Container Grown Wildflowers: Tips On Caring For Potted Wildflower Plants
By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener
Container gardening is the perfect option for people who want a splash of color but are lacking in space. A container can be easily placed on porches, patios, and decks for a burst of color all season long. Most wildflowers are not picky about soil and don’t mind growing in close quarters; in fact, this is how they look their best. As one mass of color, the impact is the greatest. Wildflowers in containers is a fantastic way to garden without fuss.
Selecting a Container for Potted Wildflower Plants
Any container that will hold soil will do fine for wildflowers. Make sure that the container is clean and dry before you begin. If there are no drainage holes in the bottom of the container, make several holes to allow the water to drain.
Good choices for containers include half whiskey barrels, plastic pots, or wooden window boxes. Even something like an old tire or old wheelbarrow make neat places to plant wildflowers.
How to Grow Wildflowers in Pots
If desired, you can also place some pea gravel in the bottom of larger containers to help with drainage. Use a lightweight, porous planting medium in your container. This will help the flowers establish and the water drain. Mixing a lightweight planting medium with some compost is an excellent idea because it gives the plants plenty of nutrients.
Purchase high quality wildflower seed mixtures with a high germination percentage, for either sun or shade, depending on where you are locating your container. It is always a good idea to choose wildflower plants that are suitable for your growing region. If you are unsure of what does well, visit your local Cooperative Extension Office; they can assist you in making your selection. Follow the planting instructions and watch your container grown wildflowers take off.
Caring for Container Grown Wildflowers
Potted wildflower plants require little attention other than watering when dry. A light layer of mulch on top of the planting medium will help retain moisture.
Depending on what you plant, some wildflowers will benefit from deadheading.
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Read more about General Flower Garden Care
How to Plant Flowers in a Container
A container of eye-catching flowers provides a focal point indoors or out. Successfully growing potted flowers begins with choosing the right container. Although pots come in various materials and designs, it's vital they have holes in the bottom to provide drainage. Your flower selection for each pot should also share the same basic light and water needs so all the plants can thrive with similar care. Planting the flowers correctly further ensures a healthy and productive container garden.
Set large, heavy containers in their final display site before filling them. Choose an area that receives the amount of sunlight necessary for your flower varieties. Most flowers requires six hours of sun daily, although some, like begonias (Begonia x tuberhybrida), can tolerate full shade.
Fill the container to within 2 inches of the rim with a commercial soilless potting mixture. Add 3 3/4 ounces of a 5-10-15 slow release fertilizer for every bushel of soil used. Water the soil until it's evenly moist and the excess just begins to drip from the bottom drainage holes.
Set the flowers on top the soil, still in their nursery pots, and move them around until you find a pleasant arrangement. Most flowers require spacing half of that listed on the label when planted in a container. In general, place tall-growing varieties in the centers and arrange low-growing or trailing flower types around the perimeter of the pot.
Lift each flower plant out of its nursery pot. Plant it in the container at the same depth it was growing previously. Lightly firm the soil around the base of the flower with your palms. Water the soil after planting to help it settle around the roots.
Check the soil moisture in outdoor containers daily and the soil in indoor pots every two to three days. Water when the top inch of soil feels dry. Empty the drainage tray beneath indoor plants after every watering, otherwise the soil reabsorbs the moisture and becomes too wet.
Sprinkle the slow release fertilizer on the soil surface every four weeks, using 1/2-teaspoon per gallon of pot size. Avoid getting the fertilizer on plant foliage and water after application. Alternatively, water with a soluble fertilizer formulated for flowering plants at the rate recommended on the fertilizer label.
Pinch of dead flowers as soon as they wilt to prevent seed formation and keep the plants looking their best. If the plants become leggy or overgrown, pinch back the stems to the first or second bud from the top to encourage bushier growth and more flowers.
Sometimes the delay of planting for a season or two until weeds are under control is prudent.
