Most California native wildflowers need at least six to eight hours of sun a day. Since they prefer well-drained soil, avoid planting seeds in areas that stay soggy after a heavy rain. They do well in rock gardens, around mailboxes, in borders, and along fences, driveways and walkways.
Try starting with a small flower patch or two, then over time watch as they seed themselves into nearby spaces. Annual wildflowers complete their life cycle from seed to flowering to reseeding in one year. By self-seeding, a new generation returns each year.
Prepare a site in your garden a week or two before you plan to sow the seeds. First, remove any weeds and grass that can compete with new wildflower sprouts. After you have removed the existing vegetation, loosen the soil to a depth of no more than one to two inches, to keep the dormant weeds covered, and water well. After two weeks or so, remove any new weeds that have sprouted.
Moisten the soil thoroughly before you seed the area. Mix the wildflower seeds with horticultural sand or vermiculture. Don’t bury the seeds or they won’t sprout. Instead, spread the seed by hand or use a seed dispersal tool to insure even distribution. Lightly rake or sprinkle your seeded area with potting soil for some coverage. You can also press the seed in with a piece of cardboard.
Keep the area moist, but not saturated, until the seeds germinate. If all goes well, the fall and winter rains will provide enough moisture. During drought years, be prepared to provide supplemental irrigation.
Your own microclimate and planting location will affect the way your plants grow. Plants in coastal microclimates can withstand more sun and get by with less watering than those in hot, inland areas.
Here’s a list of some of the annual wildflowers that do well in most of Sonoma County and will reseed in successive years.
- Baby blue-eyes, Nemophila menziesii, have light-blue blossoms with white centers that look great in containers. Baby-white eyes, menziesii var. atomaria, have white flowers sprinkled with tiny blue dots. Five spot flowers, N. maculata, are white flowers with five petals. Each petal has a dark purple spot on its tip.
- Blue field gilia, Gilia capitata, have one-inch dense heads of many powder-blue flowers on long stems that grow up to 24 inches tall. They flower between February and March. Bird’s eyes, tricolor, are endemic flowers that do well in dry ground. The fragrant blue, lavender, violet and pink flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies. They grow to eight inches tall during the months of April through August.
- California poppies, Eschscholzia californica, are yellow-orange flowers that reseed prolifically. They grow from 2 – 24 inches tall, depending on the environment, from February through September. Ragged plants can be pruned back to near ground level after you give the seed pods time to dry. Collect the dry seeds and sow them in other areas of your garden. Tufted poppies, caespitosa, are often mistaken for California poppies. They grow from 2 – 12 inches tall and bloom from March through August.
- Sky lupine, Lupinus nanus, is an excellent companion for poppies. Dense whorls of blue flowers with white tips grow on upright spikes of about 10 – 15 inches tall. They bloom from March through May and are an important host plant for a great number of insects. There are over a hundred species of lupine in California that come in a variety of colors, including blue, pink, white and yellow.
- Sonoma Clarkia, Clarkia gracilis ssp. sonomensis, has a brilliant pink flower with a magenta spot on the base of each petal. It grows up to 12 inches tall, and is notorious for its drooping buds. Red ribbons, concinna, grow well in the shade and up to 18” tall. Elegant Clarkia, C. unguiculata, with diamond-shaped petals, grows two feet tall. Since all Clarkias bloom from April to July, their common name is Farewell-to-spring.
- Chinese houses, or Pagodas, Collinsia heterophylla, tolerate shade. These delightful flowers emerge in colors of white, rose and purple. Blooms are tiered in whorls with a lilac or white upper lip and a rose-purple or violet lower lip. They bloom from February to April and grow up to 10 inches tall. They make a good bulb cover.
For more information visit:
- Recommended Plants for Sonoma County
- Sow wildflower seeds now for a spring display
- Information on California wild plants (Calflora.org)