Wildflower gardens are often referred to these days as “Pollinator Gardens” or “Pollinator Sanctuaries” – and that is true! Pollinator populations have declined and wildflower gardens certainly provide valuable pollinator habitat. But wildflower gardens don’t only help pollinators! They are a wonderful way to support the entire ecosystem by sharing our space.
In this blog post, we’re talking about how and why to establish a wildflower garden of your own.
If you already have a wildflower garden and you want to try something new, why not start a vegetable garden this year? Read our vegetable garden guide here.
Bees are considered among the most important pollinators and they need our help. Bee populations have fallen into steep decline, due in part to habitat loss.
Increasing biodiversity by adding a wildflower garden to your space is an excellent way to do your part for the environment. Wildflower gardens help to create a healthy ecosystem and you will enjoy a ripple effect of benefits in your garden. That’s because a healthy ecosystem is self-sustaining and provides some natural resistance to pests, disease, and harsh weather conditions.
Wildflower gardens take 2-3 years to become fully established and after that, require no additional care or special attention to thrive.
Not only do butterflies need wildflower gardens for food, they also need them to lay their eggs.
We offer a wide variety of wildflower mixtures that are specifically designed to showcase a combination of early, mid, and late-season bloomers to enjoy from spring to fall.
- Beneficial Insect Mix
- Butterfly Mixture
- Hummingbird Mixture
- Bee Pollinator Mix
- Low Growing Wildflower Mix
- English Perennial Garden Mix
- Semi-Shade Wildflower Mix
Many gardeners will tell you they don’t want rabbits around because they nibble. But a few rabbit sightings indicate a healthy ecosystem. Rabbits also contribute in their own way by distributing seeds, fertilizing, and being incredibly cute.
Most wildflowers want to be in a full sun location. “Full sun” typically means 8+ hours of direct sunlight per day. If you will be seeding into an area with 4-6 hours of direct sunlight per day, we recommend choosing the Semi-Shade Wildflower Mixture. We do not recommend sowing wildflower seeds in an area that receives less than 4 hours of direct sunlight per day.
Skunks may also seem like an unlikely ally but having a few around leads to natural habitat competition. This type of biodiversity keeps plague problems like an overabundance of gophers, for example, from becoming a reality.
When it comes to wildflowers and other plants that are slow to establish, a well-prepared seedbed is essential for best results. The soil should be loose and well-draining. If it is dense and compact, see our soil guide here for advice.
To the best of your abilities, remove all weeds. Bear in mind: there are millions of weed seeds lying dormant underground. A freshly exposed garden bed is likely to stimulate germination in some dormant weed seed and the area can become quickly overgrown. To prevent weeds from outcompeting your wildflowers, we recommend using a nurse crop.
A nurse crop is a fast-growing annual that is sown with the wildflower seeds to fill in the area quickly during the first year of growth. The nurse crop will provide natural weed resistance while the slow-growing wildflowers are establishing. We recommend Oats or Annual Rye for early spring sowings, or Annual Rye for dormant fall sowings.
Foxes help control rodent populations. They also compete for habitat with other wildlife like skunks and raccoons, keeping their populations under control too.
Wildflower seeds are often dormant and require stratification for germination to occur. Cold stratification happens naturally outdoors in winter. That is why the best time to sow wildflowers is in a “dormant fall sowing.” In Canada, that is usually sometime between October 15th-November 15th.
Remember: Mother Nature is your boss in the garden. Take your cues from the environment around you. Watch the wildflowers in your neighbourhood and when they’ve died back and dropped their seeds, you can sow yours too.
Just like foxes, owls and other hunting birds help control rodent populations. This natural resource competition is an integral part of the balance in a healthy ecosystem.
If a dormant fall sowing is not possible, sow wildflower seeds as early as possible in the spring. As soon as the snow melts and the area is exposed, broadcast the seed, making sure good seed-to-soil contact is achieved.
In an early spring sowing, you hope there are enough cycles of freeze and thaw left in the season for cold stratification to occur. If not, the seeds will lie there dormant until the following year when they are stratified by a full winter. This is one of the reasons we advise wildflower mixtures will take 2-3 years to become fully established.
Birds are an MVP in any ecosystem. They help to control insect populations and their digestive systems “scarify” seeds before they are distributed throughout the environment via bird droppings. Scarification is one way to break seed dormancy, making germination possible.
Wildflowers will spend much of their first year developing extensive root systems. They will not divert as much energy into blooming until their second or even third year of growth. During the first year, they may appear weedy so we do not recommend hand-pulling weeds. At this stage, it is very hard to distinguish between wildflowers and weeds.
Instead, cut the area back to a height of 8 inches a few times throughout the first season. This will prevent weeds from going to seed and spreading. While the wildflowers are busy developing their root systems, they will tolerate this above-ground chop quite well.
Squirrels are often considered a pest but like everything else, they have a role to play too. A healthy presence of foxes and hunting birds will keep squirrel populations from ballooning and becoming a real issue.
As your wildflower garden becomes established and flowers become more distinguishable from weeds, hand-pulling of weeds can begin. As the years go by, you may notice sparse patches or an overabundance of a certain variety. This is natural and if you want to fill in an area or you have an aesthetic preference for the full breadth of varieties in your chosen seed mixture, we recommend overseeding at a rate of 5-50% every 4 or 5 years as needed.
Hummingbirds are a unique bird because they feed on flower nectar as butterflies do. Their long beaks and even longer tongues can reach deep into large narrow flowers that might be difficult to access for some other types of pollinators.
Care for your wildflower garden by watering during very dry spells. Take your environmental stewardship a step further and consider providing a source of water for the wildlife in your garden. An ornamental birdbath is a nice way to do this, but a plain old bucket works too!
For the best ecosystem support, wildflower gardens should not be cut down in the fall. When left standing in winter, their reedy stems and dead flowers are a truly precious source of shelter, nesting material, and food for overwintering wildlife.
Wildflower gardens have a more “wild” appearance than most traditionally manicured gardens. Their tall leafy stems and smaller flower heads can appear unkempt to the untrained eye so be cognisant of local by-laws. However, wildflower gardens are beautiful in their ruggedness and we appreciate them for their contribution to biodiversity and ecosystem support.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this little wildflower garden spotlight. We’re officially inviting you to share some of your space this year by planting a wildflower garden of your own! Please tag us in your photos on Facebook and Instagram (@OSCSeeds); we LOVE to see what you are growing 🙂
Don’t hesitate to email our in-house garden team at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions that might come up along the way.
Stay in touch!