It would be lovely if planting wildflowers or grasses would be all that is needed to restore a site to its native state. An ecosystem cannot be easily restored if weeds are present in large numbers. Killing the weeds alone, though, without planting a plant community back doesn't survive but a year. Manage all the variables on site, favoring the native plants and wildflowers, while killing the weeds, to make a stable beautiful site. This will take time (years), so have patience.
To fix these environmental messes, start back at the beginning. Build a good foundation and, in turn, build a nice ecosystem, i.e., meadow, field of flowers, etc. (meaning, 'Get rid of the weeds first!')
In dry, open, sunny areas in the central coast ranges of California, the habitat is populated by very delicate, annual wildflowers and vulnerable to invasion by alien plant species, or WEEDS. It is very difficult to remove the alien plants without hurting the native plants. The alien plants are also annuals, and out compete the native plants very well, one reason being there are no controls (diseases and pests) on them as there would be in an area in which they evolved. Digging or hoeing out the alien plants, leaves a perfect, fluffed-up seed bed for the alien plants seed, breaks up the underground network of microorganisms, and allows nutrients and water to escape, and, so, highly encourages the growth of the alien plants over the growth of the native plants. Yes, even the annual native wildflowers are associated with underground microorganisms!! Once the alien plants have invaded the area in a major way and are throughout the site, the difficulty of removing them is almost impossible. You can kill the annual weedy, alien grasses with herbicide specific to grasses. This then leaves the broad-leaved weeds which you can spot spray with herbicide, or, if the area is small, early in the season, you can trim off below the crown and remove to the dump. If the area is large, you may have to try other options see the Weed Control page.
How easy is it to grow wildflowers?
I’m not that green fingered, let’s say I’m a lazy gardener! I like plants that require minimal tending so I have a lot of hardy Fushia, azalea, roddedendron, campunula etc and quite a lot of bee activity which I’d like to encourage.
I have a corner by two walls in my front garden that is dead space, there’s no grass there just weeds, but the ground is very stoney and dry and i wondered about putting wildflowers there. Initially I look at bee bombs, then seed mats but when we tried to dig the ground it’s almost impossible to dig due to so much stone underneath so have given up with those ideas.
I wondered how easy or not, it is to grow wildflower in pots? That I could put in various sizes in the corner. Is it easy to grow from seed? Would I need to start them inside on a windowsill of something? (Don’t have greenhouse) is it a viable idea?
Any recommendations of where to buy seed? Any pictures of wildflowers that people have grown would be great to see
Google 'Bee Bombs'. They're like little pellets that you throw over your soil which then sprouts all kinds of wild flower
Yeah I did look at bee bombshell but it says you do need to prepare the soil somewhat and it is almost impossible to dig because of the amount of stone underneath so I don’t think they would take very well.
Otherwise what other nice flowers, that come back year on year like shady corners that don’t get a massive amount of sun and don’t require too much attention!?
I grew oxeye daisies from seed last year - planted them in seed trays outside and then when they were big enough transplanted to the garden.
Some of them I put under a hedge where nothing grows and they are doing really well there. So they would probably be a good bet for your stony ground.
I find it very hard. The only time I managed to grow one wildflower was when I planted some in memory of a little boy called Ben whose mother posted on here some years back and I had a solitary yellow bloom.
Thanks @Roseburn I like alot so I’ll get some of those!
there’s no grass there just weeds weeds are wildflowers too . When they start flowering, have a good look at them and decide whether there's any you like more than the others. Pull out the ones you don't like, and let the ones you like continue growing. If it's between two walls, the reason no grass is growing there is probably because it's too shady. But dry shade is quite a challenging situation.
Have a look at Malva moschata, musk mallow- that does quite well in pots and is a beautiful plant flowering from summer into autumn.
I find ox-eye daisies are susceptible to slug damage, but you might be OK in your corner because slugs aren't fond of dry soil.
