The North Carolina Department of Transportation Wildflower Program began in 1985 with
12 acres planted along the rights-of-way. Each year more acreage was added and today wildflowers cover over 3,000 roadside acres.
The NCDOT combines the stewardship practices of beautification, conservation and preservation to form one of the Nation's foremost wildflower programs. The use of recycled organic materials is an essential component of this program.
After seed bed preparation, at least one annual (to give results the first year) and two perennials (for color year after year) are used in each bed. Annuals such as Red Corn Poppy, California Poppy and Catchfly make dazzling first-year displays, capturing the public's attention immediately. Perennials such as Ox-Eyed Daisy, Lance-Leaved Coreopsis and Black-Eyed Susan can be depended on for color in the years to come. Species of different bloom periods are used in each bed to create an extended season. Toadflax, for example, begins blooming in late March while New England Aster and Maximilian Sunflower bloom
until November. Stands of perennials and some annuals are harvested after blooming to provide seed for more wildflower beds, which are installed each fall.
Over the last few years, NCDOT has experimented with and utilized a wide array of composted and recycled organic products during the establishment
of wildflower beds. These products are of great benefit when used as soil amendments. During road construction it is not uncommon for most of the topsoil in the construction area to be removed. This means that B and C horizon soils (subsoils) remain on the rights-of-way. Such soils are typically low in organic matter, have low pH (from 4.5 to 5.5) and are tightly compacted; all conditions which are unfavorable for plant growth. These unfavorable conditions are overcome by incorporating recycled materials into the soil. Some of the materials used are composted animal litter, decayed yard debris, leaf mold,
and composted municipal sludge and by-products from demolition debris.
These amendments improve soil tilth by increasing organic matter
content, reducing compaction, increasing water and nutrient infiltration
and improving friability. Some products such as composted poultry litter have the added benefit of providing slow release nutrients to the soil. Others including lime-stabilized municipal sludge and fly ash serve to raise soil pH. The benefits of using recycled materials in these ways include a better growing environment and more attractive wildflowers.
The use of recycled materials in the Wildflower Program has proven to be environmentally, economically and agronomically beneficial. The NCDOT realizes that recycled organic products used as soil amendments play a vital role in improving roadside conditions. These products not only help with initial wildflower bed establishment, but also increase bed longevity.
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