The Wildflower program in North Carolina originally began in the early 1960's with little success. The program was revitalized in the mid 1980's. Today, wildflowers are a tremendous success story with approximately 3,000 acres statewide planted giving much needed relief to weary travelers.
Wildflower beds are typically established along the larger, wider margins of major interstates, US and NC routes where there is more exposure to traffic and sufficient right-of-way to accommodate beds of half acre to 10 acres or more in size. In other cases, small plots of wildflowers may also be used in conjunction with formal landscape plantings.
The Department of Transportation utilizes mainly annual and perennial species. A mixture of annuals and perennials are preferred when trying to
establish a permanent wildflower bed. The annuals are used to give a show the first year while the perennials are becoming established. Annuals may also be used by themselves to achieve seasonal color in the spring or fall with a single species or in a mixture. To extend the length of bloom or to add color to a wildflower bed, double cropping or sod seeding can be done. For example, red corn poppy can be sod seeded into ox-eyed daisy to create an earlier
bloom of red that intermingles with the white ox-eyed daisy.
Wildflower species are selected using various criteria including but not limited to: color, height, length and season of bloom, compatibility, tolerance
to weeds, cultural requirements ie. Tolerance of poor soils, low maintenance herbicide treatments, and drought. Ongoing research involving geographic adaptability, fertility, compatibility and herbicide treatments are being conducted by North Carolina State University and the Department of Transportation to continue the improvement of the cultural practices used for current and potential wildflower species. However, before any species is planted on the right-of-way, a request is sent to the North Carolina Department
of Agriculture and North Carolina State University is consulted to insure that the Department of Transportation does not introduce a potential weed pest.
The majority of the seed planted comes from commercial sources. For the most
part, seed quality is good to excellent and readily available. As with turfgrass establishment, the utilization of good quality seed is essential for the success of wildflower establishment. Some native wildflower species are not commercially available but are harvested by the Department of Transportation to be used in the program. Native wildflowers that occur naturally within the rights-of-way are also utilized. The Department of Transportation makes efforts to reduce
mowing and alternate mowing patterns during the bloom season to
encourage these native species to become established.
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