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Frequently Asked Questions

Our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page is where we post questions that we often are asked about wildflowers and wildflower seeds. If you have a question that you do not see posted here, Contact Us, and we'll try to help you!

Questions about native wildflower plantings:

  • How should I prepare my site for a native wildflower planting? (Below)
  • Which mix should I pick for my site?
  • When should I sow my wildflower planting?
  • Should I use seeds or plants to start my wildflower meadow?
  • How do I plant a native wildflower seed mix?
  • Should I use a cover crop for my planting?
  • How long does it take before my wildflower planting will bloom?
  • How long does a wildflower planting last?
  • Can I add wildflower species to an existing native planting?
  • How should I maintain my wildflower planting?

Questions about native wildflower seeds:

  • What is the difference between PLS and bulk seed?
  • Why didn't my wildflower seeds germinate?
  • What is moist, cold stratification? How should I do it?
  • Why is hand-harvested seed better than machine harvested seed?
  • Why are some of the wildflower seeds so expensive?
  • How is your "native wildflower seed" different than other the "introduced wildflower seed"?
  • Where does your wildflower seed originate from?
  • Is your wildflower seed nursery grown, or wild collected?
  • How far away can the seed origin be, and still be considered local genotype?

This question is probably the most important question that can be asked in regard to a successful native wildflower planting. Because of this it is both our first, and most involved question. The number one cause of prairie planting failures is a lack of site preparation! You cannot afford to underestimate the latent power of weed seeds in the soil, or the vigor of existing perennial weeds! If you get the site preparation right, you are well on your way to a successful native wildflower planting.

First, we will look at three basic methods of site preparaion, then we will discuss possible modes of action on different site scenarios:

  • Method 1 - TillageWe have found that a good method on a flat site that is not prone to erosion is to employ tillage. On a larger site, a plow, disk, or harrow can all be used to prepare the site. The plow could be used where there is a heavy sod that needs to be cut through and killed. A moldboard plow will take the top 6" of soil and roll it over, exposing the roots of the weeds, and burying the plants. A chisel plow will break up the ground as well, but will leave more plant matter on the soil surface. Disking usually follows plowing to level out the ground and break up the clods. A harrow is used when a lighter scratching of the soil is all that is desired, such as preparing a fine seedbed for planting.
    Smaller sites are usually best tilled with a rototiller, sod cutter, or other garden implements. These preform the same function as the farm equipment, it is just on a smaller scale.
    After the initial working up of the site, the soil may need to be worked up at two week intervals until the site is ready for planting. This will do wonders for your site, and greatly increase your chances of a successful wildflower planting. First, it kills virtually all of the tough living perennials that keep coming back from the roots. Second, it allows a good percentage of the weed seeds in the soil a chance to germinate and then to be killed in a subsequent till. Third, the open ground over several months allows different species of weeds their favored germinating time (cool season, warm season, etc). The upside to this method is that it provides a very good seed bed and is chemical-free. The downside is that it is prone to erosion concerns.
  • Method 2 - BurningOn a site that is open and has a lot of biomass, burning may be a good option to start the weed control process. Burning can be done whenever conditions permit, and will aid in removing the bulky plant matter from the site that may interfere with tilliage or herbicide application. Please obtain all necessary permits, and have the required fire control personnel in place before attempting a burn! Fires are dangerous! This method will also help deplete the weed seeds somewhat, because a good, hot fire will sterilize the top 1/4 inch of soil.
    So, how should you prepare your site for a native wildflower planting? Since every site is different, it is impossible to give one answer that will cover every scenario, but here are some basic guidelines for various site conditions. Please identify which of the following site scenarios best matches the current conditions of your site. Careful assessment of the past will aid in determining the correct course of action in the present.

Overgrown area / old hay field / pasture - Some people think that planting wildflowers is just a matter of adding to whatever grows in neglected areas. Not so! Think of it as planting a crop, and it will give you a better perception of what you are trying to do. An area that is overgrown or "left go" presents one of the most difficult scenarios for the establishment of native wildflowers! Over the years (or decades) the weeds that have grown in this area have dropped millions of seeds! When the site is worked, it will expose these seeds to favorable conditions for germination. In some way, the seed bank in the soil needs to be taken care of. Many times this process of depleting the seed bank will take a year or two.

