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Bad Start on Native Wildflower Mix Seed Planting:

 
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I killed off the grass/weeds growing on an impossible-to-mow roadside slope. I trimmed the dead vegetation but left enough duff to hold seeds from running downhill. I cast a custom low-growing native seed blend in the winter. But here we are in late May with little to show for it.

I surveyed up and down this weekend and only identified ONE coneflower and a couple more things from the seed blend list. Starting to feel like I only managed to open the soil for crap to grow (like mullein, thistle, dock, ragweed, bindweed, and a lot of narrowleaf plantain.)  

Not sure what went wrong here. Fortunately I had 18 Purple Poppy Mallow that needed a home, so I started plugging those in to colonize the first 20 of 100 feet of slope length. But the remaining 80 feet are going to be no better than when I started and I’ll likely have to re-treat and try again this fall/winter. I seeded heavy. Maybe I’ll have to go heavier still.  Am I just being impatient? I’ve done many seed blend plantings but this is my first exclusively native.
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Do you do anything to ensure good soil and seed contact.   My best success planting wildflowers into the lawn was simply mowing very low before scattering the seed, and then dancing around on top of them for a few minutes so I was sure the seeds had been mashed thoroughly into the soil.  Of that experiment I still have larkspur, the occasional bluebonnet, wild beebalm, and black eyed Susan pop up in random spots every year
 
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Did you research the germinating needs of the plants your seed mix contained? How many would actually like living on the slope you have?

Did you spread *all* the seed? If not, could you consider spreading some in flats now and see how it fairs under supervision?

Have you considered taking the seed mix and turning it into seed balls? I've not had an appropriate place to use seed balls, but my understanding is that they give the seeds better odds of germinating.
 
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Some ideas based on what I’ve noticed with native seeds on my own property:

- many native North American seeds sprout later than Eurasian plants. They know that our winter’s not really over just because of a few warm weeks in April!
- most of our native wildflowers are not true annuals, so in their first year or two they may be just a small basal rosette or even a single leaf strand that is not clearly identifiable as the plant it will become.

Maybe you already carefully chose a mix of good, fast growing “pioneer” species. If not you might want to oversow with some fast growing cover while the perennials get established.

Prairie moon nursery, which is a few zones north of you, markets a quick-start seed mix to grow prairie flowers in 2-3 years. Maybe take a look at that plant list and adapt to your local conditions? Prairie moon pretty darn quick mix
 
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How did you kill off the existing vegetation?
 
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Matt Todd said, "I surveyed up and down this weekend and only identified ONE coneflower and a couple more things from the seed blend list.



Hi Matt, I was wondering how the 18 Purple Poppy Mallow planting turned out?
 
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I frequently see day lilies growing on slopes like this. They establish easily from rhizomes and there are lots of patches in the wild that turn crowded and need division badly anyway.

Seeding wildflower mix into existing vegetation has been very challenging for me too. I broadcast many thousands of milkweed, coneflower and black eye susan seeds every year and the germination rate is about 0.1%. but if kill off grass in a area, sow the seeds and put some straws and a layer of chicken wire on top, then the rate is much higher. But this only apply to a small area. For a large area, maybe making seed balls is the way to go.

 
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Hello Matt,

I have had an experience almost like this.  I had a new area that I seeded heavily over winter and early spring.   I imaged how lush the area would look....and then pretty much nothing!  The area was mostly bare except for some common lawn weeds popping up here and there.

Thinking it a total failure, in mid-June I planted heavily a 'wildflower mix' that I bought at the local store.  Not ideal but I just wanted to get something growing over that bare soil.  I had to water heavily but managed to get that mix to sprout and many things to bloom by fall.  The next year the wildflower mix continued as mostly perennials from the wildflower mix.  Each year that wildflower mix evolved until low and behold after 3-4 years it was almost all the natives that were in that mix.  Black eyed Susan and basket-flower, a lupine appeared, and butterfly weed.

And then a funny thing happened.  All of a sudden I started to see the natives I had originally planted.   I guess they decided they didn't want to sprout until they had better conditions.  I had originally seeded some sedge, grass, golden Alexanders, cardinal flower, blue Lobelia, and others.   And since, many of the originally seeded  natives have steadily gained strength.
 
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Gosh, I feel your pain. I have been trying to convert a meadow from a field of invasive weeds to a native wildflower garden for a couple years now. And I have lots of weedy slopes on my property, including in this garden. My issues with seeds germinating and surviving is compounded by our persistent seasonal spring rains, summer drought, clay soil, and mice and birds eating my seeds. I have had some luck direct sowing with laying compost down, then the seeds, then putting row cover over the seeds and only taking it off once the seedlings have started putting on true leaves, keeping them moist all the time while they are under the row cover.

