My garden sings its own song. It starts after the dawn chorus with the honeybees, followed by the heavier buzz of the bumbles, punctuated by the hoverflies’ higher pitch. You can even sometimes hear the rustle and creak of beetles as evening comes. To lie among it, eyes closed, is to hear something exquisite.
My garden sings this song because it is allowed to. I have long been a proponent of neglecting lawns to nurture nature, as Margaret Renkl recently made the case for in the New York Times – and there isn’t a manicured strip of green that doesn’t ache to do the same.
Most lawns have been silenced by the regime of a lawnmower, leaving just a few species of grass. They are biodiversity deserts, barren of beetle and bee, contributing to a vanishing insect population – and worse still, we pursue this. There are aisles in garden centres promising ever-greener sward, with no moss and weeds. Let there be no misunderstanding: these are chemicals that silence the soil.
There is another way. Your lawn is already a wildflower meadow – every inch of soil is waiting for its moment to burst forth. Those weeds are some of the best insect food, growing despite the weather, endlessly repeat blooming, rich in nectar and pollen. A seed bank is already there – it might even contain orchids. Oh, and perhaps plenty of moss, essential stuff for nests and nature of all sorts.
The simplest route to this is not to abandon your lawn and mower but to learn how to move the mower’s blades up, so the cut is higher than 10cm. Hold out for your first cut until the end of June, then leave a month between each cut until autumn. If you need a route to the washing line or shed, mow just a path. The wildflowers will adapt and bloom under your blades, the bees will dance and the birds will sing in praise of it all.
- From Lawn to Easy-Care Wildflowers — 5 Steps to Success
- Five Steps to Successful Wildflower Planting
- Converting a boring lawn into a wildflower meadow part 2
- Three ways to create a mini-meadow
- Go wild in the garden and make a meadow
- Convert your lawn into a meadow!
- From Lawn to Meadow
- Wildlife Habitat
- Reduced Oil Dependence and Associated Pollution
- Visual Appeal
- Creation and Maintenance
- Areas to Convert
- Concerns and Barriers
- Additional Resources
- Meadow Lawn Alternative: Learn About Planting A Meadow Lawn
- Turning Lawns into Meadows
- Start a wildflower meadow
- Are you sure your meadow is a meadow?
- When a meadow isn’t a meadow…
- A floral display for years to come…
- A note on ‘Pictoral Meadows’…
- Types of meadow & how they are managed
- How to turn your yard into a successful meadow
- How to create a wild flower area in a garden or field
From Lawn to Easy-Care Wildflowers — 5 Steps to Success
Five Steps to Successful Wildflower Planting
Selecting the planting site Most wildflowers like full sun and well-drained soil. Avoid areas where water puddles after a rain. If you’re converting some of your lawn to wildflowers, consider the areas that are difficult to mow, such as hillsides.
Choosing a seed mix Go with a regional wildflower mix or a mix targeted to your particular growing conditions and needs. “Based on our decades of experience with gardeners across the country, we’ve developed sixteen regional wildflower seed mixes; we also have specialty mixes, like our Deer-Resistant Mix and our Butterfly and Hummingbird Mix,” says Lizotte.
Preparing the planting area Whether you’re planting five acres or five square feet, the better you prepare the area, the better your results will be. Start by removing existing vegetation. If the area is in lawn, strip the sod by hand or with a rented machine. Or, you can apply an herbicide to kill grass and other plants. It’s important to remove or kill plants that would otherwise compete with the germinating wildflower seeds for light, water and nutrients. Once you’ve taken care of the vegetation, loosen the top few inches of soil with a tiller or by hand to create an inviting place for wildflower seeds to germinate. Then rake the area flat in preparation for sowing.
Sowing the seed Choose a windless day, and start by dividing the seed in half. Put the first half in a clean container and then add in about ten parts builder’s sand to one part seed. This makes it easier to spread the seed evenly, and because the sand is lighter in color than the soil it helps you see where you’ve sown. Scatter the first half of the seed by the handful or use a hand-crank seeder for large areas. Walk back and forth in roughly parallel rows, doing your best to portion this half of the seed evenly over the whole planting area. Then mix the other half of the seed with sand and sow the same way, over the whole area, in rows perpendicular to the first sowing. This helps avoid bare spots.
