How to plant wildflowers in Ohio

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Stark County Soil and Water Conservation District recently announced its native plant sale will be running through June 13. Native plant varieties for shade and sunny locations and different soil types are being offered. Anyone interested can find butterfly and moth host plants, plants that attract pollinators, hummingbird plants, showy and bright plants, plants with colorful fall foliage and even water-loving varieties.

Unable to contain my excitement, I thoroughly investigated the webpage dedicated to this native plant sale. There are so many options for gardeners and so many benefits to planting native plant species. It’s a win-win.

In fact, it got me considering my own yard, specifically, a low-lying flood plain at the very front of the property where there had originally been plans for a pond. This area is too wet to mow and the plans for a pond have been put on hold. It could be a great space for a wildflower oasis.

If you have a similarly underutilized space in your yard or on your property, consider converting it into a wildflower space. Native plant species increase the biodiversity of local ecosystems by providing food, shelter and reproductive resources for local wildlife.

When to plant wildflowers

Wildflowers can be planted in the spring as seedlings that were started indoors or in the fall as seeds.

Planting seed. Sowing seeds during fall in a dormant setting is ideal for wildflowers. This allows cold temperatures and damp conditions over winter to prepare the seeds for germination when the soil warms up in the spring. Stratification can also occur when seeds are spread in early spring while temperatures are still low. And artificial stratification can be simulated by placing seeds in moist paper towels in the fridge before planting or starting seedlings.

Seedlings. Wildflowers can also be planted in the spring after being started indoors as seedlings. Seedlings should be started 4-8 weeks before transplanting them outdoors after the last frost date has passed.

What to plant

Deciding what to plant comes down to considering the natural attributes of your planting site — direct sunlight received, soil type and moisture level — and the intended purpose of the space.

  • Would you like to attract specific wildlife and deter others? 
  • Do you want a healthy balance of flowers and native grasses? 
  • Do you have a preferred growth height for the space? 

Determining your goals and considering your location will help you choose the best mix of native varieties.

Native plants for shaded sites with moist to average soil

  • Poke Milkweed – Attracts pollinators and is a host plant for butterflies and moths. It grows to a height of 3-5 feet and gets white to pink blooms in the summer.
  • Zig-zag goldenrod – Attracts pollinators, adds to the aesthetics of your landscape and has colorful fall foliage. It grows to a height of 1-3 feet and gets yellow blooms in the fall.

Native plants for shaded sites with moist to dry soil

  • Eastern Columbine – Attracts pollinators and hummingbirds and adds to the aesthetics of your landscape. It grows to a height of 1-3 feet and gets red and yellow blooms in the spring.
  • Blue Mistflower – Attracts pollinators and hummingbirds and adds to the aesthetics of your landscape. It grows to a height of 1-2 feet and gets blue to purple blooms in the summer and fall.

Native plants for partially shaded sites with wet to average soil

  • Spotted Joe Pye Wed – Attracts pollinators and hummingbirds, is a host plant for butterflies and moths and adds to the aesthetics of your landscape. It grows to a height of 4-5 feet and gets purple to pink blooms in the summer.
  • White Turtlehead – Attracts hummingbirds and is a host plant for butterflies and moths. It grows to a height of 3-4 feet and gets white to cream-colored blooms during late summer. This native will tolerate wet clay soils.

Native plants for partially shaded sites with moist to dry soil

  • Golden Alexander –  Attracts pollinators, is a host plant for butterflies and moths and adds to the aesthetics of your landscape. It grows to a height of 2-3 feet and gets yellow blooms in the spring.

Native plants for partially shaded sites with average to dry soil

  • Bluestem Goldenrod –  Attracts pollinators, adds to the aesthetics of your landscape and has colorful fall foliage. It grows to a height of 1-3 feet and gets yellow blooms in the fall.
  • Smooth Blue Aster – Attracts pollinators, is a host plant for butterflies and moths and adds to the aesthetics of your landscape. It grows to a height of 2-4 feet and gets lavender to blue blooms in the fall.
  • Purple Coneflower – Attracts pollinators and hummingbirds and adds to the aesthetics of your landscape. It grows to a height of 2-3 feet and gets purple blooms in the summer.

Native plants for full sun sites with wet to average soil

  • Dense Blazing Star – Attracts pollinators and hummingbirds and adds to the aesthetics of your landscape. It grows to a height of 3-4 feet and gets purple blooms in the summer. This native will tolerate wet clay soils.
  • Queen of the Prairie – Attracts pollinators and hummingbirds and adds to the aesthetics of your landscape. It grows to a height of 4-5 feet and gets pink blooms in the summer. This native will tolerate wet clay soils.

Native plants for full sun sites with moist soil

  • Rose Milkweed – Attracts pollinators and hummingbirds, is a host plant for butterflies and moths and adds to the aesthetics of your landscape. It grows to a height of 4 feet and gets pink blooms in the summer. This native will tolerate wet clay soils.

Native plants for full sun sites with moist to average soil

  • Foxglove Beardtounge – Attracts pollinators and hummingbirds, adds to the aesthetics of your landscape and has colorful fall foliage. It grows to a height of 2-3 feet and gets white blooms in late spring.

Native plants for full sun sites with average to dry soil

  • Butterfly Weed – Attracts pollinators and hummingbirds, adds to the aesthetics of your landscape and is a host plant for moths and butterflies. It grows to a height of 3 feet and gets orange blooms in the summer.
  • Hoary Vervain – Attracts pollinators and hummingbirds, adds to the aesthetics of your landscape and is a host plant for moths and butterflies. It grows to a height of 2-3 feet and gets purple blooms in the summer.

You can also find local nurseries that have native grass and wildflower seed mixes specific to your needs and the conditions of your yard. Ohio Prarie Nursery is one source in Northeast Ohio. You can find other sources closer to your region by using the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Milkweed Seed Finder.

Planting Wildflowers

  1. Select wildflower varieties that can thrive on the site you’ve chosen.
  2. Cut existing or dead vegetation as short as possible and remove turf and weeds.
  3. Add fertilizer and organic material to the soil, depending on the results of a soil test.
  4. Rake soil to a maximum depth of 1 inch.
  5. Mix your seed with a medium such as vermiculite, perlite, sand or potting soil to increase volume and ensure more even distribution. A recommended ratio is four parts medium to every one part seed.
  6. Broadcast half of your seed mixture as uniformly as possible, diagonally over the area. Then broadcast the remainder in the opposite diagonal direction, creating an ‘X’ pattern.
  7. Gently rake loose soil over the seeded area and press the seed into the soil by walking or rolling over the newly planted area. Don’t plant seed any deeper than 1/16 inch. Some seeds will remain visible when you are done.
  8. Water the area thoroughly.

Establishment

It can take up to three years for some wildflower varieties to become fully established. Don’t get discouraged and have patience with your newly planted wildflower garden. Once it’s established it will be low maintenance and beautiful.

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