Wildflowers — Should you Plant via the Wintersow Method?

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The other day I got an email from a reader who tried wintersown last year and was hooked on how easy it was.

She had just ordered some annual wildflowers and didn’t have enough jugs to plant all the flower seeds.  She wanted to know if she could plant directly to the beds.

My answer was ABSOLUTELY YES!

As great and easy as the wintersown method is — there are times that you’d be better off not using this method.  You can use the even easier method — direct sowing in the bed where the flowers will grow.

Flanders Field Poppies

Flanders Field Poppies

In order to determine what method to use — you need to know the different characteristics of annuals and perennials  — and then consider your purpose in planting.

Annual Wildflowers

Annual wildflowers only live for one growing season. They may reseed heavily and come back next year, but each individual plant lives for only one growing season.

They grow and bloom much more quickly than perennials.

If you are sowing en masse (which is really how annual wildflowers are meant to be sown) it is not realistic or practical to sow them in jugs or containers via the wintersown method.  The vast majority of annual wildflowers do not like to be transplanted. Sow them where they’ll grow for best results.

There’s always the exception.  One that comes readily to mind is if you’re only sowing a few seeds and want to keep them under your watchful eye.

Your good judgment will tell you when you need to make an exception.

Perennial Flowers

Perennial wildflowers come back every year from the same roots.  They form clumps that get larger every year.

They’re usually not sown in the large numbers that annuals are sown. They’re much slower to sprout than annuals and grow very slowly the first year.  They stay shorter the first year and zoom up the second year and then bloom.

Their habit makes it practical to use the wintersown method.  Also — they can be sown at anytime of the year via wintersown without any adverse effects.  (Since annuals only live and bloom one year — if you don’t sow at the right time — you won’t get a long bloom period.)

Most perennials can be easily missed in the border or flower bed the first year they come up. They’re easy to keep track of in their second year. The Wintersown method not only makes it easier to germinate  perennials, but it makes it easy to keep track of them until they get bigger. If the situation calls for it — you can even transplant into pots and let them grow for a while longer until you’re ready to transplant.

The exception that comes to mind is  – if you’ve designated a good sized area as a wildflower meadow or border and planted a wildflower mix in that area.  The mixes usually have 50% annuals and 50% perennials.

Your annuals will grow quickly and bloom this year.  The perennials will germinate and remain small and bloom the following year along with annuals that have reseeded or that you have replanted.

I’ve always enjoyed starting my perennials separately and placing them where I want them.  Then I can sow annuals among them if I so choose.

Biennial Flowers

Biennials grow the first year and flower the second year.  Most of time they have to go through a winter to bloom.  But I’ve found that’s not always true.  Sometimes you’ll get bloom the first year.

I plan to direct seed the biennial Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) in some of my borders this year. I don’t know if I’ll get it, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for first year bloom.

Many is the time I have seeded the biennial Sweet William (Dianthus) and had it bloom the first year.

What your plan is for various biennial flowers will determine how you sow them.  I usually sow them directly where they grow.  I have on a couple of occasions used the Wintersown method to start Sweet William in the summer.

Final Thought

Most of the time — thinking the process through from beginning to end — will allow you to easily determine whether or not the wintersown method would be best.  If it seems too complicated — for example — transplanting hundreds of annual wildflowers — it’s probably best to direct sow.


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2 comments to Wildflowers — Should you Plant via the Wintersow Method?

  • Aparna

    This is a great post,Theresa!

    This weekend I will prepare and sow the annual seeds directly into the bed. Time permitting, I’ll try to sow the perennial wildflower seeds via the winter sown method.

  • Theresa

    Thanks Aparna. Glad you found it helpful.
    Sounds like you are going to have a wonderful display of flowers this year!

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