Educational Information

Habitat Symbol Key:


W (Wet) - Usually saturated or wet, such as wetland or bottomland prairie.

WM (Wet Mesic) - Clay soils and/or soils excessively wet in spring and fall, drying out in summer.

M (Mesic) - Typical garden soil, good fertility and proper drainage. Species grow well in clay topsoil of southeastern Wisconsin.

DM (Dry Mesic) - Well-drained soil, sandy, silty, or rocky. Water drains readily, but not rapidly.

D (Dry) - Water drains rapidly. Does not retain moisture.

S (Sand) - Pure sand, may be sterile or unfertile soil, such as sand dunes and rock outcroppings. Many native Wisconsin species grow here.


Sav (Savannah) - Sparse trees provide shade for part of the day. Partial shade tolerance.

OW (Open Woods) - Grow in forest gaps where trees have fallen. Partial to full shade tolerance.

FE (Forest Edge) - Species grow along edge where forest meets open areas. Species tolerate partial shade, preferably indirect sunlight.

Pretreatment of Seed to Break Dormancy (For quicker germination):

Stratify: Combine a half a cup (for seed packets) or quart (for seed mixes) of moist (not wet) growing medium (ex: sand) with the wildflower and grass seeds. Place the mixture in a zip lock bag or Tupperware container in your refrigerator (NOT freezer) for 6-8 weeks prior to planting. *NOTE: If your mix contains cover crop, do not put the cover crop in refrigerator.

Scarify (Seed Packets): For larger seeds, lightly nick the seed coat with a nail file to make the coat water permeable. For smaller seeds, gently roll between fine grain sandpaper.

Inoculum: Legumes need to develop an association with the soil bacteria (Rhizobium) to grow. Inoculating achieves this and assures a much higher survival rate.  If you scarify and stratify first add inoculum to seed mix before tossing onto prepared soil. Then gently rake. If inoculating only, add inoculant to seed and shake to coat before seeding.

Site Preparation & Planting: Preparation of your ground is important to the success of your wildflowers. A garden that has been worked for some years should already be relatively weed-free. In the case of lawn sods or old abandoned farm fields, we recommend “over-seeding” without tilling. DO NOT TILL: Tilling brings additional dormant weed seeds to the surface to germinate. No-till preparation minimizes weed problems and erosion risk.

First, start by cutting and removing thatch or dead plant/lawn material. Second, when the area greens up with new growth, carefully and selectively spray  unwanted vegetation with an herbicide (ex: Roundup). These two steps should be repeated a second time approximately 4 weeks later to ensure that unwanted vegetation has been killed.

Spreading Your Seed Mix: Mix pretreated seed mix with a gallon of weed-free compost before tossing over the planting site. Toss pretreated seed mix over prepared site then lightly rake in. You do not need to bury wildflower seeds.

Maintenance: When conditions are ideal your seedlings will germinate. If things are not right, wildflower seeds will wait until conditions are suitable. Be patient and do not disturb your soil for two seasons. Even though their roots will be very long, prairie seedlings are tiny when they first germinate.

The perennial native flowers will establish themselves over the first few years.

The best way to control weeds is BEFORE you plant. Trying to pull weeds will disturb the developing roots of wildflower seedlings. To minimize prairie seedling loss the first year, weeds should be cut off at or just below the soil surface rather than pulled out.

It is not necessary to water a new planting regularly. However, some moisture will help speed things along. DO NOT FERTILIZE! The wildflowers are adapted to garden conditions as they exist and fertilizer will make them too tall and gangly.

Why Natives Are Important:

(what was originally here before settlers)

  • Provide the best source of nectar to pollinators
  • Offer shelter & essential foods to wildlife
  • Promote biodiversity & stewardship of our natural heritage
  • Are adapted to the Midwest’s climate so they will survive without assistance and without fertilizer or chemicals
  • Are drought tolerant and reduces water usage
  • Reduces noise and carbon pollution from lawn mower exhaust
  • Effective at storing the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide
  • Support healthy soil and reduce soil erosion with their deep roots
  • Rich genetic resources of flora, fauna, and microbes
  • Almost all natives are perennials so they will come back year after year

VS. Horticultural Plants and Cultivars

(non-native plants)

  • Compete directly with native species for moisture, sunlight, nutrients, and space
  • Limit food for pollinators and wildlife because they're not what species in our region use as food sources
  • They do not align with our natural ecosystem
  • More susceptible to diseases
  • Loss of genetic variation that are naturally found
  • Reduces biodiversity on multiple trophic levels
  • Changes insect quality and quantity which affects the higher trophic levels such as birds who raise their young on insects