If it is spring, and you have an overgrown area that you want to plant into native wildflowers, you might consider burning the area first, to get rid of all of the old plant matter. If this is not an option, then using farm equipment to reduce the site to ground level would be best. Then you will need to employ tillage or herbicide treatments until fall, at the very least. If you are satisfied that the site is "tamed", a fall wildflower planting can then be done. It probably would be better to do more weed control in the following spring, and then plant in later spring of that year. Weed seeds benefit from cold, damp conditions, just like many native wildflowers, and there is always a "flush" of weeds in the spring when these "stratified" seeds come to the right soil temperature. It is a good time to do your planting just after this "flush" in late May or early June. The most comprehensive treatment would be to prepare the site for the entire growing season following (two full growing seasons), and then to do a fall planting.

Mown Lawn / Turf - It can be easier to get a native wildflower planting going in this type of area than in an overgrown site, in that the weeds are primarily grasses, and they have not gone to seed because they have been mown. One thing consider is that even if the site is free of broadleaf weeds, some seeds are wind blown, and can come from elsewhere. An example of this would be a neighbor's lawn being full of dandelions and blowing into your wildflower planting site. This condition will require extra preparation.

A sod cutter can be a good option for a small area, as it will remove all of the vegetation and get you to ground level in one operation. A site that has more broadleaf weeds, or has had seeds carried in on the wind may need rototilling for a growing season, when a fall wildflower planting can be done.

Cropped Land / Garden - This type of area can be the easiest to get a native wildflower planting going on, particularly if the field or garden was kept weed free, or planted with conventional crops. In this case, working up the soil to form a seedbed, and planting at the proper time should be all that is needed for a successful wildflower planting. If the site was not quite as weed free, several tillings several weeks apart should prepare the site sufficiently. A fall planting may be a good option in this case.

These are suggestions based upon experience, but will not guarantee a successful native wildflower planting. There are so many variables to a wildflower planting that it isimpossible to forecast the outcome. But this is part of the adventure of planting wildflowers; it is an always-changing, dynamic landscape that always holds new surprises!

A mix needs to match site conditions in order to be successful. While it is true that many wildflowers will grow in a variety of conditions, they need to grow well on your soil to compete with the weeds. The two primary questions that need to be considered are: what is the soil like, and what amount of light is available? After we have answered these questions, we can modify our selection to include personal desires like picking out native wildflowers that attact butterflies, or wild plants that provide habitat for pheasants.

  • What is the soil like? - Soil can be grouped into three distinct categories: sand, silt, and clay.

Sand - A sand soil has very little organic matter, and the soil particle size is the largest of the three types. Because of this, it has very little capacity to hold water, and it isoften very dry. This soil is hardly ever wet, except for just after extreme rains, or the spring thaw. Wildflower seed mixes that are labeled "dry" are designed for this kind of site.

Silt - A silt soil is of a medium particle size and contains a modest amount of organic matter. It is also called "loam". This soil is what most good agricultural land is comprised of. It is ideal for root development of plants because it holds water better than sand, and yet is not too wet. This soil can be wet in the spring, but it can be farmed; sometimes it can also can get really dry in a drought. Wildflower seed mixes that are labeled "medium" or "mesic" were designed with this type of soil in mind.

Clay - A clay soil is made up of very fine particles which make it difficult for the water to pass through. When wet it can be "muck" and when dry it can become hard, and even cracked. These soils do not have as much capability to transfer oxygen, and can tend to rot the roots of certain species of native wildflowers. While some wildflowers do not do well on clay, others can do quite well, or even thrive on it. A clayey soil does not necessarily make a wet site, but many wet sites have clay on them, either on the surface or in a subsurface layer. The native wildflower mixes labled "wet" work well on sites that have standing water on them, or are too wet for general cultivation.

Your site is probably not just one of these soil types. These types are points along a spectrum which contains all sorts of combinations of these three basic soil types. Try to select the soil type that most closely matches your site, and it will aid you in your wildflower mix selection.

  • What amount of light is available? - Native wildflowers differ in the amount of light that they require to grow well. Some species prefer the muted light of a woodland setting, while other wildflowers need direct sunlight to thrive. The amount of light available throughout a day can be broken down into three classes as well: shade, part sun, and full sun.

