It’s exciting to see wildflower seedlings emerge and grow. However, it can be disconcerting to observe weeds coming up right beside them! This common problem in sowing wildflower meadows can be addressed in a simple manner (with a little elbow grease, of course!).

Don’t worry too much about trampling or damaging existing wildflower seedlings when entering your sow site to extract weeds. Each mature wildflower plant will occupy about ½ to 1 square foot of space, so some loss will not affect the overall appearance of your meadow.  

Methods for establishing small areas in which to sit and weed: 

► Place paver stones on a few locations within the site. Once the plants have matured, the pavers either won’t show or will still look attractive. In addition, these spots can serve as vantage points from which to photograph flowers, insects and birds come spring! 

► Create a few narrow pathways (perhaps three or so, depending on the size of the area) and use them to enter the site for weeding. Again, once the plants have matured, they will visually block the staggered paths. Establishing these thoroughfares can be as easy as choosing where you will walk and sit, akin to a deer selecting its favorite access through a meadow and walking the path repeatedly!  Plants in your pathways may be completely removed, or just walked on and not removed – that way, tough seedlings that do survive will still have a chance to develop.

Weed removal tips:

► First, identify the weed. The weeding method will depend on the nature of the target weed, which will most likely fall into one of four categories: exotic annual weedexotic annual bunch grass, exotic perennial weed,or exotic perennial lawn grass (such as Bermuda grass).

► Exotic annual weeds and bunch grasses may be pulled out from the base at ground level – this method may displace some desired seedlings, which is probably just fine, depending on the number of native wildflower seedlings within the plot. The volume of seeds issued per site accounted for some attrition or loss of seedlings. Alternately, with narrow snips or clippers, go in at the base of the weed just below the soil surface and cut. The roots will remain underground but will desiccate and die, once detached from the top growth.   

► Exotic perennial weeds and lawn grasses with deep roots must be removed entirely – roots and all – to prevent them from returning. A trowel or “dandelion digger,” which get under the main plant and help you pull, are excellent tools for the job. Deep-rooted rhizomatous grasses, such as Bermuda, are not controlled by cuts just below the surface. In fact, cutting the rhizomes will actually stimulate growth. Sprigs and clumps of Bermuda grass must be completely removed from the base of the outgrowth with as many roots as possible – but dig no deeper than four inches (to avoid bringing up weed seeds and disturbing surrounding plants). 

Our best advice is to simply to do the best you can. If you lose some wildflower seedlings, you will still have others left. At the Theodore Payne Foundation site, we are also dealing with weed issues on our Wildflowering L.A. plot – there is no magic bullet to rid an area of pre-existing exotic weeds, but patience and repeated weeding efforts will pay off over time.  

Sowing seed always involves some unpredictable variables respective to each unique site. You will learn about these factors as you go. A fully flush meadow may not occur in the first year of sowing. You may want to prepare your soil again over the summer and re-sow next fall, with the advantage of the knowledge you have gained in this initial year of gardening experience. The important thing is that you have taken the first step to establishing a native landscape. Take a moment to pat yourself on the back for your hard work, your patience, and for this meaningful contribution to our precious ecosystem here in Los Angeles!    

Posted by Genny Arnold, Theodore Payne Foundation