Have you got any really big pots or containers that you could fill with soil and plant as if they were a plot of ground? But be aware that most packets of "wildflower' seeds are mixed annuals (some of them aren't even native to the UK, some contain flowers bred for the garden that aren't wild anywhere) and usually like an open position in the sunshine.
Another alternative is to buy plug plants - these are tiny plants foo young to go into the garden, but would be OK in pots. Target price is about £1 each. You could choose wildflowers that are OK in the shade - red campion, stitchwort, ground ivy etc.
How to Create a Wildflower Cottage Garden
Tips on how to create a wildflower cottage garden from seed, with perennials, or by cultivating wild plants. A planting style that’s as beautiful and eco-friendly as it is low-maintenance
Ornamental gardens come in all shapes, sizes, and styles, but one of the classic styles is a cottage garden. Overflowing with foliage and color, they’re a maximalist way to grow a garden with flowers blooming from every nook and cranny. It’s a romantic style and one that’s so bursting with plants that it actually becomes relatively low-maintenance. The idea began as a traditional English cottage garden with pastel blossoms and an intimate atmosphere. More recently, the idea of filling every inch of growing spaces has translated into the tropical, woodland, and wildflower cottage garden.
Clumps of perennial wildflowers planted with dahlias and other cultivated varieties. Image via Dobies
Wildflower Cottage Garden
We grow flower gardens because we love their beauty and fragrance. Yet, there’s a growing trend to grow flowers for reasons other than as ornamentals to use them such as edible flowers, herbal medicine, natural skincare, and to support wildlife. If you’d like to have your cake and eat it too, then a wildflower cottage garden is for you.
There are four main ways to grow wildflowers in a cottage garden setting. The first way is by growing or buying in perennial (long-lived) wildflower plants. The second way is to broadcast-sow an area with wildflower seed, creating a patch of commercially-selected wildflowers. A more natural approach is to create a small wildflower meadow. Lastly, wildflowers exist in many of our gardens already as weeds. Encouraging them, and even sowing saved seed collected from wild plants can help you rewild your garden.
A scattering of wildflower seeds can transform any patch of soil. Image via Tumblr
All of our commercially-bred plants and flowers started their life with a distant ancestor in the wild. Over the years, we domesticated them, pampered them, and the result can be relatively high-maintenance plants that sometimes look very different from their humble beginnings. However, if we go back to those plants’ original habitat and look to our local wild places, we can find their wild relatives.
Wildflowers often grow in poor soil, rely on the weather for moisture, and have plenty of competition from other wild plants. They’re fuss-free and can even fail to thrive if grown in overly fertilized soil. That means that if your garden has an area of nutrient-poor ground, it can be a haven for stunning native wildflowers.
Hardy geraniums (cranesbills) are a showy perennial wildflower that bees love
Plants for a Wildflower Cottage Garden
Wildflowers include cornflowers (bachelors buttons), poppies, echinacea, Queen Anne’s lace, and daisies, but varieties can be different based on where you live in the world. You can grow types specific to your region or stretch out and incorporate wildflowers from other parts of the world too. They can be annuals that grow from seed every year and die down for the winter. They can be biennials or perennial too, and come back every spring for years. Here are some common wildflowers for temperate climates:
- California poppy
- Cow parsley
- Echinacea (coneflower)
- Field scabious
- Hardy geranium (cranesbills)
- Ox-eye daisy
- Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susans)
- Viper’s bugloss
- Queen Anne’s lace (wild carrot)
Bluebells can quickly fill a border if the positioning mimics their native woodland environment
Growing a Perennial Wildflower Cottage Garden
Perennial wildflowers are plants that can live for many years, and many of them can be divided or propagated so that you can create more plants for free. They include hardy geraniums (cranesbill), lupins, bee balm, echinacea, wild primrose, bluebells, and even flowering shrubs and trees such as elder. Plant them in a border altogether, individually in pots and vintage containers, and in some cases like honeysuckle, you can train them to climb walls or creep over garden features. The best thing about perennials is that once planted, they’re there for good, and if they like the soil and placement, can give you beautiful displays from year to year.
