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ROLLING OUT A CARPET OF WILDFLOWERS IS THE EASY WAY TO MAKE YARD BLOOM

Published: Wednesday, July 15 1992 12:00 a.m. MDT

As I have gardened, there have been many times that I thought that carpet might be the best solution for some of the problems that beset gardeners. Tilling, weeding, spraying and other activities take time and effort to create that showplace garden. Turfgrass helps with some problems but must be mowed weekly and requires weed, insect and disease control. Additionally, healthy turfgrass comes in only one standard color - green.

Wouldn't it be nice to just roll out flowers as you do carpet and be done with planting in those areas? Wildflower sod is one way to tackle the problem. I recently visited a unique operation in the south end of Salt Lake valley. Lake Mountain Turf Farm, operated by Warren Bell, is one of three nurseries in the nation producing this patented wildflower carpet. Licensed by the Applewood Seed Co., Lake Mountain grows the flowers in Bluffdale and ships them throughout the Western United States and Canada. It was an unusual sight to see flowers being mowed as most of us would mow a lawn.Wildflower carpet is a unique landscaping concept. It installs like grass sod and is composed of an abundance of perennial wildflowers. The flowers are about 3 inches high in 5-square-foot mats. Years of research and testing have produced a balanced blend of profuse blooming wildflowers to provide beautiful and ever changing displays of color throughout the growing season.

I first planted some wildflower carpet in my garden last summer. Several flowers grew and bloomed and although it was attractive, I didn't see that it was going to be a real show stopper. The first year Blackeyed Susan, Johnny Jumpups and Pinks were the most prolific flowers. This spring, however, a beautiful, fragrant, tall wildflower, called Dames Rocket, as well as Gaillardia, Coreopsis and Wallflowers have proliferated. The plants range from 6 to 30 inches in height with staggered bloom periods. The mix of 15 different flowers adapt to many different environmental conditions. Different moisture levels, soil type, and fertilizers, cause certain varieties to dominate. Annual mowing in the fall lets Mother Nature decide which species to favor.

Although the installation and care of the sod is easy, getting into the wildflower business was not as easy as you might think. Bell shares his experience on planting test plots the first year that he decided to go into the business. "I planted 10 test plots and within a month all had died. I tried again the second time and had the same success. Getting 15 different varieties of flowers to germinate simultaneously is tricky at best."

They have worked the major problems out of the system and will produce hundreds of thousands of square feet of this wildflower sod to be planted throughout the Western United States. Wildflower carpet is now available at most retail nurseries along the Wasatch Front.

Wildflower carpet is comprised of living plants and, like any other living plant, it should be protected from extremes of temperature and from drought before it is planted. It is grown on a spun polyester fabric so that the wildflower carpet is easy to handle and install. In addition to the standard mix, Lake Mountain is working on shade-tolerant mixes, special low-growing mixes, and other new developments.

I wouldn't look for wildflower carpet on the football field, but it is a great way to establish flowers, particularly on difficult sites. It can be installed throughout the growing season and offers immediate erosion control. It provides a low maintenance, sun-loving groundcover that does not have to be reseeded. The flowers are thick and aggressive and prevent or crowd out most annual weeds, making it a real plus for low maintenance gardens.

Wildflower carpet may find a place in your garden. Difficult sites that are hard to mow or water or areas that need some color without a lot of care are good candidates. This may be the best discovery you will make this year for your garden.

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