Shade - A site that is considered shade is one that receives less than two hours of direct sunlight in a day. This setting is usually to be found in a woods or along the north side of a building where a shadow is cast. Any native wildflower mix that is labeled "woodland" would contain wildflowers suitable to this setting. There are the least wildflower species available for the woodland site.

Part Sun - A site that receives sun for part of the day is also called a "savanna" setting. In nature, this type of setting is found along the woods edge, or in a sparsely wooded area, such as an oak savanna. Many native wildflower species that grow well in full sun will also do just fine in a part sun setting, though they may be a little disadvantaged.

Full Sun. - A site is considered full sun, if it receives direct sunlight for all or nearly all of the daytime hours. This setting can also be termed a "prairie" setting. A person with this setting will have the most species of wildflowers to choose from.

These considerations should help to narrow your selection down to a few different mixes. After looking at the kind of soil and amount of light, you can decide what other things you want in your mix. Some people want mixes that are specifically designed to attract butterflies or hummingbirds. Others want to see deer, pheasants, songbirds, or other wildlife make use of their planting. Still others desire a great diversity in wildflowers, with a changing show of color all season long. What you decide in these questions is totally up to your personal preferences. We have mixes that should satisfy every need, but if you have something in mind that you do not see, please Contact Us, and we will put together a custom mix for you at no extra charge.

When to plant a native wildflower planting is a critical decision. (If you have not already done so, please read the question about how to prepare the site, and that will help you understand this section better.) Once all living weeds have been killed, and the weed seed bank in the soil has been sufficiently depleted, the site is ready for planting. Sowing a native wildflower planting is more than just throwing seeds out and expecting them to grow. Proper planting time and methods will help out the wildflower seeds immensely!

  • Spring - If a spring planting is desired, it is best to sow the seeds in later May or early June. By planting at this time, you will be able to deal a final blow to the weeds, just after they come out of dormancy in the spring. Most weed seeds have enhanced germination in the spring, because the cold, moist conditions of the winter months triggers germination. Once the soil reaches an optimum temperature there will be a "flush" of weeds; usually mid to late May. These weeds can then be killed before the wildflowers are planted. Also, many native wildflowers are heat-loving and will grow faster once the ground has warmed up a bit. This will prevent the planting from being taken over by cool season weeds.
    There are also a few disadvantages to a spring wildflower planting. One is that the seed does not get a season of cold, damp, condtions that help trigger their germination. This can be simulated artificially by putting the wildflower seed mix in damp sand in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a few months before planting time. Note that the seed will need to be kept damp once planted if this method is used. If the seed is not stratified, the wildflower planting will tend to be dominated by grasses, as they are not affected as much by stratification.
  • Fall - Fall is probably the best time to do a native wildflower planting. It most closely resembles the way the seeds grow in the wild, and is easier to do. The seed does not need to be cold, moist stratified, as the winter months do this naturally. The forb (wildflower) seed especially benefits from a fall planting, and gives them the best chance of germinating. A fall planting can be done anytime after the first hard frost until snow covers the ground. It can even be sown on frozen ground, which is called "frost seeding". The seed does not need to be worked into the ground in this case, because the frost action of the soil naturally will work the seeds into the ground over the course of the winter.
    Another method that works well with a fall planting, is to sow oats, (not rye!) into the site in late August to early September, and let it grow until it is killed by the frost. Then the wildflower seeds can be planted in among the standing oats in October. Over the winter, the snow will mat the oats down into a mulch, which will aid the wildflower planting in the spring with minimizing erosion and conserving moisture.

The choice is really dependent upon your budget and the size of your wildflower planting. Many people decide to use a combination of the two to produce the effect they are looking for. Here are the benefits and disadvantages of each:

  • Seeds - If you have a large area to plant, you will definitely want to use mostly seed to do your wildflower planting. While planting from seed takes longer to get flowering specimens, planting a large area with plants only would be cost prohibitive. If you want to add a few species here and there of wildflower species that do not come well from seed, then buy some plants and dibble them into your planting.
  • Plants - If you have a small area to plant, such as around your house, or in a wildflower garden, plants are a good way to get a wildflower planting going quickly. Some of these plants will bloom in the first year. Using plants in combination with seeds usually makes sense if you have a larger "small area".

The first steps that need to be taken in establishing a native wildflower planting were covered under the questions, "How should I prepare my site...?" and "Which wildflower mix should I pick for my site?". Reading these questions will give you a good foundation for this topic.

