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All about the superbloom — a guide for gardeners

Something incredible is happening in California and the American Southwest. And no, it has nothing to do with Hollywood or Silicon Valley. Instead, this year’s hottest phenomenon is a rare desert gift — superblooms.

Lucky for us, one of gardenstead’s writers, Rowenna, is a resident of California! She and a videographer took a trip to Carrizo Plain National Monument to film a short documentary piece about the superbloom, and to educate us all with her work. (This article is also written by Rowenna, who, it should be noted, has a degree in sustainability — so she knows her stuff.)

What is a superbloom?

Superblooms are a beautiful display of desert botanicals. Occasionally, sparse and somewhat random wet seasons interrupt dry spells. Dormant desert wildflower seeds rise with the rain for a spectacular display.

Deserts are famous for their dry climate. You could call it their signature. But every so many years, a wet season transforms them.

With the influx of water, deserts become lush meadows. Green grasses cover hillsides. Dry shrubs become thick brush.

But the stars of the show are the wildflowers. Wildflowers and green grasses paint the landscape a kaleidoscope of bright colors.

When and where will there be a superbloom in 2023?

Superblooms are unique to certain desert regions. California and the southwestern United States are superbloom hotspots.

In most years, desert climates are predictable. But occasionally, an unusual amount of rain will add an interesting twist to the desert biome’s steady seasons.

Wildflower blooms can begin popping up as early as February and go through the end of July. They don’t always last through so many months, but this year they’re expected to last through the summer.

When and where will there be a superbloom in 2023?

Superblooms are stunning and rare. They come around only every few years (and their interval can be up to ten years). Human activity is a threat to the survival of wildflower seeds, which puts superblooms at great risk.

Development has taken land away from ecosystems. In doing so, many patches of land where wildflower seeds should be resting have been lost.

Tourism and social media are also threats to wildflowers. More and more people are becoming aware of superblooms. And they’re flocking to see them. People seem to be motivated, at least in part, by the desire for the perfect selfie. Superblooms are reduced to an aesthetic backdrop — but at a great cost.

Visit the superblooms and the first thing you’ll likely see is people trampling down wildflowers. The next thing you’ll notice is what they’re doing: they’re taking pictures. And more than likely, of themselves.

When individuals stay on the trail for their photo op, where is the camera? Unless the trail is in the backdrop, whoever’s operating the camera most likely had to go into the flowers. Often what seems to be essential for a perfect composition and a great background is actually fatal for the flowers that should be the stars of the show.

The sad truth is, whenever wildflowers are stepped on, laid in, run across, or sat upon — they die. Wildflowers and their seeds are extremely delicate. Every seed lost is a flower that will never bloom.

What causes a superbloom?

Annual wildflower seeds can’t germinate during dry seasons. So, superblooms only happen after unusually wet seasons.

Annuals only live one year, which is why their seeds are so precious. Their seeds lay dormant in desert soil until the conditions are just right.

Soil erosion and nutrient leaching

The desert keeps wildflower seeds safe. In return, when the rains come, wildflowers flourish. Wildflowers, more abundant than shrubs and with deeper roots than grasses, become guardians of the desert.

Wet seasons are brutal for deserts. They’re not used to heavy rains. When wildflowers bloom, they give the soil a fighting chance against the onslaught of rain, because wildflower roots hold soil in place, literally. At the same time, their thirsty roots allow the soil to take in and hold more water than it could without them.

The biodiversity of wildflowers serves another purpose.

Biodiversity is when there are lots of different species in an ecosystem. The more biodiversity an ecosystem has, the more resilient it is.

Monocultures, on the other hand, are systems in which only one plant grows in the same spot. This singularity makes them bad for topsoil. When the same plant grows year after year, it strips the soil of certain nutrients.

Biodiverse wildflowers have a precious give-and-take relationship with the soil. Different species fix the soil with certain nutrients while taking others. The sudden influx of wildflower abundance brought by a superbloom restores and preserves soil.

Why superblooms are important to people

When a species moderates nature’s temperament, it’s called an ecosystem service. Humans also rely on the ecosystem services that nature and wildlife provide.

Wildflowers and other native plants prevent mudslides and flooding by anchoring soil in place with their roots and protective foliage. Even if you don’t live in an area with the threats associated with heavy rainfall, do you enjoy fresh produce or gardening? If you do, wildflowers are doing you a favor, too.

Any plant that makes fruit or flowers can’t do so without the hard work of pollinators. Pollinators — think bees and butterflies — have special relationships with wildflowers.

Wildflowers are sources of food and shelter for many insects, birds, and small animals. Some pollinators can only reproduce on or eat specific wildflowers.

Superblooms are also simply stunning. They’re a gift that keeps on giving, and they ask for so little in return.

How to prevent damage to plants

The work wildflowers do makes them irreplaceable. Protecting them is an investment in the future. Without these champions of soil, the risk to humans and infrastructure is severe, and ultimately — expensive. As weather patterns become increasingly erratic, wildflowers and native plants are more important than ever before for the work they do.

When you understand that flowers are here to work, it’s not difficult to grasp their value.

Out on the trails, it’s easy to protect wildflowers. What it comes down to is simple — don’t kill them. Stay on marked trails, don’t walk, sit or run on the flowers. Whatever you bring in needs to leave with you. And yeah, that includes Fido’s poop, too (for all the dog parents out there).

And at-home gardeners, you can protect wildflowers, too. The chemicals used in your yards and gardens don’t stay in your space. Artificial fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides always seep out into regional water bodies. Usually, they’re carried away by rains. Over time, they will even make their way to protected lands and habitats such as conservation areas and local and national parks.

Superblooms are boosts to the regional ecosystem. They’re a defense against extreme weather events. They’re also a precious form of recreation – even mental health therapy, given nature’s broad-ranging benefits.

Join the efforts to protect them by spreading awareness. If you know anyone planning a trip to the superblooms, share this message with them! It’s as easy as copy & paste.

Bring the magic of the superbloom into your backyard
Wildflowers are important sources of food for pollinators in every region. You can help restore nature and bring biodiverse balance to your yard by sowing seeds that will produce these vital flowers, with’s All-in-One Wildflower & Pollinator Scatter Garden Variety Pack.

The pack includes ten of their most popular seed mixtures, which are ideal for creating an array of colourful blooms to attract beneficial pollinators.

yellow petaled flower by elias sorey unsplash

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