A flower bed bursting with colorful wildflowers is a spectacular sight. Who wouldn’t want to have that kind of impressive display in their own back yard?! Unfortunately, I think the idea of sowing wildflower seed has been given a bad rap. If it’s not done properly, it’s easy for many gardeners to become dismayed with the results. The good news is that there’s a method that provides the kind of show that we expect from a mix of showy wildflowers. What’s more, it’s not that complicated.

California poppies

California poppies are easy, showing and long-blooming.

Photo Credit: Joe Seals

The most important thing is to get a handle on potential weeds before sowing. Weeds are the most common reason for a disappointing wildflower show. Too often, a bad case of weeds will outright swamp a sowing of colorful blooms.

So here’s how to take a preemptive strike in the weed war, as well as how to sow seed properly:

  1. Scrape off existing husky or perennial weeds (meaning the ones that have been there since last year) in the area to be sown. Use a hefty, sharp hoe to scrape – don’t pull, till or dig up weeds because such soil disturbance only brings more weed seed to the surface, where it’ll germinate and grow.
  2. Water the bed well for two to four weeks, two or three times a day for 5-10 minutes at a time. (It’s not critical when in the day you water.)
  3. After the watering period, again scrape off all weeds. (If your new weed patch was really thick, repeat Step 2 exactly as before, then scrape the weeds again.)
  4. Once your bed is ready for sowing, mix your wildflower seed with plenty of light-colored sand. (Construction or play sand works well.) This mixture will make it easy for you to see where you’ve tossed your seed, so you can distribute evenly. The recipe for the mix: one regular packet of wildflower seed to 1 cup of sand. That one packet will cover about 100 square feet (the size of a small room).

    Where you have large areas in your yard to sow, divide the ground into small, equal-sized sections. Use 1 cup of sand per divided area, plus ½ an ounce to 1 ounce of bulk seed. (A heaping tablespoon of seed is about ¼ to ⅓ of an ounce.)

  5. Sow each cup of seed “chicken feed style,” lightly sowing in one direction and then covering more bare ground by going back the opposite way. This prevents the spotty look you might otherwise get if sowing handfuls of bare seed, which can cause an unbalanced wildflower show come bloom time.
  6. Cover your seeds lightly, but thoroughly, with organic mulch (about ¼ to ½ an inch). This helps hold in some moisture, as well as helps prevent too much seed theft by birds. Straw works well, or you can use bags of mulch purchased from your local nursery or garden center. You can also use your own weed-free compost from home.
  7. Water your covered seed every day, twice a day, for two weeks – just as you did in Step 2.
  8. After good germination (usually in two to three weeks), water only once a day for two weeks, then once every other day for two weeks, then twice a week for two weeks. (Don’t water at all when Mother Nature intervenes and the rain is doing an average job or better.) Continue to cut the watering schedule in half every two weeks. By the time your wildflower show peaks, you’ll have turned off the water completely. Don’t water when the flowers peak, though – that only leads to wet flowers and poor seed production (for next year’s show).

By properly preparing your beds and sowing seed this way, you prevent serious weed suffocation, patchy germination and spotty color in your planting beds. And you’ll have increased the chances of repeat bloom, in a more natural manner, for the following spring.