Once the site has been prepared, and the proper planting time has come, you can plant your native wildflowers in a number of ways:

  • By Machine - If you have a large area to plant (acres), you may want to consider using a machine to plant the seeds. There are a number of machines on the market that will work, each with specific uses:
    • Drill - A drill is a machine that can be used where a very precise planting is desired. It usually contains a two separate seed compartments, one for the fine forb (wildflower) seed, and one for the larger grass seeds. A drill can also be equipped to plant no-till into existing dead plant material where cultivating the site would result in erosion concerns. Since the drill is so precise in the placement of the seeds, a the seeding rate can usually be lessened (less lbs of seed per acre). A common manufacuturer of drills made specifically for planting native wildflowers is Truax.
    • Drop Seeder - A drop seeder is similar to a drill, but it drops the seeds on the ground instead of the seeds being placed in the ground. Becuase of this, it should only be used on sites that have been cultivated. Drop seeders also employ separate compartments for the the large seed and small seed. A common manufactuter of this type of seeder is Brillion.
    • Broadcast Seeder - A broadcast seeder distributes seeds much like a "whirly-bird" or a hand grass seeder, only on a larger scale. It also should only be used on cultivated areas, with the added note that it works best with the larger grass-type seeds. The smaller wildflower seeds tend to leak out of the back of the machine. There are manufacturers who make broadcast seeders that can be mounted on the back of an ATV. The site should be cultipacked after broadcast seeding to ensure good seed to soil contact.
  • By Hand - If you have a small area, planting wildflower seeds by hand is a good alternative to machine planting. It is not practical to get large machinery in or out of a small area, and it is likely to do more damage than good. Here are some basic steps for hand planting a native wildflower planting:
    • Smooth Seedbed - The seedbed should be smoothed one last time before the wildflower seeds are placed on it. This can be done either by raking or dragging the area. This ensures that the seeds do not get buried too deep, or are under clods of dirt.
    • Filler - Since some wildflower seeds are fine, it helps to mix the seeds with a "filler" such as damp sand, vermiculite, or sawdust, to increase the volume of your planting material. The dampness will help ensure that the seeds that are more dense do not all end up on the bottom of the mix. If you are planting 1000 square feet, a 5 gallon bucketfull of filler would not be too much to mix into the wildflower mix.
    • Broadcast - Take handfuls of the mixture and try to broadcast it as evenly as possible. It helps to split the mixture into two parts and try to spread one half of it over the entire site, walking back and forth in one direction. Then take the other half of the mixture and walk across the site perpendicular to the first pass, broadcasting the mixture as you go. Grass seeders usually do not work well, because a wildflower seed mix is made up of so many different sizes of seed that some will get stuck while others tend to run out.
    • Rake - The site can be raked or dragged after planting to cover the seeds. A site that is being frost seeded or planted into standing oats in the fall does not need this done, as thefrost action of the winter will work the seed into the soil.
    • Roll - The site should then be rolled after the seeds have been spread and covered. This will ensure good seed to soil contact, which will improve germination rates. A yard roller works well for this if you have one. Alternatively, you can pack the site by walking on it, or driving a lawn tractor or ATV back and forth over it. Again, a fall seeding is not as critical to roll, since the snow and rain will compact the site over the winter.
    • Mulch - The site can be lightly mulched after planting if desired. The mulch needs to be weed seed free! Grass clipping work well for this. The mulch will help prevent erosion on the site and conserve the moisture in the soil.
    • Water - The site should be kept damp for the first month to six weeks, especially if the wildflower seed mix was moist statified. Watering will help the seeds germinate, and give the seedlings the moisture they need to grow.

Following these steps cannot guarantee a successful native wildflower planting, but it will greatly increase your chances of success!

A cover crop or "nurse crop" is a crop that is planted along with the desired crop to help it get established. Many farmers use this technique when planting a perennial crop such as alfalfa. A fast growing crop such as wheat or oats is planted with the slower gowing perennials to provide a little shade for the seedlings, and a little competition for fast growing weeds.(Rye is NOT a good cover crop because the roots secrete a germination inhibitor which will affect your wildflowers). The cover crop will also help you to see how evenly your seeding was planted. If a fall planting is done, it will not be a true cover crop, but will be planted in late August or early September, several months before the wildflowers, as outlined in the "When should I sow my wildflower planting" question. If you want to plant a cover crop with a spring planting, simply mix the oats in with the wildflower mix, and plant it all at the same time. The decision of whether of not to plant a cover crop is really up to you. If the site is erosion prone, and needs stabilization, it might be a good idea. If a site is stable, and you do not mind mowing a few more weeds later on, you may decide that it is not worth the trouble.

