Virginia Wildflower Program


Frequently Asked Questions

What kinds of wildflowers does VDOT plant along Virginia's roadways?

Blackeyed SusanMany species of plants are used in Virginia's Wildflower Program. Wildflowers and garden varieties, in both naturalized and formal settings, enhance the natural beauty of Virginia and return some of what might have been lost through development. See pictures of some of the most popular species we plant or get a complete list of all the wildflowers that are a part of the program.


Where are VDOT's wildflower plots?

The wildflower plantings are only on interstate and primary routes throughout the state, where there is enough right-of-way to plant a fair-sized plot. We try to use areas on medians and shoulders of the road that are highly visible to the traveling public. The longer the wildflowers are in view, the better.

Other locations include areas with attractive vistas in the background, as well as approaches or intersections near towns or other places of interest.

Where can I get wildflower seeds for my own yard? 

Most local home and garden stores carry some varieties of wildflower seeds. Or check out our list of seed vendors that can fill your seed order by mail.

It's important to purchase your seed from a reputable dealer and to read the seed tag. Information such as the percent purity of the seed or mix, the percent germination expected, weed/seed content and other information that can help you make the best choice when purchasing seed.

When did the wildflower program begin?

In 1976, the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Virginia Federation of Garden Clubs Inc. developed a wildflower program under the auspices of "Operation Wildflower," an initiative founded by Lady Bird Johnson during her husband's presidency.

During the first year of the program, VDOT planted 25 plots of wildflowers across the commonwealth. Today, wildflowers color Virginia with more than 500 acres of assorted species planted along our state highways.

Although the Virginia wildflower program is a state initiative, the success the program has enjoyed is due in large part to the support of garden clubs, civic organizations ad enthusiastic Virginia citizens.

Who administers the wildflower program?

VDOT employs professionals from many different disciplines including agronomy, horticulture and landscape architecture to administer the wildflower program.

By sharing information with the organizations such as the Virginia Federation of Garden Clubs Inc. and the Virginia Native Plant Society, we gain insight on the best species of flowers to include in the program and to perfect our online planting techniques.

Wildflower research contracted through the Virginia Tech helps us overcome difficult planting environments often created by highway construction.

The result of devoted professionals, researchers and civic organizations working together is a program that brings spectacular beauty to Virginia roadways for all to enjoy.

How can I plant my own wildflowers?

With a little work, you can enjoy the beauty of Virginia wildflowers in your own backyard. Most local home and garden stores carry some varieties of wildflower seeds. Additionally, we've compiled a list of seed vendors across the country from which you can order seeds by mail. Once you choose the wildflowers you want, get answers to your questions about planting them here.

When do I plant?

The best time to plant wildflowers depends largely on where you live. Seasonal precipitation in your area is more important than temperature in deciding when to plant. In Virginia, October and November are the most favorable months for planting wildflowers. If fall planting is not possible, early spring planting will also produce a colorful yield.

How do I plant wildflowers?

Achieving proper seed to soil contact is the most important part of planting. Casually spreading seed on an unprepared area won't allow the contact necessary for a successful wildflower garden. And if you till the soil too deep, you'll encourage unwanted weeds to grow rapidly. A little work and patience will reward you in the long run with a successful stand of blooms. These step-by-step procedures will help you get the best possible results.

To plant on bare soil and bark mulch beds:

  1. Loosen the soil surface with a garden rake. (No more than one-half inch deep.)

  2. Mix seeds thoroughly to provide equal distribution. (Small seeds tend to filter to the bottom of the mix.)

  3. Spread the seed by hand on the area to be planted.

  4. Lightly rake over the area to establish proper seed/soil contact.

To plant on existing grass:

  1. Use an herbicide to eliminate any vegetation that may compete with the wildflowers.

  2. Mow the existing vegetation as short as possible. Rake and remove the clippings.

  3. Rake the area with a garden rake to loosen soil surface or hoe lightly. (No more than one-half inch deep.)

  4. Mix seeds thoroughly to provide equal distribution. (Small seeds tend to filter to the bottom of the mix.)

  5. Spread the seed by hand on the area to be planted.

  6. Lightly rake over the area to establish proper soil/seed contact.

NOTE: Do not plant wildflowers in grasses like annual rye grass or fescue that grow during winter, as the winter grasses will be too aggressive to allow the wildflowers to become established.


