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Wildflower Maintenance

Bellingham, WA

Hi all, first time poster and gardener with lots of newbie questions. I've just moved to a new home with an impressive garden. Lots of rhodies, azalea and other bushes sharing beds with lots of wildflowers that have become overgrown. Many of our bushes have been completely engulfed by the wildflowers which are all overtaking each other as well. We've got roses being overtaken by bushes, being overtaken by wildflowers, irises and hollyhocks all in the same square foot! It seems in every inch of the garden at least 3 plants are fighting over one another.

I've heard the previous owners used to keep the wildflowers under carefully segmented control, a small patch of poppies here, a controlled patch of daisies there, etc...I'd like to get back to that point.

My questions are about perennials.
1. If I pull a wildflower out by the roots before the seeds drop, will that wildflower come back next year anyway?
2. Will already established wildflowers and irises continue to spread by the roots even without the seeds dropping?
3. If I wait and let the seeds drop, will I get twice as much in that same area next year?
4. If I don't let the seeds drop, do the flowers become exhausted and die out on their own over time?

So far we've identified bluebells, 4 types of poppies, cornflowers, snapdragons, daisies, day lilies, peonies, lambs ear, calendula, iris, tulips, hollyhock, foxglove, roses, and many more random wildflowers.

thanks so much for answering my questions. I am trying to understand how perennials and bulbs behave through their cycles. I don't even know how to deadhead an iris, all help is greatly appreciated!

Contra Costa County, CA(Zone 9b)

Some wildflowers are annuals, so if you pull them out before they flower that plant will not come back.
Some wildflowers are perennials or biennials, and even if you pull off the tops they can often recover from the roots.

Seeds are usually viable for more than one year, so it may take a few years for fewer and fewer seeds to germinate.

Annuals: live for only one season, often sprouting in mild, wet weather, then going to flower then seed. Then the plant dies. Of your list many poppies, snapdragons, and some daisies are annuals.

Biennials live for 2 years. The first year they put on a lot of leaf growth, often a low mounded mass. The second year they grow flowers, often on a tall stem. They may go completely dormant in the winter, that is, die down to the ground. Of your list, some foxgloves are biennials.

Perennials live for many years. Some have a storage mass underground. These are bulbs, or bulb-like plants.
Some perennials die down in the winter, then grow through the summer. Day lilies, peonies and most bulbs are like this.
Some perennials will still have leaves through the winter, but are not growing much. Lamb's ears, Shasta Daisies and many other daisies, and some foxglove are like this.
Bulbs are a special group of perennials. The swollen underground structure is usually more or less rounded, and may be derived from stem, leaves or roots. The botanical plant part is not so important, but it is a food storage system for the plant. Many bulbs grow leaves when the weather permits (often mild, moist) and then flowers. Then the plant dies down to survive a hot, dry summer or a freezing winter. Then they grow back when the weather is right.

Shrubs are woody plants that live for many years. They may lose their leaves or not, but the basic plant is always there.

There are many variations on these basic themes.

Here is what I would do:
1) identify the plants you like. The shrubs, the perennials, the annuals.
2) Save seed of the annuals. Keep the seed clean and dry, in a cool place. A zip lock baggie is good as long as the seed is very dry. You can mark on the bag the type of plant and flower color.
3) Clean out around the shrubs and perennials you want to keep. Clear an area of a foot or more. Mulch this area with bark, either chips or shredded. This will minimize seed growth. You can clear larger areas than a foot wide, too. Clear space for walkways.
4) Now that you can see some sort of structure in the garden, set aside patches and areas for the annuals. Allow the ones you like to grow and pull out the others. In the fall or spring, scatter the seeds you saved into these areas. This will raise the % of nice plants, and start to crowd out the ones you do not like. Keep on pulling out the ones you do not like, never letting them go to seed. Allow the ones you like to go to seed, and save the seed.
5) Every year renew the mulch. Many seeds need light to sprout, and by covering the soil with mulch fewer seeds sprout. Mulch does a lot of other good things, too.

Bellingham, WA

Diana, thank you so much for your generous response and wonderful guidance. I have had trouble finding this info in my books and you made it much easier for me to understand how to approach things. I thought all wildflowers were perennials, looks like I have more homework to do! I appreciate all your insights.

The great news is that I was inspired with confidence by your advice and spent a lot of the day in the garden determined to master what is in our yard. It would be such a shame to allow such a gorgeously planned garden go wildly neglected any longer. My focus now will be on thinning and collecting seeds.

Thank you for the tip on the mulch halting the weeds. Hugs!

