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GOING WILD WITH NATIVES: The Extraordinary World of California Wildflowers

By Clayton Tschudy.

One of the plant strategies for surviving in dry climates is the occurrence of annual flowers with long-lasting seeds that will survive several seasons of poor conditions, only to explode into life when the rare rainy year arrives. We saw this in the superbloom this past spring after an extraordinarily wet, and long, winter rainy season. There is a huge diversity of California annual wildflowers to choose from with tolerance of all possible garden conditions. These flowers are a critical part of our natural ecosystems, and a significant part of the beautiful spring bloom seen in nature. They support multitudes of beneficial insects, including butterflies and native bees you might not otherwise see in your garden. Wildflower color provides the main seasonality possible in Mediterranean climate gardens, rather than fall color and winter snow. All these benefits are possible from growing native wildflowers in your yard. And best of all, you can have your own superbloom for less money than those tired spring color packs of Petunias and Pelargoniums.

Photo credit: Clayton Tschudy.

Success with native wildflower seed planting rests on a few key practices:

  • First, wildflower seed needs exposed ground, or better, lightly graveled soil for good germination. Thick mulch will prevent germination, even if holes are opened in the mulch for seed planting.

  • Second, seed should be planted in October or November, which is the beginning of our local growing season. Best of all is to have the ground prepared ahead of time and distribute the seed immediately before the first fall rain.

  • Third, stay on top of annual weeds that will compete for resources.

  • And fourth, choose wildflowers that are adapted to local conditions and specific watering practices for best results.

Shown are Arroyo Lupine, Lupinus succulentus, TidyTips, Layia platyglossa, Farewell-to-Spring, Clarkia amoena, and Red California Poppies, Eschscholzia californica 'Red Chief', all reliable choices for a variety of conditions in San Diego gardens.

Sources for wildflowers include the local chapter of the California Native Plant Society, and online sources such as


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