Probably the most famous modern garden designer who uses perennials is Piet Oudolf. He’s responsible for the High Line in NYC, many celebrated gardens peppered throughout the world, and of course his own famous garden in the Netherlands, Hummelo. What his plantings teach us is that native perennials, even grasses, can look great year-round. Seed heads are as important as flowers, leaf texture maybe even more important than color. Also, by inviting wild perennials into our gardens, we can create biodiverse and low-effort gardens with a huge impact.
A few English lavender plants and two roses were all that were in this patch at first.
Cornflowers and California poppies are some of the last flowers to keep blooming in a typical wildflower seed mix
Sow Wildflower Seed Mixes
Although many may need re-sowing every year, wildflower seed mixes are probably the most popular way to grow wildflowers. They’re available from big-name seed companies, wildlife conservation groups, and even ‘Save the Bees’ seed packets that come free with bottles of honey. Most are filled with generic mixes of cornflower, poppy, and a few other flowers so if you buy a pack, make sure it lists what types of flowers are inside. Look for varieties native to your region, long-season color, and that will like the area of the garden you have planned for them.
In this patch, I direct sowed a wildflower seed mix among perennial lupins, roses, curry plant, and lavender
Some specialist wildflower seed suppliers even have wildflower mixes for feeding bumblebees or butterflies or that are early/late season bloomers. Typically, you prepare a bare patch of earth and lightly scatter the seeds in autumn or spring. Rake the seeds in lightly but don’t bury them too deep. Autumn-sown seed will germinate, grow a bit, then slow down for the winter. They’ll be far ahead of the same plants that you might sow from seed in spring.
Please keep in mind that these wildflower mixes don’t take too kindly to competition from grass, and can look a bit drab once their blossoms are spent. They are incredible in their moment of glory though and it’s an easy way to grow wildflowers.
The meadow resplendent with vipers bugloss, ox-eye daisies, plantain, and mixed grasses
Growing a Wildflower Meadow
A level up from wildflower seed mixes is setting aside an area for a small or large wildflower meadow. Unlike the flower seed mixes, meadows are a mixture of both native grass and wildflowers and are meant to continue growing for years. Once established the only aftercare is cutting them down to 2″ tall once in spring, summer, and autumn, and take the cuttings away so as to not enrich the soil. Fertilizing the soil where you’re trying to grow a wildflower meadow is counter-productive since it will give strength to grasses, which will overpower most wildflowers. Keeping the wildflower ‘Yellow Rattle’ in the mix will also keep a check on rampant grass growth.
An area we cleared and sowed with wildflower and grass seed in autumn. It was in bloom with flowers by mid-spring the next year.
Wildflower meadows are traditionally what most meadows and pastures used to look like in the past. Here in Britain, they’re the last bastion for some of our native orchids and other flora but we’ve sadly lost over 97% of them. Setting space aside to recreate one, even on a smaller scale, means that you’ll be helping bring a traditional pastoral element onto your land that will positively hum with bees, frogs, butterflies, and songbirds.
Allow self-sowing wildflowers like foxgloves, and even those considered weeds space to grow in your garden.
The last way to grow a wildflower cottage garden is to allow weeds to move in. It’s a radical idea that goes against everything we’re taught as gardeners, but I will tell you that all of the foxgloves, mullein, red campion, knapweed, and poppies in my allotment garden moved in on their own. If they grew from seed and are thriving in a setting, why not allow them a little space. Especially if they’re beautiful or are rich in nutrients for wildlife.
Take that a step further and actively collect wildflower seeds from your area. That way you know that they’re completely native, that they will love growing in your garden, and that they’ll benefit local wildlife. Keep an open mind and remember that one person’s weed is another person’s wildflower.