When do seeds germinate?

Some of the seeds will germinate in 10 to 20 days after planting if sufficient moisture is available. 

Other seeds will germinate in the early spring. Regardless of the planting location most wildflowers will require at least six hours of sunlight a day, water (if rainfall is not substantial) and minimum foot traffic.

Perennials won't bloom until the second growing season. 

To provide color in your perennial plot the first year, add a small percentage of an annual seed with your perennial mix. 

To insure a continuous bloom, you should select species where as one species' bloom dies out, another will be coming into full bloom. 

The annual will bloom the first year to provide some color but over time will be crowded out (hopefully) by the developing perennials. 

With a perennial plot, you will obviously not want to re-establish the plot each year, but rather over seed the plot each year with additional perennial seed.

Do I have to water the seed?

If there is no rain after planting, watering will help in germination and seedling establishment. 

Once your wildflowers are beyond the critical seedling stage, they will survive long dry periods, but probably will not flower as often. 

Occasional watering, if possible, will insure maximum bloom color.

Will my wildflowers come back?

Yes, if the mix includes both annual and perennial species. 

The perennial will return year after year once established. If the annuals are allowed to re-seed, they will usually return. 

However, some sites produce successive blooms year after year while others do not. 

There can often be underlying reasons for this such as weed competition, poor soil, drought or other factors.

How do I allow my wildflowers to re-seed? 

Allow about two weeks after the full bloom period has passed for plants to re-seed. 

As a rule of thumb, when the dense brown foliage offsets the floral color display, the area can be trimmed. 

You have now enabled your wildflowers to complete their life cycle and they will reward you with an array of beauty the following year.

What about fertilization?

Fertilizing your wildflowers is necessary only if you feel that the soil in which you plant them lacks nutrients. 

Fertilizing wildflowers with large amounts of nitrogen after the plants are established can result in large amounts of foliage at the expense of the blooms. 

So if you choose to fertilize, do so moderately, with a low-nitrogen fertilizer.

How much sunlight do wildflowers need?

In general, most wildflowers need a considerable amount of sunshine. Many species, however, can tolerate light to partial shade. 

If your area receives at least six hours of sunlight per day your wildflowers will prosper.

Broadleaf weeds can be a large problem in a wildflower garden or field if you don't take preventative measures before planting. 

Treating areas that have existing weeds prior to planting is an absolute must for achieving a good stand of wildflowers, especially on large projects.

Small garden areas can be cleared of weeds, either by pulling them by hand, raking or using an herbicide.

Mow short the area in which the wildflowers will be planted 10 - 14 days after it is treated, prior to planting. This will help the wildflower seeds germinate, as well as reduce competition from grass.

What other tips can you give me?

For the best results:

  • Check the soil PH. Many species of flowers are tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions. However, if you have time, perform a soil PH test so you know exactly what you'll be working with. Wildflower growth is most successful when soil PH is between 5.5 and 6.5.
  • Rototill the soil to a depth of 4 to 6 inches. Allow the tilled soil to settle before planting. Waiting for one or two rainfalls will help with this. If nature does not cooperate, you can use a lawn sprinkler to apply approximately three-quarter to one inch of water over the entire plot. Just soak the soil until you see that it has settled a bit.
  • Rake the top of the settled soil to level it off once it has dried enough to be worked.
  • Determine your seeding rate. There are 43,560 square feet in an acre. If you have 1,000 square feet and your seeding rate is five pounds per acre, divide 5 by 43.56, which equals .11 pounds, times 16 (ounces in a pound) equals, 1.8 or 2 ounces per 1,000 square foot. You may want to double or even triple your seeding rate for a fuller plot of wildflowers.
  • Sow your seed no deeper than one-quarter inch. This means you'll need to spread your seed on the soil's surface, then lightly rake or roll the seed to insure it has good contact with the soil. The seed does not need to be covered completely.
  • Don't mulch unless you are on a slope steeper than 3:1. If mulch is necessary, use recycled paper mulch (usually available at local home and garden stores) for the best results.


Page last modified: Oct. 14, 2012