A Good Day to Be a Seed

While the rain may make some dreary, bored, and boarded up in doors, for the California gardener the winter rains mean one of three things: weeding, seeding, or planting.

With our Demonstration Garden a few plants away from completion, the NPG stewardship team emerged from post-finals slumber to sow some wildflower seeds and prepare our northern bed for up coming planting.

Sowing Seeds

Armed with packets of wildflower seeds, two rakes, and an unusually hot day, we revisited the scarred and forgotten soil of the previous native garden bed (which had to be abandoned due to construction upgrades). After six months of neglect and construction, we were surprised to see a healthy population of pearly ever-lasting, yarrow, seaside daisy, and even lupines poking through the weeds. Score one for natives!
This forgotten bed wont be planted in the near future. Lack of funding or responsibility will turn it in to a weed garden before long. We wanted to push off the inevitable a little longer, maybe inspire some students trekking up the Science stairs with spring time displays of Chinese houses, tidy tips, fare-well-to-springs, sky lupine, and bird's eye gilia.

Judith Larner Lowery, of Larner Seeds, recommends sowing wildflower seeds between the first rains of October and in to February. Wildflowers, she notes, are not "drought tolerant" in the same way other California natives are. Rather, they are drought evaders: they complete their life cycle before California's summer drought. Wildflower seeds need consistent water to germinate, so either sow in a wet forecast or be on hand to keep the soil moist. Seeds also need good soil-to-seed contact, protection from predation, and a weed-free bed.

After becoming established, a naturally rhythmed wildflower display doesn't need any more water than the environment provides. To prolong blooms, weekly watering is recommended.

To plant our bed, we raked the upper half inch of compacted soil to create a multidimensional, textured bed to catch the seeds. While Lowery recommends cutting your seed mix with about four times sand or compost to help with even distribution, we simply broadcasted our seeds by hand. A quick stomp around the bed ensured good soil contact, as students passing by looked quizzically at our strange dance.

Today's good rain will help set the seeds in their new home, and we will monitor soil moisture over the next few days to see if hand watering is needed.

To find out more about growing wildflowers, check out Larner's guide here.

Head Gardener Kaya MacMillen sowing seeds

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