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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Thank You, NCDOT

Thanks to the North Carolina DOT, local mountain highways are ablaze with color. Since 1985, NCDOT has been planting native wildflowers in medians and exits, bringing beauty to the dull monotony of modern highways. I have always enjoyed the changing pallette of colors that occurs from April through October as I commute to and from work on I-40. It's one benefit of my tax dollars that I get to enjoy daily.

This beautiful show of nature's color does not happen without a great deal of planning and preparation. It all begins with soil preparation, which is one of the most important factors to insure success in planting wildflowers. After the site is selected, all existing vegetation must be removed. The soil is then broken up, and then rototilled to create a fine seedbed. Soil testing will determine what additives are needed such as dolomitic limestone if the soil is very acidic. If nutrients are lacking, fertilizer will be added during bed preparation. Fumigation to eliminate competition from weeds and grasses until wildflowers are well established may also be required.

After the bed is properly prepared, seeds are sown in the fall from September through November, or in the spring from March through May. Seeds sown later than November will normally lie dormant and will not germinate until the following spring. Those species that are not winter hardy are planted in the spring. The seed is mixed with clean, coarse sand several times the seed’s bulk for even distribution from hydroseeders for larger areas. Smaller beds are still planted with hand seeders. Since mulching beds is important for good seed germination, beds are mulched with coastal bermuda hay, pine straw, fine pine bark, or fumigated wheat or rye grain straw.

Once the beds are planted and mulched, very little maintenance is necessary if the rains cooperate. Some perennials bloom the first year while others only grow vegetatively and flower the following year. Annuals bloom the first season, set seed and many successfully reseed themselves.

Thank you, NCDOT for making my daily commute a little more pleasant with the beauty of native wildflowers.


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