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The good, the bad and the ugly of planting wildflowers

By By Steve Strong / area horticulture extension agent
Oct. 1, 2003
Summer landscape color is starting to fade in the crisp coolness of fall, while a new flurry of flower power begins blooming in roadside ditches and neglected areas.
Goldenrod, purple ageratum and the stately swamp sunflower are just a few of the many eye-catching wildflower varieties popping up in places where weeks ago there were only weeds.
Wildflowers come in all shapes and sizes, and may include reseeding annuals, hardy perennials, vines, shrubs, ferns and native grasses. Wildflowers and other native plants are usually indigenous to an area meaning that they are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions and can often thrive for years with very little care.
Showing them off
Wildflowers have gained popularity in recent years as more gardeners have begun using their landscapes to support bird, butterfly and other wildlife habitats. Many kinds of wildflowers are suited to even the most formal landscape plantings, although their true beauty lies in their ability to provide gardens with that natural look.
These plants are most effective when used in informal settings to create a meadow-like view, or to provide a colorful border to a fencerow or forest edge.
Wildflowers can be breathtaking when planted together in masses, but can also make excellent companion plants for other landscape shrubs and trees. Just remember that all wildflowers do not look pretty throughout the growing season, and depending on the time of year, may become "the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly."
Many wildflowers species can be planted easily from seeds, and September through November offers the best time to get them started.
Many types actually prefer the cool, moist conditions during fall and winter to help promote a stronger root system and better blooming the following growing season. Remember that reseeding annuals may look scraggly after blooming, but should not be mowed down until their seeds mature for next year's sprouting.
Fighting weeds
Competition from unwanted weeds is the biggest challenge when planting wildflowers, and the simplest way to get started on an open-field planting is to spray the entire area with Glyphosate herbicide (found in the weedkiller that starts with a big "R").
Call the Extension office at 482-9764 for brand names), and can be safely sprayed right over the top of most broadleaf wildflowers (do not use around ornamental grasses, though).
Telling the difference
Be aware that many wildflowers appear no more showy than a clump of broadleaf weeds during their first year of growth, so don't start spraying or pulling them up until you see what they turn into next spring.
There are a number of wildflower books at the local library and area book stores to help you identify different kinds.
Mississippi State University Extension Service has a great resource guide called Wildflowers for Mississippi Meadows and Gardens, Publication 1709, available at county offices or online at www.msucares.com.
The booklet contains recommended plant lists for select annuals and perennials, and also groups wildflower plantings for sunny meadows and wet areas.

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