Reseeding Wildflowers...Great Bang for Your Buck!
by Dan Walton
Perennial flowers here do not have the longevity that they have in more northerly climates. You will be lucky if your "perennial" plants last more than one or two seasons. Once you plant reseeding wildflowers, however, you will have masses of blooms year after year. Beach dune sunflower (Helianthus debilis), Indian blanket (Gallardia puchella), tropical sage (Salvia coccinea), and tickseed or Coreopsis (C. leavenworthii), our state flower, are four of the easiest wildflowers to grow in sunny spots in your yard. The key to success is to understand their life cycles, how these plants live out their lives, and how you care for them in your garden.
They are "annuals". They germinate from seed, grow into blooming plants, seed, and then die in one growing season. In this part of Florida we usually have a 10 or 11-month growing season, and in some years there are no frosts to begin "winter". In the case of beach dune sunflower, without a freeze each "parent" plant may live up to fifteen months or so before getting woody, thin, and straggly. The first wildflower we planted in our garden was an Indian blanket that grew into a lovely mass of daisy-like, yellow /red blooms that lasted for seven months (by deadheading, removing spent blooms) before fizzling out. Sometimes Coreopsis seedlings germinate so quickly that it is difficult to tell the original plant from its offspring.
The best part about growing these annuals is that before dying they "go to seed" and produce seedlings that sprout at the base of the parent plant or wherever birds, wind or rain may have carried the seed. You plant the first wildflower and then Nature takes over and naturalizes your homescape. It’s fun and exciting and each year there are new surprises because your well thought out planting spot may not be where new plants germinate next spring (February/March) or next month.
You know beach dune sunflower from seeing it growing amongst sea oats on our shifting beach sands. Indian blanket grows just east of the dunes in dry, sandy, shelly environs. Both of these plants obviously thrive in dry, sunny, harsh spots in your yard. Plant and water them several times until they no longer wilt between waterings and then let them go. Too much mulch, water, or fertilizer kills these hardy wildflowers. Tropical sage (red salvia) prefers some shade, at least for a few hours in the afternoon. It prefers soils with a little organic matter, mulch, and occasional watering to grow lushly in your yard. Coreopsis is a wetland edge, ditch plant, here in West Central Florida. It seeds prolifically if planted in wet places. Even once a week irrigation in dry landscapes is OK. Plant Coreopsis at the base of your air-conditioner unit where water drips onto the ground and you will be rewarded with bright, small, yellow blooms most of the year.
You can prolong the life of these annuals by removing spent blooms but don’t try to encourage new life by constantly watering and fertilizing the original plant. Once it has seeded and become weak, woody or unsightly remove it. Let seedlings sprout in the newly exposed bare or lightly mulched ground. If you can’t stand plants that grow where you didn’t plant them, don’t plant reseeding annuals. If you like to "freshen-up" your garden, clean out old growth and take delight in discovering new plants wherever they sprout, then these easily grown reseeding wildflowers are for you.