Growing wildflowers from seed is challenging but can be rewarding. One of the ways to increase your chances of success is to sow seed at the right time of year.
Take Your Cue From Mother Nature
Unlike cultivated plants that need a bit of TLC to encourage good results, wildflowers happily grow human intervention. Provided, that is, they have the right conditions to grow in.
All that wildflowers want to do is to ensure the survival of the species. It’s their sole purpose in life.
I guess that thousands of generations of plants have learned that it’s no good germinating seed if there won’t be enough sun, rain or soil for the new plant to reach adulthood. The seed that germinates in arid soil or during short winter days will be wasted because the plant won’t survive long enough to reproduce. And that kind of goes against nature.
If the conditions aren’t exactly right, the seed won’t germinate. So watch how Mother Nature sows seeds. The time of year that they ripen and fall is paramount. Do a particular species do best if the seed falls onto farmland that is about to be ploughed or do the seeds need to lie on the surface of the undisturbed ground? Maybe the seed needs to feel a frost before it can spring into life (so it can tell the difference between autumn and spring).
Perennial Wildflowers And Grasses Prefer An Autumn Sowing
At Meadowmat, we’ve been growing wildflowers for a long time and experience has taught us that the autumn-sown perennials perform better in their first summer than the spring-sown ones. Especially the early-bloomers like common daisy and red campion.
Most of these plants like to set seed in late summer, have the seed germinate in autumn and spend the winter growing strong roots. The seeds need light to germinate so are best just sprinkled on the surface of the soil.
The seed of robust perennial wildflowers like this oxeye daisy can be sown in autumn or in spring. Autumn sowings give earlier flowers.
Having said that, spring sowings work just as well for the quick-growing robust plants such as grasses, yarrow, oxeye daisy and wild carrot.
Some perennials need a period of vernalisation. Cowslips and Primroses are a classic example of a seed that won’t germinate until it’s experienced at least one really cold winter. These need to be sown in autumn but patience is the key to seeing results.
Cornfield Annuals Can Be Sown In Autumn For Spring
Most of the bright coloured wildflowers are what are called “cornfield annuals”. These grow, flower, set seed and die all within one year. Examples are cornflowers, common poppies, corn marigold and corncockle.
Annual wildflowers like this cornflower like to be sown on to disturbed soil
In the days before chemical herbicides, these species would be found growing in fields of wheat, barley and oats. They would set seed before the grain was harvested and the seed would drop into the bottom of the crop. After harvest, the seeds would be ploughed in ready to grow in next year’s crop.
For best results, these seeds need to be sown in late summer or autumn and covered with a light dusting of soil. That way they’ll flower early next summer.
They can also be sown in spring for flowering in late summer. I like to hedge my bets and sow some in autumn and some more in spring. That way my bees benefit by having more flowers for longer.
Biannuals Do Best When Sown In Autumn
A biannual is a plant that completes its lifecycle in two years. Foxgloves and Teasels are classic examples. The seeds are sown in late summer, spend the next 12-18 months growing deep-rooted plants and then flower and set seed in their second summer.
Again, you can get away with a spring sowing but if you copy Mother Nature and sow seeds when she sows seeds, you’ll be happier with the results.
What Is The Best Time Of The Year To Sow Wildflower Seeds?
First choice is autumn. During the months of September and October. At that time of year, the soil is still warm, the days are still quite long and we’re almost guaranteed enough rainfall to keep the soil nice and moist.
The second choice is spring. Anytime between late February and mid-April. You may not see as many flowers in the first year – especially if you’re growing perennials – but you will still get good strong plants.