Selecting and using appropriate annuals and biennials

When you choose annuals and biennials, select varieties that fit with your overall planting scheme and that can take care of themselves. Check the hardiness (in gardening parlance that's how cold-tolerant a plant is, not how tough it is) and earliest-planting-date information on the seed packet if you're planting from seed (the most sustainable way to go). Hardy plants can overwinter as seeds in the ground; tender ones that can't take freezing winters should be planted in spring, whether from seed or plants. You can also find half-hardy annuals and biennials that put up with yucky cold weather but not frost. Let natives go to seed instead of cutting them back before their natural life cycle is completed.

Making wildflower meadow magic: Not so easy

The fact is that a wildflower meadow (which is different from the types of meadows I suggest as lawn substitutes in Chapter 19) is one of the most daunting challenges in the gardening world. Yes, making a native meadow is righteously sustainable, and you can try to your heart's content. But if you don't eliminate the weed seeds first, and if you don't follow up with diligent weeding and protection from browsing animals and other pests as the young meadow develops, you'll end up with something fit only for a pass with the rototiller. Further, most of the so-called wildflower mixes available for sale aren't true to the mix of species in any real meadow and almost certainly aren't tuned to your particular location. Nevertheless, you can succeed with a small wildflower meadow if you follow these tips:

  • Choose a custom mix of truly local wild-flowers; see a reputable local seed dealer for advice.
  • Spend several months sheet-mulching (see Chapter 16) before you sow your seeds.
  • Plant the wildflower meadow at the right time of year for your location. Check with your seed dealer for advice, or read the label on your seed packet.
  • Plan to spend time hand-pulling tiny weeds out of wildflower seedlings.

If you're successful, you'll have a great display of color in the spring, and some plants may come back the following spring. Try sowing smaller quantities of wildflowers in perennial borders and turf-type meadows. Remove little patches of mulch to expose bare ground, loosen it a bit with a cultivating fork, sow a few seeds (just a few!), and top-dress with a Vnnch thick layer of fine compost or similar organic matter. Nature will do the rest.

Consider growing all your annuals from seed; it's the most resource-efficient (and sustainable) way to obtain them. Start seeds in flats or small pots and move them into the garden later, or sow the seeds directly into ground that has been weeded and lightly raked to loosen the soil. Save and trade seeds with other gardeners, too. If you buy annuals in pots or packs, avoid overgrown plants that are already in bloom.

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