The length of time that it takes a native wildflower planting to bloom depends upon the species planted and whether they were planted by seed or plants. Also, the length of time will vary with the conditions the plant is growing in, and how well it is cared for.

  • From Seed - Because most native wildflowers are perennials, they take time to establish themselves. These perennial wildflowers spend most of their energies in the first few years putting down a deep root system. This is insurance against the droughts that often came to the prairies. So, not very many wildflowers will bloom in the first year of a wildflower planting. By the second year, some of the early successional and biennial wildflowers will be seen. The prairie planting should begin to take on better shape in the third year, and many more flowers should be seen. An old saying is, "The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap." Prairie planting continue to change and develop as they age, and by five to seven years, they should be in their prime.
  • From Plants - If you plant wildflower plants, you can expect much faster results from your planting. If you plant seedlings that were germinated in a greenhouse that year, you can usually expect blooms the next year, or maybe even that same year with some species. If you plant bare root stock, you will probably see the wildflowers blooming later in that same year.

If a wildflower species is cultivated in a wildflower garden bed, where it does not have much competition, it will develop faster. For instance, a species that takes five years to bloom from seed in a wild setting may only take three years in a cultivated setting.

Not all wildflower seed mixes are created equal! There is a big difference between high quality native wildflower seed mixes and the "wildflower seed mixes" that are available at the local mall. Most of these cheaper mixes contain mostly annuals, which bloom the first year, but are then gone forever. A good native wildflower seed mix will contain mostly perennials, and maybe a few annuals and perennials to complete the mix. If you are looking for a temporary show of color, an annual mix is what you will want. These perennial mixes are designed to make a permanent planting! If a native wildflower planting is maintained properly, it can last indefinitely, and will be there for coming generations

  • From Seed - Because most native wildflowers are perennials, they take time to establish themselves. These perennial wildflowers spend most of their energies in the first few years putting down a deep root system. This is insurance against the droughts that often came to the prairies. So, not very many wildflowers will bloom in the first year of a wildflower planting. By the second year, some of the early successional and biennial wildflowers will be seen. The prairie planting should begin to take on better shape in the third year, and many more flowers should be seen. An old saying is, "The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap." Prairie planting continue to change and develop as they age, and by five to seven years, they should be in their prime.
  • From Plants - If you plant wildflower plants, you can expect much faster results from your planting. If you plant seedlings that were germinated in a greenhouse that year, you can usually expect blooms the next year, or maybe even that same year with some species. If you plant bare root stock, you will probably see the wildflowers blooming later in that same year.

If a wildflower species is cultivated in a wildflower garden bed, where it does not have much competition, it will develop faster. For instance, a species that takes five years to bloom from seed in a wild setting may only take three years in a cultivated setting.

Some people have a natural area, prairie remnant, or existing prairie planting that they want to add more wildflower species into. This can be done in a number of ways:

  • Dormant Seeding - Seed of the desired species can be planted into the planting in late fall or early spring with limited success. It is difficult for a seedling to get going in dense sod, but we are sometimes amazed at what will turn up after a few years!
  • After a Burn - If a prairie is burned as a part of maintanance, it provides a good opportunity to add species by seed or plants. The bare, black ground after a spring burn gives the open soil and heat the most wildflower species need to grow. Dibbling in seedlings or bare root plants is particularly successful in this scenario, because they have a developed root system, and can compete with the other more established plants.
  • Spot Planting - Some people have had good success with clearing small areas to create a spot where seeds or plants can get established. This can be done either by digging or by herbicide application. The clearing of the area helps the new species to have enough ground space to get going. Again, it is particularly effective when seedlings or bare root plants are being added to the planting.

