When it comes to Arizona wildflowers, most folks immediately think of the showy golden poppies that appear around Picacho Peak. You can have that - and more.
The best wildflowers to grow here are ones native to here. For example, the Mexican gold poppy (Escholtzia mexicana) is better adapted to Arizona conditions than the California gold poppy, (Escholtzia californica). Along with poppies, also select from: Arizona lupine, desert bluebells, desert coreopsis, desert marigold, desert trumpets, desert senna, ghost flower, golden dyssodia, Mohave aster, nama or purple mat, owl’s clover, Parry’s penstemon, spreading fleabane, and thread-leaf verbena. Plus, if you have a sandy soil, consider the sand-loving native wildflowers like sand verbena, arroyo lupine and sand lupine. Take this list with you to a local nurseries or botanical garden. The big-box stores will not carry our native seed.
All of these spring wildflowers bloom in response to the winter rains off the Pacific Ocean. Spring wildflowers also require the cool soils of winter. Summer wildflowers appear in warm soils with the summer rains off the Gulf of Mexico.
Select a site. Most wildflowers prefer a sunny location. Many do well in filtered light, say under a palo verde tree. Ideally, your wildflowers should get early-morning sun. Thus after a winter frost they get warming sun right away.
Prepare a proper seed bed. Remember, these are desert plants, so preparation is mostly making sure the seed will be in contact with true soil, not gravel mulch or weed barrier.
Sow the seeds evenly over the surface. If the seeds are tiny, mix them with sand for ease of scattering. After sowing, gently water to moisten seeds and help mix them into the soil. Next cover the area with a quarter inch of sand to hide seed from the birds.
Protect seeds and young seedlings from “critters.” Bend a layer of chicken wire to rest about two inches off the soil. Birds hate to land on this and gophers won’t walk on it either. Once wildflowers have emerged from the seed and have a few leaves, they start producing the defensive compounds that keep them from being eaten. Your wildflowers will grow large enough to hide the chicken wire, or you can remove it.
Protect wildflowers from frost by starting seeds early enough. If they don’t come up right away, it may be because the soil is still too warm. Don’t worry if you don’t see tiny leaves for a month. If you planted natives they should be fine.
Water is required for best results. Water two to three times per week as the seeds first germinate. Once established, seedlings would appreciate a weekly watering for best show.
Finally, please do not plant the non-native African daisy. It is becoming an invasive weed in the desert, pushing out natives with its toxic roots, and killing baby quail who eat it unknowingly. There are many pretty natives to plant instead.
(Editor’s Note: Jacqueline works as a garden coach, making house calls to help you with your landscape. More at gardeningwithsoule.com.)