How To Grow a Thriving Wildflower Garden

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To add natural beauty to your garden, consider growing a wildflower garden! Not only are wildflowers beautiful, but they also provide food and shelter for beneficial insects and pollinators. Growing wildflowers isn’t all that difficult, but you should know a few things before you begin.

Wildflower garden with bright orange poppies and small feverfew perennials.
Table of Contents

    What is a Wildflower Garden?

    To add natural beauty to your garden, consider growing a wildflower garden! Not only are wildflowers beautiful, but they also provide food and shelter for beneficial insects and pollinators. Growing wildflowers isn’t all that difficult, but you should know a few things before you begin.

    A wildflower garden showcases native wildflowers and other native plants. The garden will include a mix of perennials, annuals, and biennials native to your specific region. Most native flowers are incredibly beautiful and low maintence making a wildflower garden an option for gardeners who lack time for care and upkeep.

    A wildflower garden aims to create an ecosystem that mimics the natural habitats of wildflowers, providing a home for a wide range of native wildlife, such as birds, butterflies, and bees.

    Wildflower gardens can vary in size, from small gardens in urban areas to large meadows in rural areas.

    They can be naturalistic and wild or more structured and formal.

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    What are the benefits of planting a wildflower garden?

    Beautiful wildflowers will create a stunning floral display in your landscape, but there are so many more benefits beyond their natural beauty!

    Here are a few reasons why you should consider adding a wildflower garden:

    Attracts pollinators: Wildflowers are a natural food source for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.

    Low maintenance: Unlike traditional lawns, wildflowers require very low maintenance. The flowers are usually drought-tolerant and can survive in various soil conditions, making them incredibly versatile additions to any garden.

    Once established, wildflowers require minimal watering and fertilizing, making them a great option for busy gardeners.

    Reduces erosion: Wildflowers have deep roots that help to hold soil in place and in turn, help reduce erosion. Wildflowers are particularly beneficial on sloped or erosion-prone landscapes.

    Food and habitat for wildlife: Wildflowers provide food and habitat for various wildlife like birds, butterflies, and small mammals. Attracting wildlife to the garden can help improve biodiversity.

    Cost-effective: most Wildflower seeds are a cost-effective option for landscaping. They are inexpensive to purchase and require minimal maintenance, making them a good choice for those on a budget. A few seed packets and patience can create a massive display in a few short years.

    Versatility: Wildflowers come in various colors, shapes, and sizes, making them an option for almost any landscape project. They can create natural-looking meadows, perennial borders, mixed garden beds, woodland gardens, and shade gardens.

    A field of red wild poppies in full bloom.

    Step 1: Choose The Right Location For Your Wildflowers:

    Wildflower plants prefer full sun, but they can tolerate some shade. The soil should be well-draining and have a neutral to slightly acidic pH.

    Step 2: Sketch Your Wildflower Garden Design

    Sketching gardening plans is a good idea because it allows you to visualize and plan out your garden before planting. 

    Sketching can ensure that you have enough space for all the plants you want to include and that they grow in a way that looks aesthetically pleasing. 

    Additionally, sketching out your wildflower planting can help you think about sun exposure, drainage, and soil conditions, which can significantly impact how well your plants will grow.

    Step 3: Prepare the Soil Before Planting

    Preparing the soil is the first step in turning grass into a wildflower garden. You must remove the grass and weeds and amend the soil with compost or other organic matter. Adding organic matter will help improve the soil structure and provide the necessary nutrients for wildflowers to thrive.

    Even if you plant a large project, such as a wildflower meadow, removing the top layer of grass/shrubs/ weeds is critical before planting. Tall grasses and weeds can prevent the seeds from contacting the soil, preventing germination. Tall grasses and weeds will also block out available sunlight.

    Removing grass is time-consuming but worthwhile if you want the best germination rates.

    Step 4: Choose the Right Wildflower Seeds For Your Region:

    There are many different wildflower seeds available, so choose one that is appropriate for your area and the conditions in your garden. Check the seed packets for planting times and locations, and do some research to ensure you are choosing something other than competing plants.