There are a few things that you can do to help your new native wildflower planting attain its full potential:

  • Year 1 - The new wildflower planting should be left relatively undisturbed in its first year. Pulling out big weeds or excessive walking though the planting will only harm the little wildflower seedlings. But there are a few things you can do:
    • Watering - If the wildflower planting was seeded in the spring and it is a small area, keeping it damp for the first month or two will help the seeds to germinate. Hopefully, the seedlings will not need much more watering after that time.
    • Mowing - By late June, the cover crop or weeds will have become 12" tall. It is time to mow the area back to a height of 6". If the weeds or cover crop get too tall before mowing, the mown material will create too much thatch that can smother the little wildflower seedlings. If the planting is cut too short, you may end up cutting off some of the seedlings. Most lawn mowers do not have settings as high as 6", so sometimes a weed wacker makes sense. Mowings should take place every time the planting grows to a height of 12"-18" on the first year, gradually raising the cutting height as the year progresses. By fall, you should be cutting at a height of about 12". Do not worry too much about cutting the seedlings at this height, because most of their energies are underground at this point.
  • Year 2 - The planting should show more native wildflowers in this year. You should start to see blooms by the end of the growing season. The war with the weeds is made easier if you minimize the number of weeds that are able to mature and drop seeds. Here are your tools for this year:
    • Mowing - If If you need to mow because of heavy weed problems, do so early on in the growing season at a height of 12" or so. After that you will only harm the emerging wildflowers.
    • Cutting - Some weeds are controlled quite well by cutting them at ground level. This can be done with a knife or with a brush wacker.
    • Weeding - If there are large weeds, or weeds that are going to go to seed. you may want to walk through the planting and pull them out by hand in the second year. Try to disturb the soil as little as possible in this endeavor.

Herbicides - Herbicide use is not generally recommended in a wildflower planting, but there are some bad weed infestations that leave you little choice. One method is to spot spray with an herbicide such as RoundUp, trying to affect the wildflowers as little as possible. Another more precise method is to put a rubber glove on your hand, and then put a cotton glove over that. Then dip the fingers of the cotton glove in a suitable herbicide and grasp the unwanted weeds with the glove, coating the leaves with the herbicide. Take care not to get herbicide on your bare skin! This should kill the weeds within a week of two.

  • Year 3 - The native planting should really develop in this year, and you should see many blooms! Even though it is looking better, there are still things that should be done:
    • Weed Control - All of the above methods of weed control can continue to be used in this year, with the exception of mowing. If a weed problem is left go, it will likely continue to worsen.
  • Year 4 and Beyond - The native planting is becoming mature now, and some of the slower growing species will start to show themselves. Here are long term management techniques that will help your native wildflower planting to thrive for years to come:
    • Weed Control - Hopefully, the weeds will become less of a problem as the wildflowers get better established, and the ground is less disturbed by weeding efforts. All the methods used in year three can continue to be used on an as-needed basis.
    • Burning - Fire is the single most important tool of long term wildflower planting management. A fire will burn out the thatch buildup and encourage wildflowers to grow. Spring burns blacken the soil surface, which in turn gathers more heat for the warm season native plants. A native planting that is burned annually until it is 5 to 7 years old will benefit greatly. After this point, a mature prairie can benefit from a burning once every 3 to 5 years. If burning is not an option, the second best thing would be to mow the site in the early spring.

This is an important, and often overlooked, question. The amount of wildfower seed that you actually get when you buy depends upon how that particular company sells its seed. There are three ways that seed can be sold:

  • Bulk - Wildflower seed that is sold on a bulk basis means that if you buy 1 pound of seed, the supplier gives you exactly one pound of "seed", without any regard to its quality. This means that you are buying impurities, weed seeds, and chaff, all under the title of "seed". The pricing of such companies appears lower at first glance, but this is deceiving, as shown in the example below.
  • PLS - Wildflower seed that is sold on a PLS (Pure Live Seed) basis means that only the good, germinable seed is considered in the weight of the seed. The impurities, weed seeds, and chaff are all removed from the final weight by the following formula: purity rate x germination rate = % PLS. Obviously the seed would need to be laboratory testedin order to be sold in this way. For example, if the test results of a sample of wildflower seed showed that the seed had a purity of 98.00%, and a germination rate of 80.00%, the PLS content would be found by multiplying the percentage of purity by the percentage of germination, or 0.98 x 0.80. The resulting value of 0.784 or 78.40% would be the PLS content of that seed lot. Companies that sell wildflower seed in this manner initially appear to have higher prices, but careful comparison may prove otherwise, as in the example below.
  • Ratio - There are times when an actual laboratory test is not practical. This is especially true of rare species, of which there is not enough of a crop to warrant the expense of testing. In this case, an educated estimate can be made of what the actual PLS content of the seed lot would be, and it can be sold on a ratio. If it is estimated that a seed lot would have a PLS of 80%, the seed would be sold on a ratio of 1:1.25.

