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A Walk in the Woods: Wildflower meadow a colorful option

By Melody Bell Wilkes
For the Salisbury Post
Have you ever seen a field of flowers in the country and wondered how you could bring the wildflowers home with you? Now you can by creating a wildflower meadow and have a bit of the wilderness in your own backyard.
There are many advantages to having a meadow garden. Think of the amount of time you are saving in terms of mowing, spraying and other care in maintaining a well-manicured lawn. A meadow garden provides a window on nature. They are a feast for the eyes to see as well as a floral buffet for a myriad of insects and birds. Historically, wildflowers were valued by early Americans for medicinal and culinary purposes. In todayís world as urban sprawl increases, staying close to nature in your own backyard with natural landscaping has proven to be very therapeutic.
A meadow garden does not require a huge area of land. It is merely a sunny area planted with wildflowers and grasses. Although it requires less maintenance than other forms of landscaping, there is still a certain amount of work needed so it is important to choose an area small enough for you to work with and control easily.
Native plants should be the backbone of your landscape plan. Plants native to this region are ideally suited to the climate and weather conditions of the area. These plants will require less watering, fertilizing and intensive maintenance.
Be choosy when purchasing your wildflower seeds. Select flowers that bloom in different seasons from spring to fall. Watch out for wildflower mixes that contain seeds unsuited for the region. Although wildflower mixes seem easy to use, you might be disappointed with a lackluster display.
To get started, choose your site and determine the growing conditions so you know which plants to put where. When using any native plants, the rule of thumb is to put it in growing conditions that resemble as closely as possible those of its natural habitat. The four environmental factors to know about your site are; soil type and pH, the amount of sunshine, the amount of moisture available and temperature ranges. Most meadow plants need full sun. With insufficient light, plants will grow leggy and bloom less.
Preparing the soil requires the home gardener to rototill or plow to a depth of 6 ń 8 inches and kill the weeds with a general herbicide spray. Every time you dig, weed seeds that have been dormant underground are exposed to the sun and start to germinate. Therefore it is best to rototill and amend the soil if needed then wait three weeks and spray with an herbicide. Wait approximately two weeks more and plant the seeds. The longer you wait and work with the weeds, the fewer weeds you have to contend with. Two sprayings are better than one. Three sprayings will rid the area of even more weeds.
When itís time to plant, scatter the seeds evenly throughout the meadow site. For even distribution, mix the seeds with sand or sawdust. Tamp down the seeds by gently walking over the area. Then mulch lightly with weed-free straw. Do not mulch too heavy since this will hamper the seedlings emergence. Water the area regularly until the seedlings are established. Even drought resistant wildflowers need water to get established.
Weed out any undesirable grasses and plants that appear in your meadow. A little weeding early in the growing season will make a big difference later on. Prevention is the best maintenance for any noxious weeds to get a foothold in your meadow.
During the summer, enjoy your wildflower meadow! At the end of summer or in late winter, cut the meadow down which opens the area to more light and air and sets the scene for another year of meadow gardening. Leaving the seed heads until late winter will create winter color and interest and will provide food for the birds.
As the years progress, your wildflower meadow will become a showy display. Be patient and realize that it takes a few years for a blooming success. Some annuals will need to be reseeded year after year. Reseed as often as necessary to guarantee good color and diversity every year.
The following are some native plants that will do well in a wildflower meadow for this area. This is just a guideline and I encourage you to experiment and try to grow some of your own favorites.
Columbine, butterfly weed, common milkweed, swamp milkweed, aster, false indigo, tickseed sunflower, Indian paintbrush , purple coneflower, Joe-pye weed, dwarf crested iris, blazing star, lance-leaved coreopsis, bee balm, blue phlox, black-eyed Susan, goldenrod, spiderwort and ironweed.
Melody Wilkes is owner of A Walk in the Woods, an environmental education company that provides outreach wildlife programs. Contact her at 704-436-9048 or visit www.awalkinthewoods.us.

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