Where Do Flowers Come From?
March 19, 2018 7:10 AM   Subscribe

I live in a Zone 5b region. I rent and would like to pretty-up my crap yard a bit.

basically, i'm going to randomly scatter seed about, and water. cosmos and marigolds seem reasonable, from comparing neighbors' plants. what else is cheap and easy, and pretty?

i googled for bulk cosmos and marigolds. spendy. what's your go-to source?

(signed) not-a-gardener
posted by j_curiouser to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If low cost and low maintenance are your main goals, just get bulk wildflower seed mix that's appropriate for your region and zone (American Meadows is one source) rather than trying to pick individual flower types. The bulk mixes are pretty cheap and the variety mixes mean you don't need to understand a whole lot about your particular soil or growing environment. The kinds of flowers that can do well in your lawn will grow and the others won't, and after the first season you'll know which kinds of flowers you might like to buy more of next year.

Or contact your local agricultural extension office if they have a home horticulture agent. "What should I plant in my lawn?" is such a common question that a lot of county extension offices have xeroxed handouts in their lobbies with plant recommendations for the county.
posted by xylothek at 7:38 AM on March 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Are you thinking of doing your whole yard? What's its current state? Crappy grass, bare dirt, something else?
posted by donnagirl at 7:39 AM on March 19, 2018

I like Wild Garden Seeds - great products from great people, open pollinated (you can save the seeds for next year and they will be true to what you expect). About $25 plus a few bucks for shipping would get you ~1,000 seeds. Mix them with some light soil and broadcast them around your yard. Another option is Super Seeds, with which I've had mixed luck, but they sell mixes in bulk. $40 gets you enough seed for 7,000 square feet there.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 7:55 AM on March 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Go native! Planting plants and flowers that are native to your area help local fauna out, and generally do really well with minimal gardening intervention, because they are meant for your location. Based on your profile, here's a website for Colorado native plants -- it looks like they have an ordering option, with different pick-up points. Otherwise, just run through the list, see if any fit your desired planting location (sun/shade, soil conditions), and order the seeds or seedlings elsewhere. There are sometimes local groups that will have plant sales a little bit later in the spring as well.
posted by Fig at 8:01 AM on March 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Yeah if you scatter seeds into lawn you’re not going to see much result.

Getting a nice wildflower patch by seed sowing is not easy, it requires careful prep to get started, and generally turf removal is hard work. Grass out competes most flowers in the short term, especially if there is any mowing.

While difficult to start from seed, native flower patches can be self-sustaining and low maintenance once established.

I would put in a few native perennials to anchor your beds, then try to slowly increase the area you clear around them each year, experimenting with different annuals as you go.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:03 AM on March 19, 2018 [10 favorites]

SaltySalticid has the wise here.

Growing from direct-sewn seed is hard. Birds eat it 10 seconds after you broadcast it, it rains and all the seeds wash away down whatever hill is nearby, grass and weeds out-compete it immediately. (And in my experience, trying to tend a direct-sewn wildflower patch is an exercise in frustration, as newly-sprouted flowers look exactly like weeds and by the time you figure out what's what, it's too late and the weeds have taken over.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:08 AM on March 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you’re looking for cheap/free perennials, get on Nextdoor.com and post or pay attention when people say they’re splitting hostas, lilies, ferns, sedum, etc. You can get a ton of kill-proof free plants that way, and your neighbors will be so happy to see their plants get new homes. Also, some of my neighbors will sell perennials for a couple bucks each during spring garage sales, or as school/hippie cause fundraisers. That is an easy and cheap way to get some more diverse plants for the yard than the usual “please take these daylilies” posts.
posted by Maarika at 8:15 AM on March 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

Also, my neighborhood association and the city and others have started giving away “pollinator-friendly” perennial flowers at farmers markets, neighborhood fairs, etc. Keep your eyes open for those freebies!
posted by Maarika at 8:18 AM on March 19, 2018

Zone 5b is all about the frost dates. Co. Spgs. is dry and sunny. I'm in 5b in Maine where it is wet and more often overcast. Colo. Coop. Ext. ha slots of useful info. They almost certainly have volunteer master gardeners who will advise you. When I lived there, there were lots of beautiful grasses and sunflowers.
posted by theora55 at 8:19 AM on March 19, 2018

I've had decent luck with direct-sowing marigolds and cosmos and would add zinnia and sunflower to your list, all very easy to grow from seed with very long blooming periods. That said, I wouldn't just randomly scatter them about. I'd loosen up the soil in perimeter beds about 3' wide, because soil that is suitably prepared to sprout flower seeds is also going to sprout weed seeds even more readily and you WILL have to weed. I got my seeds from sampleseeds.com this year and have been happy with the prices/shipping and germination rates so far. As a newbie gardener, you don't want bulk amounts of seeds. Get a packet or two of 2-3 varieties each (some short, some tall), for each type of flower, and don't attempt to sow/take care of more than 100-200 square feet of flower bed your first time around. Flower beds take more maintenance than the equivalent amount of lawn space. So if your lawn is generally sad, your best bang-for-buck/hour is to have some well-tended flower beds and then take care of your lawn a bit better--give it a good vigorous raking to get up some of the thatch, overseed now, and keep it watered and mowed over the summer.
posted by drlith at 9:18 AM on March 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I’d say native flower beds can take far less maintenance per area than a lawn, at least once established and if planned to have complementary species that do well in their setting. Just a little weeding and some clearing of brush in the fall and it can be a lovely low maintenance area that uses far less carbon footprint and water than ‘conventional’ turf lawns.

My point above is only that it’s not a super simple/easy start up, and harder work now will result in a better result and lower effort a few years down the road.
posted by SaltySalticid at 1:33 PM on March 19, 2018

Hi! I'm your neighbor!

I'm utterly black-thumbed but -- yowza -- the sunflowers come out in full force here if you let them. I think last year they were out from July to October. One of my neighbors had them growing nine feet tall.
posted by mochapickle at 2:36 PM on March 19, 2018

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