    Some popular wildflower plant suggestions:

    Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta):

    These perennial wildflowers are native to North America and have stunning bright yellow petals and dark brown centers. Rudbeckia thrives in full sun and well-drained soil, and it attracts a variety of pollinators, including bees and butterflies. It’s a hardy plant that can survive in various soil conditions; it’s also drought-tolerant and can grow in poor soils.

    Beautiful black eyed susan flower garden.

    Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa):

    Butterfly weed (also known as butterfly milkweed) is a wildflower native to many areas in North America. It is known for its bright orange flowers and ability to attract monarch butterflies. Milkweed prefers full sun and well-drained soil and is deer-resistant and drought-tolerant.

    Learn More:

    Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) in a northern prairie.

    Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea):

    Echinacea is a North American native species with flat purple petals and a brown central cone. Coneflowers prefer full sun and well-drained soil and, once established, are drought resistant. Poor soil conditions are not a problem for coneflowers.

    Echinacea and lavender field at sunset.

    Bluebells (Mertensia virginica):

    This wildflower is native to North America and has blue bell-shaped flowers that bloom in the spring. It prefers partial shade and well-drained soil and is an excellent option for a woodland garden. It’s a hardy plant that can survive in various conditions; it’s drought-tolerant and can grow in poor soils.

    Rows of Bluebell growing in a green garden in outdoors with a wooden gate background.

    Wild indigo (Baptisia australis):

    Wild indigo, native to North America, has striking blue, purple, and yellow flowers that bloom in the spring. This lovely wildflower prefers full sun conditions but can tolerate light shade.

    Baptisia australis, commonly known as blue wild indigo or blue false indigo at sunset in the garden. Beautiful purple flowers.

    Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

    Wild columbine is a hardy wildflower plant that can tolerate various soil and moisture conditions. The plants also have a long blooming period, typically from May to July, adding a splash of color to your garden all summer.

    Wild columbine flowers are also a favorite among pollinators, particularly hummingbirds. It is a great option for gardens in various light conditions, from full sun to partial shade. 

    A field of wild columbine in full bloom.

    Wild aster (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii)

    Wild asters (Symphyotrichum spp.) are native, versatile, and easy to care for, making them great for wildflower gardens. They bloom from late summer to fall, tolerate different soil and moisture conditions, and attract pollinators. They come in various colors and sizes and are suitable for full sun to partial shade gardens.

    Pink and magenta wild asters blooming in a wildflower meadow.

    Wild lupine (Lupinus perennis)

    Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) is a versatile wildflower native to North America that fixes nitrogen in the soil, making it an excellent addition to any wildflower garden or meadow. It blooms in late spring and early summer, is hardy, can tolerate different soil and moisture conditions, and attracts pollinators. 

    Lupines can be planted in full sun to partial shade and are a great pollinator food source, and the lovely purple/pink spires make wonderful cut flowers.

    Learn More:

    A field of wild lupines in full bloom.

    Wild phlox (Phlox divaricata)

    Wild Phlox is a beautiful North American wildflower that can be used in many ways around the garden. The plant has clusters of small, star-shaped flowers that bloom in late spring to early summer and come in shades of pink, blue, and purple.

    Wild Phlox has a very long blooming period making it a great addition for pollinators. The flowers can also make a great ground cover for shaded areas. The plants are also deer resistant!

    Bright pink phlox in a wildflower garden.

    Wild poppies (Papaver rhoeas)

    Wild poppies (Papaver spp.) are wildflowers native to many parts of the world, including North America. They add a bright pop of color to wildflowers, blooming in spring to early summer when other flowers have yet to open.

    Poppies are low-maintenance, easy to grow, and can tolerate different soil and moisture conditions and prefer full sun but will tolerate a light shade. Poppies are great for cutting gardens, providing long-lasting, colorful, and showy blooms.

    Learn More: Check out our guide to growing my favorite type of poppy, the Iceland poppy!

    Blooming red poppies in a summer meadow backlit sun light

    Wild daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum)

    Wild daisies are a diverse group of wildflowers native to many parts of the world, including North America. Members of the Asteraceae family, they are an excellent addition to any wildflower garden or meadow, adding a splash of color with their small, showy flowers that come in various colors, including white, yellow, and pink. 