Bellingham, WA

Can someone please tell me if my small yellow and orange poppies will be blooming all summer or will the flowers and vegetation be dying back soon? I have to clear an area where poppies are being crowded out by taller plants and if the poppies don't last all summer I may pull them in favor of the taller plants for the summertime.

Ayrshire Scotland, United Kingdom

Hi PinkVictoria, welcome to Dave's garden Forum, I think Diane K has gave you the best advice for a beginner and yes, we are all very overwhelmed at the start of a gardening project we have never tackled before, everything looks big, daunting and as if we will kill everything by just walking past it.

Just take your time and get to know what you want rid off and what to keep, I was always taught that to take over a new garden you never rip EVERYTHING out till a year has passed as each season there is always another find laying await to show it'self and plants are expensive so be sure you don't throw out what you may regret later IF you have to replace shrubs, roses or tree's that take years to reach flowering or size.

I would keep the Rhododendrons, Azalea's, Roses ect, as these are the backbone of most formal gardens and are very costly to go replace, some of them may now be unavailable if you try find them. Also I'd keep the likes of Bluebells and other things that like acidic soil BUT, thin them out, dug out the bulbs and remove the flowering stalks to prevent seed formation, do this with any flowering plants you don't wish to keep or have fewer off.
Day lilies ect can be dug up and split into smaller groups so divide the clumps and replant a section, this will give you a chance also to add some leaf-mould and bone-meal to the new planting area's because a well established garden often needs the soil re-furbished just to boost their growing area.

It would be a good idea to keep your camera handy and use it as much as possible so you can remind yourself where everything is, once perennials die down and are hidden under the soil, it's hard to find where they are on bare soil, so I stick in a garden cane with a label to remind me their position add info like name, flower colour, month in flower etc as it helps you familiarise yourself with what is actually growing in the garden, remember the old owners probably new the place like the back of their hand but your new to it all and not had a full season in the garden.

All the shrubs can be pruned BUT, go gentle with that task and do it at the right time, Rhododendrons and Azalea's can be cut back imediately after flowering as both those plants make new flowering buds as soon as the old flowers are dying off, Roses get pruned at end of flowering season, I cut half way down each branch, top dress the root area with Blood/bone and fish meal, all ready mixed and buy from garden store, use as directed. Come early spring, cut another half from the branches to get them into good shape and size again, it would make a nicer plant in the long run.

Hope all the info you have received is able to set you on the right path and you can enjoy the garden rather than be overwhelmed by it's size, planting and style, It's always better to take it easy till you begin to understand the layout, plantings and space you have taken over as new owners. You can easily become so tired if you work till you drop and make loads of mistakes and miss the seasons as they go by all because you have had to rush at every job instead of trying to enjoy what you have.

Wishing you all the best of luck, go read all you can a take your time, look at any other gardens in the neighbourhood to see the style and plants for ideas. Rome was NOT built in a day and by your own admission, neither was your new garden.
Best Regards, WeeNel.

Bellingham, WA

WeeNel, thank you so much!! All of your words are excellent and super helpful advice. I was feeling overwhelmed to be sure because it seemed all of the flowers just kept blooming over each other all at once. Now I am amazed that the bluebells are already gone. Our garden is bringing us trememdous happiness, it changes so fast it is like watching fireworks. Our neighbors told us it hadn't been cared for in a few years and I got the impression that even though it has an English garden feel it was "overgrown" in some areas, mainly around bushes and roses and if I didn't get a handle on it this summer it was going to be out of control. The rhodies were engulfed by daisies and the azeleas were dying under the cornflowers. I was feeling a bit freaked out but thanks to you and Diane I feel I can relax now. It just didn't occur to me that alot of what is growing now is going to be gone in a couple weeks - without my help, lol.

I cleaned and trimmed up the walkway leading to the front door and like you said I didn't get rid of anything, just deadheaded alot and trimmed back things enroaching on bushes. And there was a corner so full of mixed wildflowers it looked like mayhem and they were killing the azeleas. I pulled alot of it out to give the bushes some breathing room from the cornflowers but then I realized that half of the mix is poppies and the poppies may not last anyway. Once I figured that out I started to relax because I no longer envisioned all of these flowers fighting over each other all summer long. I think that was a great lesson to learn - and you are so right - never rip EVERYTHING out. Thankfully, so far I haven't.

I look at the rest of the garden and now feel ok that the marigolds, lambs ears and hollyhocks are all crowding the same space. I understand now that these flowers give way to each other through the season so there is always something in that spot and I like the look of it.

I am concerned that our scrappy little rose bushes are engulfed by other bushes and hollyhocks that are going to stick around. I'd love to bring them back and tend to them with your awesome advice. Thank you again! I've got my camera out and am documenting everything as you suggest. For now I am just going to continue to weed morning glory, grass and buttercups and see what great things are to come.

