Gardening in Texas: Part 3 – Growing Wildflowers

By Ebony Porter, March 14, 2016, Green

Welcome to Gardening In Texas from Bounce Energy! We hope this series will steer you in the direction of planting a green Texas garden with a eco-friendly lifestyle in mind. We’ll discuss shaping a garden that uses less water, grows in harmony with animal and insect life in the area, and provides you with more than just a pretty view.

Growing Wildflowers

When it comes to eco-conscious gardening in Texas, we would be remiss if we didn’t discuss wildflowers with wild abandonment. After all, the bluebonnet is our state flower.

Gardening in Texas: Part 3 - Growing Wildflowers

Bluebonnets in Houston!

By mid-March in most years, hillsides across the Lone Star State are painted royal blue and coral red, the result of thousands of bluebonnets and Texas Indian paintbrush growing on their own accord for miles and miles.

Wildflowers have lived in harmony with our landscape for thousands of years. However, the colorful flowers that appear along our highways across the nation each spring are thanks to one of Texas’ very own First Ladies, Lady Bird Johnson.

Mrs. Johnson had a passion for wildflowers, and she was a true advocate for beautifying the nation’s highways and cities. “Where flowers bloom, so does hope,” was her motto. As a way to control outdoor advertising and bring a natural floral beauty back to our roads, her vision and perseverance led to the Highways Beautification Act in 1965, which came to be known as “Lady Bird’s Bill.”

In keeping with the theme of this series, we want to share why wildflowers are suitable for your environmentally conscious Texas garden. While the majority of these flowers don’t bloom all spring and summer long, the beauty of their brief appearance for a few months out of the year make planting these unique and important flowers worthwhile.

Why Wildflowers? For Beauty, Butterflies, and Bees

I’ve already mentioned how beautiful and ephemeral these flowers are. There is something magical about a flower appearing in your garden for only a brief time.

Think about tulips and daffodils. They rise from the ground close to Easter, and then they are gone, back into the earth, waiting for next year. Wildflowers are much the same, and because they are native to our area, they provide beneficial qualities unlike many other imported species of flowers.

Gardening in Texas: Part 3 - Growing Wildflowers

Black-eyed susans sitting alongside salvia.

For example, if you’ve ever wanted to cultivate a butterfly garden, then growing wildflowers is a great way to attract them. Purple Echinacea Coneflowers and Black Eyed Susan’s are a few that emit a sweet scent. Native Texas shrubs that flower are also a key element to your butterfly garden, but also consider spreading seeds.

When you grow wildflowers, you are aiding in the conservation of butterflies, as well as aiding in pollinating the plants and flowers around us that so desperately need it. As they float from one flower to another, butterflies transfer pollen from the anther to the stigma, aiding in balancing the greater ecosystem. By planting wildflowers that emit a sweet fragrance, you will attract butterflies and give them a safe haven to live.

Not only will you attract the butterflies, the bees will find you too. Bees need healthy flowers to pollinate, and by providing them with wildflowers, you’re giving them a great food source. By incorporating wildflowers to attract both honey bees and native bees, this safe sanctuary means our bee population can continue to thrive despite constant aggressors killing them off. Without the benefit of bees, our food sources are in great danger.

When, Where, and How to Plant Wildflowers

Hands down, wildflowers are best grown from seed. While commercial nurseries may offer bluebonnets in a punnet come April, the cost, not to mention the concern for survival, are too much of a bother. For the price of one container of bluebonnets, you can afford to purchase 2 seed packets, and in turn, produce hundreds of flowers, as opposed to just a few.

The key to growing wildflowers is to plant them in the fall, because, by the time spring rolls around, it’s too late for the seeds to settle into the soil and establish roots. With a fall planting, the roots are established before any frost may strike, and by the early signs of spring, color will be emerging from the ground.

Gardening in Texas: Part 3 - Growing Wildflowers

The author’s daughter – embracing her inner hippie.

Wildflowers really aren’t fussy about what sort of soil they live in, but you must choose a sunny location for planting. While sand isn’t advised, as long as the soil is somewhat well draining and in a location receiving adequate rainfall to germinate the seed, you will have success. Ditches that don’t get mowed are a great place to plant wildflowers.

  • To prepare your site, gently rake the soil about one inch deep. Don’t go deeper, otherwise you will stir up the roots of nearby weeds that will crowd out your wildflowers.
  • Read your packet of seeds to determine how deep they should be sowed. Most wildflower seeds call for a surface sowing. Too often folks plant their seeds too deep, and germination is a failure.
  • Rake your soil, surface sow the seeds, and press into the soil gently, and water.
  • Water the seeded area until you see growth, then let nature take over.

My Favorite Wildflowers

Since I discovered the joy of growing wildflowers many years ago, I’ve planted them in my gardens each fall with great success. When the flowers die off, I pull them out and churn the dead flowers into my soil. The seeds naturally reseed into the soil, ready to continue their growth cycle. Dead flowers will often do this themselves with the help of the wind – which is how fields of bluebonnets and other flowers come up year after year, without human assistance.

Depending on our rainfall and whether or not Texas experienced any sort of winter freeze, certain species of wildflower are more prolific than others. My commitment to these varieties are sown each year with great love and success. Not only do they provide all that I’ve mentioned above, they make a great cut flower with a vase life of 5-7 days!

1) Plains Coreopsis

Gardening in Texas: Part 3 - Growing Wildflowers

Check out those plains coreopsis near the fence line.

At their full maturity, their long sinuous stems and maroon and marigold yellow flowers dance with the wind. They make a great natural dye if you’re into experimenting with nature and textiles. They aren’t fussy about soil, and they’ll return year after year if you allow their flowers to die and return into the ground.

2) Cornflowers

Gardening in Texas: Part 3 - Growing Wildflowers

Check out those delightful cornflowers among other Texas wildflowers.

These have a quaint look that might have been grown in Grandmother’s garden. They come in a variety of colors, but the blue ones are almost electric. They make a great cut flower and work as dried flowers. Just cut them, gather with a piece of twine, and hang them upside down.

3) Indian Blanket

These make a great pressed flowers and work well in cut flower arrangements. Whimsical in nature, their color and shape are like a red and yellow pinwheel. They are extremely hardy and aren’t fussy with where they grow.

4) Black-Eyed Susan

Gardening in Texas: Part 3 - Growing Wildflowers

Hey there, black-eyed susan!

These are prolific re-seeders. You can even lop off their flowers at the end of their blooming season and give them away to friends so they too can incorporate Black Eyed Susan’s into their gardens. They also make a great cut flower.

5) Zinnia

Zinnias are an exception to our aforementioned planting rules in that you can seed them in early spring and expect them to appear from late spring, through the summer, as long as you plant sequential plantings. They are an exceptional cut flower, and the butterflies absolutely adore them. There is no question that, if you plant zinnias, you will find monarchs and swallowtail butterflies all over your yard.

Gardening in Texas: Part 3 - Growing Wildflowers

With any luck, you can plant a few Texas wildflowers and create a relaxation garden in your own backyard.

Are you a fan of wildflowers too? Share your favorites with us, and if you’re new to it, get on board! We promise that you’ll fall in love with them, too.

Images courtesy of Ebony Porter.

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About 

Born in Australia, Ebony has been in Texas long enough to consider herself a Texan-Aussie. Ebony has been writing for magazines, newspapers, and blogs, for more than 10 years. When she's not writing she's building quilts, growing her own food, or camping with her family somewhere far from the sounds of the city.

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