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Wildflowers for garden gamblers.

If "normal" rains come this winter, you can have a colorful payoff from a small investment now

With unpredietable water and weather patterns ahead, it's a good year to take a gamble and sow wildflowers. If rains come, you'll have your own patch of nature's spring spectacle. If winter is dry and you're put on tight rations, cross your fingers: you may not get much.

But depending on how many seeds you buy and how big an area you plant, wildflowers offer a big reward for a small investment. For about $2 to $5, you can buy enough seeds to cover 200 to 400 square feet, proportionately less for larger areas. In mild-winter areas, now is the time to sow seeds, In cold-winter climates, wait until early spring.

You can plant them in the city

You can sprinkle wildflowers in gaps between ground covers, scatter them along walks or driveways, or plant them in parking strips or under fruit trees. Use them instead of more expensive and often thirstier bedding plants in borders or even in pots.

What's so great about wildflowers?

It's not just their colorful exuberance or the carefree way they flout regimentation. There's the pleasure of hooking into the natural cycle of things: watching the tiny sprouts turn the earth green, nurturing buds as they swell into bloom, savoring the last flowers as they fade and stems turn brown. It's a way of seeing and learning to appreciate the Western difference in seasonal changes.

Wildflowers are also a way to tap into our environmental heritage and preserve some of it. Early pioneers exclaimed over California's flower-packed valleys. Gardeners in Colorado and New Mexico are just finding the merits of natives never sold before. What was your area like before civilization intruded? Growing wildflowers is one way to find out.

They're not as carefree as they look The most successful sites are areas where weeds are sparse-whether because of years of weeding, treatment to kill weeds,

or soil too poor to nourish them.

Weeds are the primary cause of failure for wildflower growers. Here's how the gardeners shown handle them.

Ann Norton sprays the slope shown on the preceding page with glyphosate, shears growth to the ground, and disposes of it. She sows seeds immediately: disturbing soil more would unearth more weed seeds. She repeats this process each year, so weeds never have a chance to take over.

Virginia Martin (right) prefers to deal with weeds after planting. She weeds 30 minutes to an hour each week while seedlings are small. "It's easier than all that digging and spraying. To reach weeds, I just walk over the little seedlings; they pop right back again, like a lawn." Since you probably won't be able to recognize all your wildflower seedlings, the secret is to recognize your weeds. Take a good look at those typical of your site before you plant. Rake seeds in or cover them with 1/4 inch of compost or loose, fine soil.

In the natural scheme of things, the best years for wildflowers are ones with ample rainfall. Plan to water during dry periods if you can. Keep soil moist until seeds germinate (four to six weeks or more after planting). To prolong bloom, water occasionally from the last spring rain until all plants have finished blooming and begin to brown.

Seed sources are listed on page 254.
COPYRIGHT 1988 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Nov 1, 1988
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