Buying on a PLS basis can make a considerable difference, especially if you are buying a great quantity of seed. Let's put this into real life... you want to buy 10 pounds of a certain species of wildflower seed. Company A has the seed for sale for $300 per pound on a bulk basis, and Company B was selling the same lot of seed for $350 per poundon a PLS basis, which would actually be cheaper? Using a PLS of 78.40% from the example above:

  • Company A - Company A is selling the seed to you on a bulk basis, so they would weigh out exactly 10 pounds of seed, and ship it to you with a bill for $3000.00. What are you actually getting for your money?
    • 10 pounds x 78.40% PLS = 7.84 pounds of viable seed
    • $3000.00 for 7.84 pounds of good seed = $382.65 per PLS pound
  • Company B - Company B is selling the seed to you on a PLS basis, so they would weigh out 12.755 pounds of seed (which contains exactly 10 Lbs of viable seed), and ship it to you with a bill for $3500.00. What are you actually getting for your money?
    • 12.755 pounds x 78.40% PLS = 10.00 pounds of viable seed
    • $3500.00 for 10.00 pounds of good seed = $350.00 per PLS pound

In short, had you wanted 10 pounds of pure seed from Company A, you would have had to pay $3,826.50 for it.... $326.50 more than from company B. Seed sold on a PLS basis is not always cheaper, nor does it mean that the seed is better, it just needs to be considered when buying native wildflower seed.

This could be due to a number of factors. Please be assured that we do everything that we can on our end to ensure that you are getting good seed! Here are some common causes of germination problems.

  • Stratification - If you did not stratify the seeds, and the label said that it would be best to do so, this may be the cause. Many wildflower seeds need a period of cold, damp conditions before they will break dormancy. In nature, it ensures that a seedling waits until spring to get going. Please read the question about stratification to find out how to do this.
  • Time - Another possible cause may be that you did not wait long enough. We have seen some seeds take as long as two or three months before they emerge! Usually seeds will sprout in two or three weeks, but some species can be slow.
  • Double Dormancy - There are a few species that seem to need two periods of cold stratification, with a warm, damp period in between. This feature causes the seeds to sprout the following year. It is another built in survival mechanism.
  • Unknown - We are not afraid to say that there are some times when it is just unclear why the seeds did not sprout. They can be treated in a seemingly similar way, and yet one time they sprout, and the next they do not. This just shows how much more there is to learn about the great Creation that is all around us!

Moist, cold stratification is a technique that is used to simulate winter conditions for the wildflower seeds. Some species do not benefit much from this treatment, while for others it makes a vast difference! Some wildflower seeds have a built in germination inhibitor which needs contact with cold, wet conditions for a month or two, to minimize its effect on the seeds. This feature keeps the seeds from sprouting in the fall, only to be killed by a harsh winter. There are two ways that this treatment can be carried out:

Natural Stratification - By planting in the fall, nature takes its course and the seeds be treated naturally. You can either plant the seeds in the ground, or in seeding trays in anunheated building or greenhouse. When the soil warms up in the spring, the seeds should sprout readily.

Simulated Stratification - We start almost all of our seeds by means of a simulated stratification. We do this by putting the seed in a sterile medium (sand blasting sand works well for us, but other mediums will work) in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for several months. The medium should be dampened, but not have standing water in the bag. This will usually be enough to break the dormancy of the seed. Three months is ideal for many species, but if you are short on time, (who isn't) a month may help somewhat. Generally, the closer to three months of stratifiction, the better the germination you will see.

Why is hand-harvested seed better than machine harvested seed?

