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Mr. Jimmy’s Wildflower Project June 2014

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Mr. Jimmy’s Wildflower Project June 2014

Jimmy Earl Cooley, Louisiana Master Gardener


Growing vegetables and fruit in Louisiana can be a real challenge, given the summer weather conditions along with the animals, insects, and number of pests. I helped my Grandfather raise chickens, make a vegetable garden and milk a cow in Ludington, LA in the 1950’s. I moved to Maryland and worked for NASA after graduating from ULL in 1960. I was an avid gar-dener there and become a University of Maryland Master Gardener after I re-tired in 1992. My general rule of thumb was that I got 80 % of my crop and the animals, pests and etc got 20 %.

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We moved back to Louisiana where I have continued my love for gardening, living in a wooded area where the take for the last few years has be reversed with 80% going to the animals, insects, diseases and etc. I became a LSU Mas-ter Gardener and use semi organic methods to combat this condition. I found that I was spending a lot of money and time on fertilizer, lime, soil additives, gasoline (cutting grass and weeds-mostly for good looks and neat-ness, organic detertnents, picking, and giving away most of my produce. Good exercise, but as one gets older lots of these chores become work and I find that there is only so much energy to go around.

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In 2013-14 these realizations con-vinced me to convert three of my five garden areas into wildflower refuges in an effort to support dwindling wildlife productive areas. Sort of if you cant beat them then join them attitude.

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There is a continuing loss of wooded ar-eas, clearing of fencerows and meadows by herbicides and mechanical means, and necessarily loss of forging materials for the birds, insects, and animals .

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In late 2013 I tilled the areas, spread a small quantity of 13-13-13 and planted wildflowers.

The areas consisted of:

1. Front garden – 1/3 acre near home – _ wild flower packet Butterfly and Hum-mingbird Blend.

2. Burn pile garden – 1/3 acre near shop – wild flower packet Southwestern Wildflower Mix.

3. End of Runway garden – 2/3 acre at end of air strip – wild flower packet Southwestern Wildflower Mix.

The wildflower seeds are very small and fragile and to evenly spread the seed upon the soil is a task, some addi-tive should be added to the seeds to help cover the area. I used a three year old, 50 pound, sack of rye grass as a filler, mistakenly thinking that, since it was old, much of it would not sprout and grow. I knew that the ryegrass used for feed, hay, or ground cover must be planted in early spring so it can grow, mature, and die in the heat of the torrid summer sun in southwest Louisiana. Well grow it did! Leading to a bumper crop of rye grass mixed indiscriminately with the wildflowers. A situation which, I was sure, would doom my wildflower project. .

Now in early June the ryegrass is dying and the wildflowers are peaking their heads through the leaning, dead stems in all their glory.

I had expected a large percentage of the wildflower seeds to germinate and grow into a beautiful parfait of colors and shapes to attract butterflies and beneficial insects, birds, and etc. in and between the spare up coming rye grass. Many of the low grow-ing wildflower plants were surely crowded out.

I started keeping bees in 2012 with two hives; named Hebert and Shirley. I also started raising Muscadine grapes in 2012. My bees were to help with the polli-nation of the grapes and vegetables, and some honey for personal use. The first year I got a half gallon of good, dark honey from tallow tree flow. in 2013 the Hebert hive swarmed and I lost half of the bees. The bees remaining filled two brood boxes with honey (amount they needed to sustain the winter) but not sur-plus for me. The Shirley hive survived but was not strong and I harvested only one frame of honey; 2.5 quarts. The planting of the wildflowers was suppose to increase the amount of pollen and nectar available and help the bee population and produc-tion. Unfortunately, the Hebert Hive ex-perienced, what I believe to be, a case of the CCD, Complete Colony Disorder. First a number of bees died, after a cold spell in the weather, followed by the bees abandon-ing the hive completely by date . This left me with only the Shirley hive. In date of 2014 I split the Shirley in thirds, leaving 1/3, transferring 1/3 to a new brood box (Carollyn) and 1/3 to the Hebert hive pieces. As of June date all three boxes have queens and the bees are now working hard during the tallow flow. So it remains to be seen if the wildflowers have been of any benefit. I have not noticed a lot of added activity with bees on the new wildflowers but butterflies are on an increase. The Wildflower Project has been quite an ad-venture. I’m hoping that reseeding will oc-cur and the added flowers will help the honey bees better sustain their life and help in plant pollination.





Comments (3) »

Lousiana Wildflowers Comments, Skip Cryer, LA Master Gardener


  Wildflowers generally thrive in disturbed soil and do not get happy with fertilizer.  So plowing an area and leaving it alone allows the native seed that lie dormant to germinate and grow.  It is true that most wildflowers are more tempermental than domestic seed.  You just about have to have a burn schedule for the plants to thrive.  That is their genetic history.  Mowing at the right time helps but the thatch can build up and smother the plants you want to thrive.  There is a strong tie between moisture content, shade, and variety.  All of this is also tied to quail survival.  The natural eco system is complex and does not lend itself to monoculture to mimic Mother Nature.  Wildflowers are generally prairie plants.


Wildflowers in Louisiana West Gulf Coast, image by The Nature Conservancy.

I had managed my fields into a thick blue stem grass and wildflower mass.  Then I planted pine trees and the burn liability changed dramatically.  Now I mow only and between the shade of the pine trees, straw, and the mowing my beautiful yellow fields now are dwindling away in areas.

When someone tells you that long leaf and wildflowers go together it is true but the natural pine/flower savannas did not have the shade problem of modern tree planting and the areas burned clean periodically.  Fire generates germination in both native flowers and long leaf pine and is paramount in releasing the plants.


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