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Planning your own super bloom

Photo of student interns in meadow they planted with native wildflower seeds.
Kathy Guertze and Nguyen Nguyen, student interns in the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden’s Learning by Leading™ program, in a meadow they planted with native wildflower seeds. Native wildflowers are an important food source for pollinators, a gorgeous addition to any landscape and, this fall, offered in seed form at Arboretum plant sales. (Photo: Ryan Deering)

With super blooms throughout California in the news the last couple of spring seasons, more attention than ever is being paid to the beauty of wildflowers – especially native wildflowers – as well as their importance as a seasonal food source for pollinators and other beneficial insects. With that in mind, this fall, the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery – already known for offering one of the area’s largest selections of attractive, low-water, regionally appropriate plants – will begin to sell a research-backed selection of native annual wildflower seeds proven to attract pollinators at its popular fall plant sales.

Wildflower collage.
A selection of native wildflower seeds will be available at the upcoming Friends of the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden fall plant sales. 1. Small flowered fiddleneck (Amsinckia menziesii); 2. Elegant clarkia (Clarkia unguiculate); 3. Fort Miller clarkia (Clarkia williamsonii); 4. Yellow ray goldfields (Lasthenia glabrata); 5. Golden lupine (Lupinus microcarpus var. densiflorus); 6. Sky lupine (Lupinus nanus); 7. Lacy phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia); 8. Vinegarweed (Trichostema lanceolatum); 9. Tomcat clover (Trifolium willdenovii)

“We’ve never offered native wildflower seeds at the nursery before,” says Taylor Lewis, nursery manager. “As particular as we are about the inventory of perennials we offer, we want our customers to know that we are just as discerning about seeds.”

Luckily for the nursery – and the regional community – there’s a UC Davis expert that can advise. Neal Williams, principal investigator at the Williams Lab at UC Davis – the lab where scientists explore the intricacies of pollinator-floral interactions – published research that documents the best annual and perennial plants for supporting pollinators without enhancing potential pests.

“We are thrilled to partner with faculty experts and have the opportunity to help bring their research to the public for the benefit of our environment,” says Kathleen Socolofsky, assistant vice chancellor and director of the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden.

“It’s so great when research and retail can work together,” says Rachel Davis, GATEways horticulturist with the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden. “We were able to secure seeds for seven of the nine specific species of annual wildflowers that the Williams Lab found highly beneficial.”

The other two types – the small-flowered fiddleneck (Amsinckia menziesii) and the tomcat clover (Trifolium willdenovii) – are the same genus as the wildflowers he studied, but not the same species. According to UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden staff, securing specific native wildflower species isn’t always easy, often times they are only available in quantities fit for large-scale restoration projects or not available at all.

“With the limited selection we are offering, we wanted to focus on seeds that are not usually easy to find,” says Davis. “You’ll notice that California poppies are not on this list for that reason although they are also a great food source for native and honey bees.”

What is not limited are the tens of thousands of potted perennials that will be also be available the Friends of the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden’s three upcoming fall plant sales including a large inventory of milkweed – the only food source California monarch larvae will eat.

“Fall is not only the best time to plant, is also the best time to sow wildflower seeds for an amazing spring display,” says Davis. “If you haven’t tried them before, consider picking a few types to sprinkle in sunny, bare dirt areas throughout your landscape or just along the edges. More detailed instructions can be found on our website.”

While cash, check and credit cards are accepted for everything else at the sale, seed purchases, at $3 per package, are cash only and directly support the Arboretum’s Learning by Leading™ internship program.

In addition to wildflower seeds and a one-acre nursery packed with perennials, herbs and ideas for pollinator-friendly container gardening, shoppers will find orange-aproned experts ready for your questions, live music, a children’s activity station and a plethora of student volunteers ready to help you with all your plant (and seed) purchases.

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