  • Ripening Time - There is a great difference between many native wildflowers, and most agricultural crops. The difference is that the seeds of most agricultural crops ripen at the same time, and are ready for harvesting in one pass of the machinery. Many wildflower seeds, on the other hand, ripen over the course of weeks, or even a month, on the same plant. It is not uncommon to find both blossoms and ripened seed on the same plant. So, if you are going to harvest the field in one pass with conventional farm equipment,when do you do it? Yes, there is an optimum time, but fact is that many seeds fall to the ground before that optimum time, and many seeds are still under formed at that time. Therefore, these unripe, and under fromed seeds get mixed in with the ripe seeds, lowering overall seed quality.
    • Hand harvested seed is gathered by going out and collecting only the ripe seed at the precise time that it is ready. To do this, we need to go over the fields multiple times to get all of the seed.
  • Threshing - A combine threshes the material that goes through it to separate the seeds from the seed heads. In the case of many wildflower seeds, the threshing is happening to green seeds and ripe seeds alike. The seeds that are not quite as ripe, and still have a soft seed coat can get bruised in this proccess. Seed that is hand harvested does not usually need threshing, as it came out of the seed head during the harvesting process.
  • Purity - The seeds that come out of a combine can never be made as clean as those that are hand harvested. All of the particles generated in the threshing proccess makes it difficult, if not impossible to get clean again. What is worse, is that the unripe seeds that are not fully formed are virtually the same size and density as the good seeds, and this makes it very hard to separate them out. Thus, the seed is never quite as clean or of the same quality.

Upon considering all of these things, it is not hard to see why we hand harvest our seeds at at Everwilde Farms. it is a lot of work, but we feel that the quality of the seed produced is unsurpassed in the native wildflower seed industry.

Why wildflower seed is expensive:

  • Labor - Many wildflower seeds are expensive because of the amount of labor required to produce them. Just the harvesting, as explained in the previous question is a lot of work. Add to that seed cleaning, testing, planting, tending, and weed control over several years, and it adds up to a lot of work!
  • Time - Many native wildflowers require two or three years to produce a seed crop; some as many as five or seven. This length of time needs to be considered in the final price of the seed.
  • Risk - Many wildflower species are fragile seed crops. One wind storm or hail storm can wipe out an entire crop. Also, there are insects that will consume the crop if they are not monitored and destroyed. This all adds to the final product.
  • Yields - Some wildflowers, especially the smaller ones, only produce 20 pounds of seed to the acre. Compare that to 6,000 pounds of corn or wheat from an acre, and you will see a difference.
  • Rarity - Some of the wildflower species that we grow are rare! They are not available from any other source that we know of.
  • Seed Size - Finally, many wildflower seeds are so tiny that it makes them difficult to work with. Some have a seed count in excess of 1,000,000 seeds per ounce. This brings up one final point... if you consider the actual cost per seed, you will find that many wildflower seeds are cheaper than their larger seeded grass counterparts!

There are some basic and important differences between the seed that is native and the seed that is not native.

  • Native - Our "native" wildflower seeds are native to the US. This means that they grew here naturally, and are perfectly adapted to growing in this climate. When you buy a "wildflower meadow in a can", most often the species contained in these mixes are not native. Any species that does not have its natural origin in the US is considered "introduced". Introduced species can be showier, but can also be invasive, and lack the genetic diversity of the native species.
  • Duration - Many wildflowers in the cheaper mixes are not perennials, but are annuals. This means that they will make a great show of color in the first year, but then they are done, and will not come back the following year. Our native wildflower seed mixes are comprised of almost entirely perennials, and are meant to establish a permanent planting.
  • Fillers - Much of the material in a "meadow in a can" is filler. It can look like a lot of bulk, but if you read closely, you will see that you are not getting very much seed. Our wildflower seed mixes contain no fillers whatsoever.

Almost all of our Eastern wildflower seed had its origin in the four state area of MN, WI, IA, and IL. The Western wildflower seed has its origin in the Western states of WA, OR, and CA. The seeds from around the world come from all over the globe.

In many instances we can tell you an exact county of origin with the US natives if you are interested. We are continually striving to obtain new seed sources in our immediate area. If you have native seed, or know of someone who has native seed from this area, we may be interested in acquiring some from you!

Almost all of our native wildflower seed is nursery grown, some of it right here at Everwilde Farms. We do not exploit wild stands of native wildflowers by unethical seed collection, or digging of plants. Our seed originates from the wild, but virtually all of the seed that we sell has been nursery propagated, and is not from the wild.

Experts differ as to what exactly is considered "local seed". It has been shown that a species can vary more genetically in different conditions on the same site, than it sometimes will in similar conditions in another state. Some purists think that seed should be from within 25 miles to be local, while most think the limit should be around 200 miles. Our seeds will grow outside of this area, but cannot be considered local genotype.