Many types of wildflower seed require light to germinate, so don’t rake over the area or bury the seed. Instead, simply compress the seed onto the soil surface; this seed-to-soil contact helps germination. If your planting is small, simply walk back and forth over the whole area, being careful to leave the area solid with footprints. For large areas, consider renting a lawn roller (a large drum you fill with water and roll back and forth). If rain isn’t in the forecast, water the area to help settle the soil, using a gentle shower to avoid washing away the seed.
Early care While certain wildflower species germinate in as little as eight days, others may take much longer. Keep the planting area moist until the seedlings get established, which usually takes four to six weeks. After that, the plants shouldn’t need watering unless you experience a prolonged drought.
Now sit back and wait. You’ll soon have a colorful meadow with plenty of blooms for bouquets — and you can’t do that with lawn grass!
About American Meadows
One of the first gardening companies to realize the potential the Internet, American Meadows has been selling online since 1999 and has become one of the most trusted and respected online retailers of garden-related products. American Meadows carries more than 1000 different products, including wildflower seeds, perennial plants, and bulbs, along with a wealth of gardening how-to information.
If you are interested in additional information, please email Mike Lizotte at [email protected] or call him toll-free at (877) 309-7333 ext. 12
Converting a boring lawn into a wildflower meadow part 2
Turning a boring lawn into a wildflower meadow part 2
My sentiments exactly!!
Here is a film of a lawn which was left a short period after I persuaded the owner to leave it uncut after seeing what flowers were there but never allowed to reach their full potential. It turned out to be the best bumblebee lawn I have seen.
Just a few short months later and I had this vibrant, alive and literally buzzing wildflower meadow.
What is there not too like? I cut it once a year, rake off the hay and either compost it or use it for other ecological reasons.
Remove the lawn grasses
Admittedly the original turf removal et al was a job I could not do myself nowadays. I have made several wildflower lawns/patches over the years, from simply planting annual cornfield seeds, to using organic methods to kill lawn grasses and sowing wildflower seeds, planting direct plugs, wildflower seeded mulch mats and also larger pot plants into lawns. To be honest they don’t work as well as I had hoped as the lawn grasses soon take over again. This time every blade of the lawn grass, ryegrass I presume and the rich topsoil was removed. It was replaced with several inches of subsoil. This encourages the wildflowers to grow and as there is no ryegrass in the grass mixture, a better ecological balance between wild grasses and wildflowers can be achieved.
See lawn to wildflower meadow part 1 film
The turf arrives cut and rolled as long pieces of living wildflowers and grasses on soil ‘turf’, freshly cut, carefully rolled and delivered. It is then rolled out over the subsoil. As there were no wildflower seeds there were no birds digging up and eating the seeds. Nor did I have to wait for ages as the seeds to germinate and then grow, a very hit and miss method I have found. Very weather dependent, many seedlings die and birds/mice eat the seeds. No, I went the whole hog here! A blend of 42 different wild grass and wildflowers.
I used the services of Wildflower Turf who have a team of accredited wildflower turf installers based around the country
Three ways to create a mini-meadow
A wildflower meadow is a beautiful addition to your garden and needn’t take up a lot of space. An annual meadow will give you a one-off display in summer, while a perennial meadow will provide colour from year to year. You can create the meadow look in your garden by three main methods.
Use wildflower turf
If the area you want to cover is small, a pre-grown wildflower mat is a good option. Pre-grown wildlflower mats are essentially wildflower turf, which is grown with a mat backing, to make it easier to lift, move and lay.
Making a meadow this way can be done at almost any time of year, although it’s trickier and more expensive to lift, ship and lay a meadow that’s in flower, so spring and autumn are the best times.
A mat of wildflower turf
Use plug plants
Wildflower plug plants can be popped straight into an existing lawn. It helps if the lawn is quite poor in the first place, with plenty of ‘weeds’ such as speedwell, clover, self-heal, plantain and bird’s-foot trefoil. These will become part of your new meadow.
A lawn full of ‘weeds’, indicates that the soil beneath isn’t too rich, which will suit the wildflowers and grasses well.
You can plant wildflower plugs at almost any time of year, as long as the plugs are available and the ground is neither waterlogged, bone dry or frozen solid. If you want to turn a small front lawn into a meadow, or want to add wildflowers to an area of bulbs naturalised in grass, plugs are perfect. They’re usually sold in multipacks.