    Wild daisies have a long flowering period, typically from late spring to fall. They are low-maintenance, easy to grow, and can tolerate poor soil and moisture conditions. They are also a favorite of pollinators and disliked by squirrels and deer.

    Wild daises blooming against bright yellow green foliage.

    Wild sunflowers (Helianthus spp.

    Helianthus is a beautiful and versatile wildflower native to North America. They are a bright and vibrant addition to any wildflower garden or meadow, adding a burst of color with their large, showy yellow or orange flowers. 

     Wild sunflowers bloom all summer, typically from early-summer to fall. 

    Helianthus typically prefers full sun and well-drained soil and can tolerate a range of soil types. They are also drought-tolerant, making them an excellent choice for dry, hot climates. They are hardy and easy to grow, making them a popular choice for gardens and meadows and as cut flowers. The flowers also have a long blooming period, typically from summer to fall. They are also a great choice for pollinators and a food source for birds and other wildlife.

    Close up of yellow helianthus wild sunflowers .

    Wild bee balm (Monarda fistulosa)

    Wild bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) is a beautiful and versatile wildflower native to North America. The plant has clusters of brightly colored, showy flowers that bloom from summer until fall. 

    The flowers come in red, pink, and purple shades and have a long blooming period. Wild bee balm is a member of the mint family and typically grows to be about 2-3 feet tall, with a similar spread. The leaves of wild bee balm are fragrant and typically lance-shaped with toothed edges.

    Learn More: See our list of heavenly-scented flowers to add to your garden.

    Bright purple pink Mondara blooming in a field.

    Step 5: Before Planting, Verify the Chosen Varieties are Not Invasive to Your Area

    Before planting wildflowers in your garden, check to ensure they are not invasive to your area.

    Invasive plants can take over a growing area, change the soil and water chemistry and create an unhospitable environment for other native plants to grow successfully. Invasive plants can be very difficult to control and remove.

    Choose plants that are well-suited for your area and will not cause harm to the local environment.

    Step 6: Plant The Wildflower Seeds Or Plants In A Sunny Spot

    You can either sow seeds directly into the ground, start them indoors in pots, and then transplant them later. If you plant wildflower seeds, sow them directly in the ground, broadcast the seeds evenly, and then rake them into the soil. If you start them indoors, place the seeds in a seed tray or pots and keep them moist until they germinate.

    Perennial and biennial seeds may not bloom the first year and may not establish themselves for up to 3 years.

    Bright yellow black eyed susan flowers in a meadow with bright pink asters.

    Step 7: Provide Water and Fertilizer

    Keep the soil consistently moist until the seeds germinate. Once the young plants are well established, consistent watering is not required as the plants are drought tolerant. However, most wildflowers bloom best with regular watering.

    Add a general-purpose flower fertilizer early in the growing season.

    Step 8: Maintain Your Wildflower Garden

    Once your wildflower garden is established, it will require minimal maintenance. However, it’s essential to watch for invasive weeds and remove them as soon as they appear.

    Learn More: Check out our article on how weeds grow. Know thine enemy!

    Step 9: Keep an Eye out For Pests on Your Wildflowers

    Wildflowers can be infested by insect pests that can cause serious damage to leaves and stems and flowers. The damage created by these pests can cause stunted growth and destruction of the infested plants. Here are a few common pests to look out for in your wildflower garden:

    Aphids: These small, soft-bodied insects can cause stunted and discolored leaves by sucking the sap. They can also spread viral diseases. You can control aphids; you can use a strong stream of water to knock them off the plants, an insecticidal soap, or a neem oil spray.

    Learn More: We have a full guide to help you manage aphid infestations organically.

    .
    Spider mites: Spiders mites can cause damage to wildflowers by sucking the sap from the leaves and causing them to turn yellow and dry up. You can control spider mites, use a strong stream of water to knock them off the plants, or use an insecticidal soap sprayed all over the plants and the leaves.

