PINE RIVER -- Native wildflowers have been around thousands of years, surviving the climate where they grow, remaining pest free.
David Moe, master garden from Outing, described for 50 people attending a Cass County Extension program how these hardy, yet delicate woodland and prairie flowers managed to survive this long.
Not only do certain species grow better in some areas than others, but also plants of the same variety have genetically adapted themselves to the specific soil, sun and climate where they are growing, he said.
Therefore, people wanting to grow wildflowers in their yard or acreage should try to obtain seeds from as close as possible to their home, he said.
A Hepatica from southern Minnesota or Maine may well have entirely different genetics from that of Hepatica in Cass or Crow Wing counties, Moe said. It likely will not do well, if it survives at all.
There are no weeds in a true wildflower woodland or prairie area, he said, primarily because native grasses comprise 60 to 80 percent of the vegetation, crowding out weeds. To plant in comparable proportions means a virtually maintenance-free wildflower area, but a low percentage of flowers, he said.
Grasses support the fragile wildflower stems, he said.
Tree leaves in woodland wildflower areas provide a natural mulch mat each fall through which delicate flowers and grasses manage to sprout each spring. The leaves then rot, contributing nutrients to the soil to feed the flowers.
Seventy percent of a prairie plant is root, Moe said, meaning roots are at least four to 10 inches long, sometimes 20 inches. A third of those roots die each year, decaying into black dirt. They fertilize themselves.
Both rotted leaves and decayed grass leaves from the prior season feed the soil, creating rich soil where woodland wildflowers grow, he said.
Anyone who wants a higher percentage of wildflowers to grasses can expect to have to pull weeds from their wildflower plot, he said. You probably will have to over-seed more wildflowers annually to achieve that higher flower percentage, he added.
Every time you pull weeds, it opens loosened dirt where more weed seeds can blow in and take root, he warned.
It is important to research on the Internet or through materials available from Minnesota DNR specific soil, sun and climate preferences of wildflowers you are considering, he emphasized. Wildflowers will thrive only in conditions to which they adapted in their native location.
They prefer well-drained soil. To test drainage in an area where you want to plant wildflowers, Moe said, dig a hole a foot deep and foot around. Fill it with water. The water should be gone in 12 to 24 hours.
Prairie flowers will not thrive in shade. Woodland flowers also need sun, but are used to being the under-story beneath either deciduous trees or evergreens.
Have soil in the area where you want to plant wildflowers tested for pH level and to determine whether you have sand, clay, silt or loam, he said. Wildflowers prefer loam, which contains rotted material.
You need to know the preferences of the woodland wildflower varieties you want to plant, because the variety of their natural companion trees likely will reflect the type of pH (acidity or alkalinity) of soil they need, he said.
Only a few varieties like the acid soil and deep shade under pine trees, he said.
Wildflowers can be grown on any yard or acreage, but only successfully after careful study and planning, Moe said.
Learn as much as possible about wildflower varieties and their culture, the soil and existing vegetation on your property and the proportion of shade and sun on your property, he said. Then, make a detailed design drawing of what exists and what you want to plant, complete with accurate measurements, he recommended.
When planning to plant wildflowers, the first step is to decide whether it will mimic woodland or prairie where grasses predominate and whether you want a garden with a higher percent of flowers, Moe said.
Contact Cass County Extension Educator Eleanor Burkett at (218) 587-8284 or toll free at 866-587-8281 or Minnesota DNR toll free at 888-646-6367 for a list of native plant publications or a list of Minnesota and close Wisconsin native plant greenhouses and suppliers.
Sunshine Gardens, 1286 Shadywood Shores Drive N.W., Pine River, MN, 56474; (218) 947-3154; Web site email@example.com, is the only Cass County supplier on the Minnesota DNR list. There are a few in Itasca and Beltrami counties.
Information some suppliers farther away provide on their Web sites can provide helpful educational information, Moe said.
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