The Look and Life of the Prairie

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Published on: Mar. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 26, 2010

brush-type seed stripper combine that mounts on the front end of a tractor, or they collect by hand. September and October are the best months for gathering the grasses, but flower seeds can be gathered throughout the growing season. "We start picking wildflowers in late May and continue right up to deer season," Rex Hamilton says.

Is it hard to grow native wildflowers from seed? "I learned from the school of hard knocks," Amy Hamilton says with a grin. She grows some wildflowers in pots in a greenhouse, moving them into bigger pots as needed, while growing others in fields. The Hamiltons have 30 acres of flowers, most in fields that they totally cleared before planting native flora in them. It is easier to start plants in a new field, they say, than to fight all the competing weeds and grasses in an old field.

Growing flowering plants in fields is less labor-intensive than using a greenhouse. "It may take them two to four years to bloom," Amy Hamilton says, "but you still don't have the work in them that you have growing something in a greenhouse." Growing plants in fields also produces roots for sale, though some of these get too big to put in pots.

Native wildflowers are different from domestic plants in a couple of ways. "Most people get excited about gardening in May," Amy says, "and it's just too late." She says the best time to plant wildflower seeds is in December and January because they need to be cold and wet for up to eight weeks to break their dormancy.

Bare roots should be planted in March or early April. The existing vegetation at your planting site must be killed ahead of time, and you may need to work on that as much as a year ahead of planting.

The Hamilton's favorite flowers included purple poppy mallow, button blazing star and royal catchfly. "Purple poppy mallow is a fuschia color," Amy Hamilton says. "It really lights up when the sun shines on it." Rex Hamilton adds that purple poppy mallow is a trailing plant and that it has a long blooming time.

Button blazing star is a late-blooming wildflower, showing off its color in August and September. It is three-feet tall and attractive to butterflies. "It's a pretty flower," Amy Hamilton says, "and I especially like plants that bloom in August."

The Hamiltons say their third pick - royal catchfly - is

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