When we see beautiful meadows full of exuberant wildflowers in our national parks and forests this time of year, we often wish we could duplicate a similar scene in our yards.
However, wildflower gardening is harder than one might think.
You can’t just toss out seeds and hope for a gorgeous and long-lasting show. Nope. First you’ll have to first clear an area of competing vegetation, like thick grass.
I would also recommend occasional watering and weeding after planting during the first summer, especially during dry spells.
Having a lot of patience is extremely important.
As for specific wildflowers, I have been asked many times about growing Indian paintbrush. Why doesn’t Indian paintbrush show up for sale in plant nurseries or mail order catalogs? Will this wildflower grow from seed scattered here and there and everywhere?
After all, Indian paintbrush is a common enough plant in Wyoming. In fact, it is our official and beloved state flower.
What makes Indian paintbrush difficult to cultivate is the fact that it is hemiparasitic or, to put it another way, partially parasitic. That means that although Indian paintbrush plants will produce some of their own food through photosynthesis, they’ll also need to attach to the roots of another type of a plant to gain more nutrients, minerals and water.
That is one of the reasons you should never be tempted to dig up Indian paintbrush in the wild and try to transplant it into your garden. I’m telling you, you will never be successful.
Although I have always known that Indian paintbrush is tricky to grow, a while back I tried anyway. I bought a large packet of seeds and sowed them in what I thought was an appropriate place.
The first summer, nothing happened. Eventually, though, a gorgeous clump of bright orange paintbrush grew. But just a single plant out of the hundreds of seeds I had purchased.
One of the tiny seeds must have landed in just the perfect spot near one of its host plants — often blue penstemon or fringed sage. I have known of gardeners growing a tray of Indian paintbrush plants from seeds to transplant out of doors near possible host plants. They usually have limited success. Indian paintbrush can be frustratingly unreliable.
There is also the possibility of planting the seeds of Indian paintbrush and host plants together in the same pot with the idea that they will germinate at about the same time. Or planting the seeds of Indian paintbrush near a host plant that is already established to see if the roots will make contact when the paintbrush sprouts.
That’s the challenge of growing Indian paintbrush: creating and maintaining a relationship with other plants.
That is not particularly easy to do, but not impossible if gardeners want to give it a try.