Why Do Wildflowers Prefer Poor Soil? Science Explained

While preparing my garden for the season, I decided to include wildflowers due to their ability to attract pollinators and for the vibrant, colorful flowers. However, as I was adding organic compost and manure, I realized I was on autopilot and making a mistake. Other flowers need enriched soils, but not wildflowers

Wildflowers prefer poor soil because weeds and grasses prefer rich soil, and in competition with these plants, wildflowers will be the losers. While some flowers have adapted to rich soils, wildflowers have adapted to poor soils. They grow slowly and will not grow faster, even with fertilizer. 

Wildflowers and garden plants have many differences, but the most significant distinction is how they grow. Wildflowers thrive in poor soil, while other garden plants need fertile soil. This article will detail why poor soil is best for growing wildflowers. 

Is Poor Soil Ideal for Wildflowers? 

Wildflowers have unique requirements because they have always had free rein in their environment. They grow in the wild, where human intervention has been non-existent as far as soil fertility is concerned. As a result, they are accustomed to growing in poor soil.

Poor soil is ideal for wildflowers because they are adapted to grow in soil lacking nutrients. They grow slowly, with no human intervention. Wildflowers struggle to survive when planted in fertile soil because they cannot compete favorably against weeds and grasses for space and resources. 

Wildflowers may share similarities with the hybrid varieties growing in your garden. The difference is in the environment. Wildflowers have traditionally grown in meadows where they grow at their own pace and at the mercy of nature. Interestingly, they have always thrived. Since they do so well in poor soil, it is best to create similar conditions in your garden. 

Why Wildflowers Prefer Soils With Low Fertility

Wildflowers are becoming increasingly popular, especially with gardeners interested in attracting pollinators. However, there is a catch. Soil fertility should be low. This is a challenge if you have spent years enriching your soil. Instead of worrying that the soil is not fertile enough, your concern should be that the soil is too rich for wildflowers.

Here are the reasons why wildflowers prefer soils with low fertility:

  • They have evolved in poor soil.
  • Grass and weeds are fertility lovers, so they don’t do well in poor soil. This gives wildflowers dominance in soils with low fertility because the competition is eliminated. 
  • Wildflowers grow slowly because they have always had free rein over their space. Fertile soils will force wildflowers to compete for space with weeds, a fight in which the scales are tipped against the flowers. 

Over the years, some farmers have sown wildflowers in their grass fields. However, nitrogen-rich fertilizers are used in these lands to boost grass production. The result has always been more foliage and no flowers. This outcome has cemented the belief that wildflowers prefer soils with low fertility. 

Will Wildflowers Grow in Fertile Soil?

Wildflowers can grow anywhere, but they perform best in poor soil. The main reason for this is that other plants, like weeds and grass, do not do well in poor soil. So, the wildflowers have no competition for space, nutrients, and water. 

Wildflowers will grow in fertile soil, but they will be overwhelmed by weeds, grass, and other plants. Wildflowers grow slowly and have no chance of survival in a competition for resources and space with invasive plants. They will also be exposed to diseases and pests that will destroy them. 

Wildflowers are not accustomed to fertile soils, so it is best to plant them in low-nutrient soil. Several things work against wildflowers in fertile soil. If you choose to use fertile soil, you will need to police your garden regularly to ensure weeds do not take over your garden

How To Reduce Soil Fertility for Wildflowers

Most arguments centered around wildflowers and their preference for poor soil focus on the aggressiveness of weeds and grasses. Unless you are willing and have the time to keep weeding your garden, it is best to make the soil more suitable for wildlife and less attractive to weeds. 

You can make the soil less fertile and more suitable for wildflowers by doing the following:

  • Strip the topsoil layer (7cm – 15cm / 2.75 – 5.90 inches).
  • Sow mustard plants for at least a year before planting wildflowers. 
  • Plant potatoes to utilize most of the nutrients.
  • Add sand to neutralize the soil’s fertility. 

Improving soil fertility takes a short time while reducing fertility takes longer unless you take the radical route of stripping the topsoil. This may work for a small area, but if you intend to sow wildflowers in a meadow, you will need to reduce soil fertility over a long period. 

How To Prepare Your Garden for Wildflowers

Since wildflowers grow slowly and demand minimal care, there is a misconception that all you need to do is sow the seeds and let nature do the rest. However, you need to prepare your garden, just as you would when planting other flowers. 

Unlike your regular gardening routine, preparing the garden for wildflowers takes more time. 

  1. Choose the best spot for your wildflower garden. Most wildflower seed mixes recommend full sun, while some recommend zones where the flowers are native. When you get the garden spot right, your wildflower garden has a better chance of survival. 
  2. Set aside a small area. You can quickly expand your wildflower garden as the flowers adapt to the new environment. You will also better understand wildflowers when you grow your garden to add more flowers.
  3. Clear the site of grass, weeds, rocks, and plants. Fallen debris, like leaves, should also be removed since they enrich the soil and encourage weeds to grow. You may dig them out or cover the garden with a weed barrier.
  4. Dig and loosen the soil (about 2 inches/5.08cm). This will allow the roots of the wildflowers to spread and penetrate the soil easily.
  5. Water the garden deeply. You can even leave a puddle and then leave the garden untouched for a week. If there are any hidden weeds in the garden, they will grow during this period.
  6. Dig out the weeds before sowing the wildflower seed mix. If you have eliminated all the competition, the wildflowers will grow effortlessly. 
  7. Scatter, sprinkle, or gently rake the seeds into the ground. Since they are very light, it is best to sow the seeds when it is not windy. You can also combine wildflower seeds with sand at a ratio of 6:1.
  8. Press the ground gently with a hoe. You can also walk over your garden barefooted.
  9. Water your garden until the soil gets moist. Remember, the soil should be damp but not soaking wet. 

It takes about 14 – 21 days for wildflower seeds to start germinating. Unless it rains, keep watering the garden regularly.

This video provides tips on how to grow wildflowers to ensure they keep growing year after year: 

Native vs. Non-Native Wildflowers

Over time, native wildflowers have evolved with native pollinators, which identify them by their shapes, colors, and even scents. Pollinators have also shaped their existence and activities around periods when native wildflowers start to flower.

When choosing wildflowers to plant, you will have to choose between native and non-native wildflowers. There are reasons why you should opt for native wildflowers:

  • Native wildflowers have adapted to your area’s climatic conditions.
  • They will perform well in the soil in which they have evolved. 
  • Non-native wildflowers may introduce diseases that will affect native wildflowers.
  • Non-native flowers may be too competitive for native wildflowers. They may pose the same problem native flowers face with weeds and grasses in fertile soil. The non-native flowers may prove to be too competitive. They will take over the space, utilize the water, and even lure the pollinators from native flowers. 
  • Cross-breeding may occur between non-native and native wildflowers. The result may be modified adaptations, which may lead to the extinction of some native wildflower species. 
  • Non-native flowers may dominate the new environment. 

If you have opted to grow wildflowers, it is best to go for native species over non-native ones. Your environment should influence your choice of wildflowers. If you are planting wildflowers for the first time, you have a better chance of succeeding if you plant native wildflowers.

Planting a wildflower mix will give you an opportunity to determine the wildflowers that perform well in your region and, more specifically, your garden. You can get wildflower mixes at your garden store or online.


Wildflowers require little to no maintenance, and they have many benefits. Their blooms last a long time, and once established, wildflowers thrive. 

However, you need to choose wildflowers native to your region carefully. You also need to prepare your garden appropriately, including reducing soil fertility to safeguard against opportunistic weeds and grasses.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of TheGrowingLeaf.com, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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