There were some beds that I'd used as pollinator gardens during the summer, so those I left in place. They were filled with mostly scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea).

I had some native wildflower seeds from the Florida Wildflowers Growers Cooperative (, but I didn't have any particular areas where I was ready to plant them. So took advantage of the largest fallow bed and planted them there. This way, they'd have good soil and little competition with existing plants. Plus, I'd be able to keep track of them. So when we returned, I could figure out what to do with them.

Blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella).
I labeled each row with a wooden slat.  
A pack of free pollinator seed was planted at the
far end of the bed just to see what they included.

I planted the seeds the first week in December and then we were gone from Jan 4th to March 20th. I had two back-to-back assignments as a cruise presenter in South America for Holland America. When we came back most of the seeds had sprouted, but I started with other gardening projects when we got back such as planting the okra and some other warm weather crops. I wrote about getting those beds ready here: A South American engulfed my resting vegetable beds. In retrospect, I should have transplanted the wildflowers first.
Poppies, blamketflower, and black-eye Susans at the end of the bed.
The non-native oriental poppies (Papaver orientale) do attract lots of bees.

It was interesting to see that most of the pollinator mix were poppies, but there were also some sweet alyssum, forget-me-nots, pinks, and apparently some blanketflower. No particular harm in planting these non-native flowers, but the natives are the ones that play their full roles in the local ecosystem.

The starry rosinweed and the coneflowers matured much more slowly compared to the black-eyed Susans and the blanketflowers.

Starry rosinweed (Silphium asteriscus) and the softhair coneflowers (Rudbeckia mollis)
were much smaller than the blanketflowers and the black-eyed Susans.

Okay, it was time to get busy... 

First, I'll cover the kitchen window pollinator garden that is our view when we eat. Years ago, it used to be the herb garden, but when some scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea) volunteered there and we saw that it was attracting hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies, I moved the herbs out. Much more entertaining to watch the wildlife...

Our kitchen window pollinator garden had gotten messy. I pulled out the big ferns and removed a bunch of weeds while leaving the spiderworts and other desirable plants. Transplanting the blanketflowers. I should have done so earlier, so they would have lasted longer in their new locations.

I'd transplanted some bluestem grass (Andropogon sp.) that had volunteered in a path out in the front meadow area. I put them where the ferns had been. I built a slight swale in the center so they'd be easier to irrigate.

Adding black-eyed Susans around the bluestem grasses into the
kitchen-window pollinator garden in mid April.

On June 15th, both the blanketflower and the black-eyed Susans had filled out and were looking good.

The kitchen window pollinator garden looked pretty worn out in mid August with both the blanketflowers and the black-eyed Susans looking dead. I transplanted some scarlet sage  and coreopsis that had volunteered elsewhere to perk it up into the fall. Also, two bunches of those bluestem grasses survived and will provide some structure toward the back.

For comaprison, the blanketflowers that were not transplanted were still blooming well into August, while the the ones that had been outplanted into other beds stopped blooming 6 weeks earlier. The poppies and other plants from the pollinator mix were mostly gone at this time. I planted the rest of the bed with marigolds as a cover crop to reduce root knot nematodes. Read more about that here.

The Rudbeckias

I've planted black-eyes Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) many times before, both here in Florida and also in Maryland and New England, but this was my first experience with the softhair coneflower (R. mollis). As previously discussed, they were slower to germinate and grow, so they were easier to transplant and they adjusted more quickly to their new locations. When they are ready to flower, they send up a shoots from the basal rosette of leaves and tower over the back-eyed Susans. The flower heads are about one and a half times larger. Even into late August, some of them have still not bloomed as shown in the photo to the right.

A comparison of the two Rudbeckia species is obvious in this bed. In a front bed, some of the softhair coneflowers have grown vertically and bloomed, while others still just have their basal leaves well into August. 

The mailbox pollinator garden:

I added black-eyed Susans to the mailbox garden to extend the flowering further into the summer. The coreopsis there tends to fade after a long spring blooming period. The photo was taken in June. What doesn't show are the green-eyes (Berlandiera subacaulis) on the other end of the bed. I think I need to add some coneflowers here next year and maybe some goldenrods (Solidago spp.) for an even longer lasting show. 

The toolshed pollinator garden:

I discussed how I created this wildflower space in this article: Giant Ironweed, a Tough, Eastern North American Wildflower.

The yellows and the purples complement each other in the tool shed pollinator garden.
This photo was taken in late July. 

Pollinator gardens are not just for bees and butterflies,
they are for gardeners as well...

The glorious blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella) attracts a wide range of pollinators.
The impressive softhair coneflower (Rudbeckia mollis) grows taller and blooms later than its cousin, the black-eyed Susans (R. hirta).

Want to learn more? 

I gave this presentation/talk on pollinator gardens on Facebook live with Mark Kateli of the Cuplet Fern Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society. Enjoy.

A video of  my presentation on pollinator gardening:

It was a lot of extra work to irrigate the larger
transplants until they stopped wilting. 

Lessons learned:

- Planting seeds in a controlled environment does allow you to keep track of them better than if they'd been planted directly in a meadow.
- Don't wait too long to transplant the seedlings, because the larger plants required ongoing irrigation and even then, those that were more mature did not last as long in the gardens as the ones that were not transplanted.
- Just because fall is the recommended planting time, the various wildflowers mature on their own time scales. You may have noticed that there are no photos or further discussion of the starry rosinweed 
(Silphium asteriscus). The plants that I kept track of look fine with lots of healthy-looking basal leaves, but they have not made any attempts to bloom. We'll have to catch up on those next year. 

I hope you are having good adventures in your yard and hope that with this background that you'll try growing some of Florida's beautiful wildflowers from seed.  

Green gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

1 comment:

  1. I love the information you give. I always learn something new.