I am grateful for your responses, you have both helped me keep the brakes on this first year. Cheers!!

This message was edited Jun 10, 2013 1:02 PM

Ayrshire Scotland, United Kingdom

Your very welcome Pink Victoria, every bit of info at this stage is helpful, just relax and enjoy the garden, give the Roses a really good soak with lots of water late evening, water the soil and NOT the foliage of the Roses as this may cause mould due to the warm weather, add some Rose fertiliser (follow directions on packet) don't over feed, then when the Roses are looking better end of summer season or early spring you can then remove the Hollyhocks IF required, Hollyhocks are normally a short lived Perennial and after 2 seasons they flower badly and don't really look like they did when new, so it's safe do discard them, this will free up the space where the Roses grow and allow you space to add some animal manure, compost or feed around the root area of the Roses. when you remove the Hollyhocks, watch you don't damage the Rose plant roots as they don't like disturbance unless for better soil or situation, they will welcome the watering, feed and space that will allow more light onto the branches which in turn helps produce flowering buds, any dead or dying /damaged branches can be pruned away as this causes disease to set into the good area of branches if not cut away. Other than that, just tidy all dead or trim broken branches, either end of season or early next spring when weather allows.
Enjoy your new garden and make it fun instead of a worry, that way your confidence will grow and that alone helps you understand your plants.
Best regards. WeeNel.

Bellingham, WA

Awesome info on the roses, I can't thank you enough. I'm looking forward to nursing them back to full bloom with your tips. I'm so glad I found this forum. :)

So a hollyhock won't keep coming back year after year in the same spot unless I let it reseed? There is one enroaching on a very nice plant I was inclined to move, but if the hollyhock will be gone in 2 years maybe I don't have to move the plant afterall?

I do need to move some irises eventually that are growing up through an azalea. Is it best to wait until they have completely died back to move the bulbs?

I wish you all could see my garden, it is so huge its impossible to photograph it and do it justice. I never knew a garden could be so joyful.

Burien, WA(Zone 7b)

I seem to remember that august is the best time to move iris. It might depend on what kind though.

Ayrshire Scotland, United Kingdom

Pink Vic, Shune is quite right about the different times for lifting clumps of all plants and re-planting in other areas, you can lift anytime all plants you dont want to keep, just to get rid so long as you recover any bare roots from the plants you want to save like your Azalea's, I dont keep any Hollyhocks after 2-3 years as after that period of time, here in UK, they become tatty looking, the flowers are small and there is a disease called rust that seems to take hole after 2-3 years, they will keep trying to regrow after that time but I'd personally rather remove them and either refill the space with either brand new of the same or try something different, or maybe leave the neighbouring plants room to spread, these are all disisions gardeners have to make after herbaceous plants have done there duty, we've enjoyed them but sometime you have to let go as they have done there best for several years and are done really. Other herbaceous plant will keep growing soundly year after year and eventually, like your Iris, they need lifted, the old tough parts in the middle need removed and you replant all the nice fleshy tuberous outer bits with roots attached, for those type of (TUBEROUS) Iris you have to replant the tuber JUST under the soil, make sure the roots are under the soil but the tuber likes to be left with just a smidgen of soil over it as it likes the sun to bake it for good flowering. again Pink Vic, whenever you replant, make sure you also give the plants a good look over, add some good compost around the root areas and a handful of blood/fish/bonemeal as this is a slow release feed so it will help the plant over the winter and allow you to add more mulch if required at seasons end.

As you are now more relaxed and gaining confidence if I were you I would make a list of jobs to do at end of season and have a look around your local library for books on gardening, borders/beds, have a look also about garden maintenance as it will give you a guide from month to month, re clearing, sewing, pruning, planting and what,where, and how to plant, soil types ect, I have loads of garden books I have collected over the years and love re-looking at them over the cold winter months as they give you ideas ext that maybe would suite my requirements and lets face it, winter is withdrawal months from the garden. Please don't go buy the most expensive gardening books you can find as there are a lot that are not really for beginners and can be too technical with their language and ideas, I rather like the plain speak type of books, some pictures and ofcource what NOT to do. look in old second hand book stores car boot sales, garage sales and even dare I say ON line. Books are expensive and make great gifts for birthday's / Christmas ect. curl up with a cup of coffee and before the night is over, in your head your garden is done till you turn the page, Ha, ha, ha.

Think I've filled your head with enough info fo now so enjoy, have fun and take your time and plenty pictures too.
Best regards. WeeNel.

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