    Snails and slugs: Slugs and snails will eat wildflowers until nothing is left! A few slugs can take down an entire, well-established wildflower plant in one night. You can control snails and slugs and use slug bait around the perimeter of your wildflower garden.

    Cutworms: Cutworms can cause damage to wildflowers by cutting off the stem at the base, causing the plant to wilt and die. You can control cutworms and use bait containing Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) or slug bait.

    Japanese beetles: Japanese beetles can cause damage to wildflowers by eating the leaves and flowers. You can control Japanese beetles; you can use a pesticide or handpick them off the plants and drop them into a bucket of hot soapy water.

    A brilliant display of wildflowers with different colors and textures growing in a wildflower garden.

    Step 10: Manage Wildflower Diseases Quickly

    Despite their hardiness and low maintenance, wildflowers can also be susceptible to certain diseases. Here are a few common diseases to look out for in your wildflower garden:

    Powdery mildew:

    This fungal disease causes a white, powdery coating on wildflowers’ leaves, stems, and buds. It can cause the leaves to turn yellow, drop prematurely, and weaken the plant. To help prevent powdery mildew, it’s essential to provide good air circulation around the wildflowers and to avoid overcrowding other plants. If you notice powdery mildew on your wildflowers, use a fungicide spray.

    Root Rot: 

    Root rot is a fungal disease usually caused by over-watering or poorly drained soil. The roots of the wildflowers will turn brown and mushy, and the plant may wilt or die. To prevent root rot, ensure the soil is well-draining and avoid over-watering the wildflowers. Unfortunately, it is not possible to reverse root rot. The treatment of this disease involves removing the affected portions of the plant.

    Bacterial leaf spot: 

    Bacterial leaf spot is a bacterial disease that can cause small, dark spots on leaves, which can turn into large brown lesions. If the disease progresses, it can cause yellowing and premature leaf drop.

    Avoid overcrowding in the planting bed to prevent leaf spot and keep leaves dry. Control leaf spot by using copper-based fungicide spray.

    Rust: 

    Rust is a fungal disease that affects wildflowers, causing orange or red pustules on the leaves and stems. The pustules will weaken the plant and cause the leaves to appear distorted. To prevent rust, avoid overcrowding, and provide good air circulation. If you spot rust on your plants, remove the affected foliage and use fungicide spray.

    Downy mildew: 

    Downy mildew is a fungal disease that causes a white, fluffy growth on the leaves of wildflowers. The mildew can cause the leaves to turn yellow, drop prematurely, and weaken the plant to the point where it will not grow. To prevent downy mildew, provide good air circulation around the wildflowers and avoid overcrowding. If you notice downy mildew on your wildflowers, use a fungicide spray on the foliage.

    Wild tickseed flowers in bloom in a field.

    Reasons Why You Should Skip The Wildflower Seed Mixes:

    Wildflower mixes have become popular for gardeners looking to add color and biodiversity to their landscapes. However, there are some reasons why wildflower mixes can be problematic and why it may be better to choose individual wildflower species instead. Here are a few reasons why wildflower mixes are considered a poor choice:

    Invasive species: Some wildflower mixes may contain invasive species that can quickly spread and take over the garden. These new plants will begin crowding out other plants, which can cause damage to the soil and the local ecosystem.

    Poor germination rates: Many wildflower mixes have low germination rates, meaning that only a small percentage of the seeds will sprout and grow. Buying wildflower mixes can waste time, money, and resources.

    Seed mixes can be expensive: Wildflower mixes can be far more expensive than purchasing individual wildflower seeds.

    While wildflower mixes can be a convenient option for gardeners looking to add color to their landscape, they need to be aware of the potential drawbacks and choose individual wildflowers that are guaranteed to do well in their region.

    wildflowers in a garden with butterflies, coneflowers and black eyed Susans.

    Planting Wildflowers: It’s Not Difficult, and Incredibly Rewarding!

    There you have it – planting a wildflower garden can be a fun and rewarding experience. By selecting the right location, preparing the soil, and choosing the appropriate wildflowers for your area, you can create a beautiful and sustainable garden that will thrive for years. Remember to select native wildflowers, which are well-suited to your location and require less maintenance.

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