My go-to method for starting wildflowers however is to do starts. It's a fair amount of work but it really works:
   I sow my wildflower seeds in 50-cell 5" deep trays in a soilless mix and leave them on my back porch on benches all winter, then transplant them out in the spring.
   I put the trays on benches to prevent mice and other critters from eating the seeds. Yes, that has happened to me!
   Most wildflowers seeds should not be buried, and instead only slightly pressed into the soil. I bottom water all of my seed trays. This prevents the tender seeds and seedlings from dislodging from the soil as they are germinating.
   Most wildflowers (at least the ones that grow in my area) need to be stratified (be cold for a period) before they will germinate. Being on the porch all winter provides them naturally with the cold they need.
   Many biennial and perennial wildflowers will develop a tap root or other extensive root system. Due to this, a lot of times you'll find that doing starts is not recommended because the roots may be damaged when transplanting. However, I have never had a problem with transplanting my starts, I think because I start them in 5" deep pots, use a widger tool to get them out of the cells, and uppot them if needed before they go to the garden. They need to be 4" tall or more before they go in the garden.
   I plant them directly into the soil without amending it, but I do put compost on top of the soil with every transplant I put in.
   Once they are in, they need to be watered at least weekly for at least the first year if there is no rain, even it they are touted to be a drought tolerant plant, in order to establish deep roots.
   And a regular weeding program is essential. Pull the undesirable weeds out before they flower and set seed!

Good luck! I have to say I have found great joy in converting my meadow from a mass of invasive weeds to a happy haven for bees, hummingbirds and family. I wish the same joy for you!
   
 
Anne Miller
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We had really good success with planting wildflower seed in October with a broad cast spreader then driving our golf cart over the area several times that way the seeds made good contact with the soil.
 
Matt Todd
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Anne Miller wrote:Hi Matt, I was wondering how the 18 Purple Poppy Mallow planting turned out?



Weird, I haven't been getting notifications for this thread activity! Anyway, I was out inspecting again yesterday. And it's not great.

The Poppy Mallow towards the top of the slope are doing fine. But all the ones I planted even a few feet downhill from them are dead and gone. Also had some other extra native starts, like Royal Catchfly, Blue Lobelia, and Blue False Indigo which are all doing very poorly. I planted the same Blue False Indigo in several other spots around the property and they're fine, but the ones I put on this slope are brown, crispy, and dead.

I weeded around the surviving Poppy Mallow, but I cannot pull weeds. The soil is too crumbly and I dare not disturb it so badly. So I just chopped and dropped around them. For the rest of it, I'll just keep it scythed down to prevent the weeds from setting seed and hope for the best.

I believe this is "loess" soil. Dry, silty, and low nutrition which might be a large part of the problem. So it makes sense that the Poppy Mallow on top are doing ok, because they're closer to actual top soil, rather than this loess deposit that was exposed when they built the road.  
 
Matt Todd
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Oliver Smith wrote: Each year that wildflower mix evolved until low and behold after 3-4 years it was almost all the natives that were in that mix.



Same experience here! We did a couple small patches of seed blend. The blends were not native specific (just some natives in there amongst a ton of non-native annuals.)
The first 2 years we only saw the annuals, but this year it's mostly just the natives left. It makes me think a hybrid approach might be more practical for native seeding projects: throw a bunch of annuals in which might re-seed themselves for a couple years, but will peter out as the natives grow stronger. It seems the eager annuals beat out the weed competition in the first two years, so less fighting tough weeds while waiting for the natives.  
 
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Matt Todd wrote:

Oliver Smith wrote: Each year that wildflower mix evolved until low and behold after 3-4 years it was almost all the natives that were in that mix.



Same experience here! We did a couple small patches of seed blend. The blends were not native specific (just some natives in there amongst a ton of non-native annuals.)
The first 2 years we only saw the annuals, but this year it's mostly just the natives left. It makes me think a hybrid approach might be more practical for native seeding projects: throw a bunch of annuals in which might re-seed themselves for a couple years, but will peter out as the natives grow stronger. It seems the eager annuals beat out the weed competition in the first two years, so less fighting tough weeds while waiting for the natives.  



Wow! That is super interesting! I've read that seeding an area that you are trying to convert back to natives is best done by seeding with only native grass seeds first (University of Idaho https://www.extension.uidaho.edu/publishing/html/BUL944-Creating-Sustainable-Wildflower-Meadows.aspx) but hadn't thought that seeding with annual wildflowers would work too!
 
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Matt Todd wrote:I believe this is "loess" soil. Dry, silty, and low nutrition which might be a large part of the problem. So it makes sense that the Poppy Mallow on top are doing ok, because they're closer to actual top soil, rather than this loess deposit that was exposed when they built the road.  

I'm wondering if you haven't gotten to the root of the problem here!  You're not dealing with damaged soil, you're maybe dealing with subsoil and that might actually benefit from some sort of soil building chop and drop routine before getting your Native plants established. There may be little natural biology in the soil. Is the slope to  great for sheet mulching with an emphasis on jump-starting the soil biology (worms will do that, and some sorts of mushrooms would help also, but they both need something to feed on.)
 
Matt Todd
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Jay Angler wrote:I'm wondering if you haven't gotten to the root of the problem here!  You're not dealing with damaged soil, you're maybe dealing with subsoil and that might actually benefit from some sort of soil building chop and drop routine before getting your Native plants established. There may be little natural biology in the soil. Is the slope to  great for sheet mulching with an emphasis on jump-starting the soil biology (worms will do that, and some sorts of mushrooms would help also, but they both need something to feed on.)



I believe I might also be up against road salt too. It is alongside a state highway and gets blasted accordingly several times each winter. But my only dead baptisia is there, and they're supposed to be very salt tolerant. Sounds like a soil analysis is in order! With intention to build soil as well.  
 
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