Mississippi native flowers are born to be wild

By By Steve Strong / area horticulture extension agent
Nov. 13, 2002
Irony is an ancient Greek word coined by Socrates to describe the difference between an actual result or outcome versus what is normal or expected.
More than 2,000 years later, most modern landscapes still struggle in a vain attempt of ironic expression where the chores of weekly mowing and pruning and mulching are synonymous with the concept of "low maintenance."
Nothing about gardening or growing plants comes without effort, though there are several ways to minimize the amount of work required to maintain a home landscape. Wildflowers are an excellent alternative to expansive swaths of turf grass, and usually require a lot less regular maintenance than shrubs and annual flowerbed plantings.
Wildflower plantings should be of extra interest to country dwellers, who are often trying to convert old cow pastures or recently-cleared wooded lots into southern living showplaces.
The first lesson that the city mouse learns when moving to the country is that bahia grass (the tall thick stuff with the black Y-shaped seed heads) doesn't cut worth a flip, and that weekly cutting of four acres of lawn turf is the kind of torture that you wish on your worst enemy.
Sure, grass cutting helps build character and keeps Junior out of trouble on the weekends, but there's more to life than sharpening mower blades and counting the calendar until the next date to fertilize again.
Why not take the opportunity to trade the burden of weekly lawn care for taking a deep breath of the natural look, and transform a high maintenance headache into a nurturing habitat for songbirds and butterflies.
Of course wildflowers are simply weeds, how do you think they got to be wildflowers in the first place? What makes them a viable component of the landscape is planting them on purpose and learning which varieties provide the full season of color, texture and habitat support you want to achieve.
The Mississippi State University Extension Service publishes an excellent booklet on Wildflowers for Mississippi Meadows and Gardens (Publication 1709), available free of charge through your county Extension office or online at www.msucares.com.
The guide provides easy-to-follow instructions on site selection, soil preparation and planting methods. It lists recommended annual and perennial flowers for specific landscapes.
November is the best month for starting seeds of many Mississippi wildflowers because our mild winters give the plants a chance to sprout early and get a head start on growing root systems.
Most varieties appear as little more than a basal clump of leaves during the winter dormant season. But if sown the previous fall, they will normally bloom the very first year in the ground.
Seed from reseeding annuals and many perennials can be collected and sown into new locations each year, or shared with neighbors to create wildlife habitat "corridors" throughout the neighborhood.
Contact the Extension Service at 482-9764, or Meridian Community College Horticulture at 483-7319 for more information on seed collecting and sources of local wildflower seed (bluebonnets collected from Texas will probably not do well here).
Wildflower planting is as simple as running the weed whacker over an area to allow the seeds to reach the ground, and sowing seed at an appropriate rate to cover the amount of square footage.
Seeds of most species are quite small and rarely require covering with soil or even mulch.
Grass killing herbicides are labeled to apply over the top of many kinds of broadleaf wildflower species, but more care should be taken when selecting broadleaf herbicides for wildflower plantings (a non-selective systemic like Glyphosate can be used to clear areas before planting).
Periodic burning to mimic natural wildfires is another weed control option once plants become established, but be sure to check local ordinances on burning beforehand.

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