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I know almost nothing about gardening and landscaping so I can really use some advice. In our backyard we had a hillside that was covered with ivy and weeds for years. I finally had it cleared this week and I plan to seed it with wildflower seeds in an effort to draw butterflies and hummingbirds. I haven't measured but I would guess it's about 50' long by 20' deep, and it faces south.

Right now the hillside is just muddy dirt. There's a bit of tree cover overhead, so about half of the hill will be partial shade, the other half will be full sun. The soil is dark brown so I assume it's good for planting.

So I have a few questions for anyone willing to help out:

  • how should I 'plant' the seeds? should I just toss them around and rake them in?

  • when should I 'plant' the seeds? do they need to sit in the cold dirt for a few weeks to be 'activated'? or should I just plant them when I'm ready for them to grow (this spring)?

  • I see on the website where I'm going to order the seeds, the various species have a 'spacing' - usually something like 18". Does this mean I'm supposed to put down one seed per 18"? that seems strange, I want the hillside to be covered in wildflowers

  • any suggestions on keeping the weeds and ivy from returning? it was cleared using hand tools so I suspect roots etc are waiting to regrow as soon as the weather warms up.

  • the website I'm ordering from has flower seeds which I can purchase individually, but they also have pre-packaged bundles of various flowers. That seems nice but I was surprised to see the bundle I want (for attracting hummingbirds and butterflies) is 50% grass. Is this wild grass somehow beneficial? should I go for that, or just put down 100% flower seeds?

  • any suggestions on types of wildflowers? Right now my list is:

  • Garden phlox (Phlox paniculata)
  • Blanket flower (Gaillardia)
  • cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
  • Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • Aster novae-angliae (New England Aster)
  • Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower)
  • Rudbeckia fulgida (Orange Coneflower)
  • Monarda didyma (Red Bee Balm)
  • Aquilegia canadensis (Wild Columbine)
  • Salvia coccinea (Scarlet Sage)
  • Salvia farinacea (Blue Sage)
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some "wildflower" seed mixes contain annual grasses that act as a cover crop so the perennials can establish later. Not all mixes are the same. Research and buy from a reputable grower. –  kevinsky Jan 18 '13 at 17:05
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2 Answers

I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but someone should say it. If you haven't dealt with any ivy roots left in the soil, and it sounds as if you haven't, then it will regrow and, by the end of next year, the area will be, once again, covered in ivy, regardless of which type of wildflowers/grasses you plant. You can either try digging out all the roots, or you will need to expose and treat them with brushwood killer, as little as possible, applied directly to cuts made into the roots. A note of caution, though - you haven't said what the gradient of the slope is, and if it is rather steep, removing all the roots by digging will greatly increase the risk of landslide or landslip.

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thanks @Bamboo, bad news or not it's important to know. Do you think rototilling would rip up the ivy roots? I'm sure some were pulled when the hill was cleared but I doubt all were. Also the slope is maybe 35 degrees or so, not extremely steep. –  Mike Willis Jan 20 '13 at 23:39
    
Rototilling would rip up roots, but wouldn't mean the ivy didn't grow again. It's pretty resilient stuff, and areas of root can go down deeper than a tiller will reach, and those parts will regrow. –  Bamboo Jan 21 '13 at 13:43
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@Bamboo's answer is spot-on -- you need to take care of the ivy before attempting to plant.

I don't know about all of the species in your list, but in your situation I would consider using a seed mix that does contain some grass component (a low growing type), and probably a small percentage of red clover and/or lupines. The grass/clover/lupine will help hold the soil in place (and give a better appearance) when annual flowers are dead, or when perennials have died back.

I'm also of the opinion that dandelions are an attractive, hardy, early-blooming option for "wildflowers". At my house, our approach to a wildflower garden has been to combine some of the more attractive weeds from local ditches and let them battle it out. We chop back the more aggressive spreaders with a spade in mid-/late-summer.

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