The Bluebonnets, Phlox, Coreopsis
and Poppies of March and April germinate in September and October, born
on a warm dewy morning a few days after a thunderstorm. Fall rains promote
an ageless cycle of prairie life. In the narrow band of grassland between
west Texas desert and east Texas forest, the seasons describe a geographical
migration. Summer's heat brings the desert eastward; the slow, steady rains
of fall and winter could nurture a forest.
This transitional zone is
an ecotone, a grassland surrounding islands of trees. A grassland enlivened
by myriad forms of annual and perennial wildflowers. It is a prairie. It
is now almost gone.
Experience a sunrise in a
relic prairie and imagine the distant distraction of the interstate highway
is the sound of buffalo. Thousands of buffaloes. Later, watch the moon
rise over the prairie and know the incalculable loss we have suffered because
the howling of wolves is no longer heard at such moments. The prairie enriched
our forebears, its absence impoverishes us materially and emotionally.
Purists demand we use only
native Texas species. But that is an extreme position. Such a bias would
exclude larkspur and poppy, as well as yarrow, flax and cosmos. Most wildflowers
need sun. Woodland wildflowers that dwell in shade are not a part of this
The first step is to find
a sunny spot. It could even be a "problem" area; a place with poor soil,
shallow soil, a slope or an area with poor drainage. Second, remove with
a glyphosate-containing herbicide the unwanted vegetation, remembering
that short-growing grasses like bermuda grass or buffalo grass are compatible
with prairie wildflowers.
At this point, select the
varieties to be sown. Look for a mix developed for our climate or chose
species native or naturalized in this region. Learn which species do best
in dry soils and which prefer moist environments. Be sure to include blooms
that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. If you also grow edible plants,
sow bee-pollinated wildflowers. If you provide a good habitat for bees,
they'll enhance fruit production.
While wildflower seeds generally
sprout in the fall, nature herself sows them in May and June. As their
fruits and capsules ripen and split open, some like Bluebonnet with great
force, the seeds are dispersed. Throughout the summer, the seeds will settle
into their proper depth and await the fall rains.
If you buy seeds, it is best
to hold them in a cool, dry place until a late spring sowing. Also,
buy Texas-grown wildflower seeds to encourage this growing industry. When
sown at the proper time, just rake them in lightly. If you sow them when
they are promoted in late summer/early fall, remember to do what nature
would have done during the summer and mix them into the upper 1/4 to 1/2
inch of soil.
If it is dry, begin to water
deeply in mid-September and keep the area moist for the following three
weeks and then diminish the frequency of watering. Water sparingly during
the winter and every ten days during a dry spring.
Observe your patch of prairie
wildflowers regularly. Learn the seedling appearance of the species in
your planting (to distinguish them from weeds). Watch for pillbugs and
other pests. Include your children in this adventure; it is an education
of the finest sort.
Learn more about our vanishing
native prairies and enjoy them in their spring exuberance around your home.