Planting a wildflower plug into a lawn
Grow from seed
Creating a meadow from seed is the most cost-effective method and is equally suited to annual and perennial meadows. To prepare the soil for sowing, simply fork it over and rake to a fine tilth.
However, in a reversal of normal gardening process, you should not improve or feed it with compost. You don’t want a rich soil, as this encourages coarse grasses and broad-leaf weeds that can overwhelm the more desirable perennial wildflowers. Annual wildflowers always remain more compact and flower more freely on unimproved soils.
Tipping wildflower seeds from a pack into a hand
Kate Bradbury says
Sow yellow rattle among the flowers. This is a hemiparasite of grass, and will suppress its growth, allowing the wildflowers to thrive.
Go wild in the garden and make a meadow
Ask a group of gardeners what picture is conjured up in their mind’s eye when you say the word “meadow” and their answers will be surprisingly diverse. For some, it is the seductive image of a traditional native wildflower meadow in all its subtle, understated beauty; a place filled with the gentle charms of wild grasses, tiny orchids, yellow rattle, pignut, lousewort, bird’s-foot trefoil, ribwort and meadow vetchling. For others, it is a modern, embellished version of the former, its beauty underscored with the addition of meadow-style, non-native flowering perennials and bulbs such as astrantia, aquilegia, snake’s head fritillaries, narcissus, and starry-blue camassias that help to extend the seasons of interest.
Some gardeners prefer something with much more obvious drama and high-octane colour in terms of its vibrancy and decorative impact. In this case, the meadow’s significance as an expression of native beauty is not that important. Instead it’s more about creating and nurturing a self-sustaining community of decorative plants that will thrive in the growing conditions provided. These are what are often known as pictorial meadows, a term first used to describe the work of well-known UK ecologists and meadow designers James Hitchmough and Nigel Dunnett. Some of these highly decorative pictorial meadows are perennial, meaning that the plants that grow in it will survive for many years, while others (the annual kinds) are far more short-lived, blooming brilliantly over the course of just one year.
Wild orchids and other wild flowers in bloom in Kilmacurragh’s traditional wild-flower meadows. Photograph: Richard Johnston
Both traditional and pictorial meadows can be grown from seed sown at this time of year (the only exception being those pictorial meadow seed mixes containing half-hardy annual species, which should only be sown in mid to late spring). You don’t need a huge space; in fact I’ve seen mini-meadows growing in postage stamp-sized gardens. But whatever sort of meadow mix you decide to sow, I can’t stress enough the importance of proper soil preparation, not only in terms of creating the best conditions for germination but also in terms of minimizing problems with weeds. Some gardeners get around the weed problem by repeatedly spraying the ground prior to sowing with a weed-killer such as RoundUp, an environmentally unfriendly approach that I don’t advocate. Others kill off any existing unwanted growth before sowing by using a mulch such as plastic sheeting to cover the ground, a method which will slowly but surely starve even annoying perennial weeds of light and water. But it needs time (a minimum of three months) to be effective. It’s also important to remember that even after killing off existing weed growth, all normal garden soils contain a “bank” of dormant weed seeds that will germinate if given the right conditions. For this reason, it’s an excellent idea before sowing your meadow to create what’s called a stale-seed bed by allowing weed seeds hidden in the soil to germinate before hoeing them away, a process that’s most effective if repeated several times. It’s also possible to suppress fresh weed germination (but not kill off existing weeds) on freshly cleared and cultivated ground by covering it with a 10cm-thick layer of coarse horticultural grit, on top of which you can then sow your meadow seed.
Although costly when/if used on large areas, this weed-suppressing mulch of horticultural grit offers another advantage when it comes to sowing meadow seed, which is that it can help to create a low-fertility growing medium. This is preferable for many meadow-style plants that in soils of normal or high fertility would be quickly smothered by more coarse, thuggish species. It’s just one method of artificially reducing soil fertility to help with good meadow establishment. Another – a costly, laborious, time-consuming one – is to remove the upper, most fertile layer of top soil (typically 15-20cm) off-site before sowing on to the less fertile sub-soil.
The wild-flower meadows at Kilmacurragh Botanic Gardens, in Co Wicklow. Photograph: Richard Johnston
Pictorial meadows aside, if your aim is to turn an area of coarse grass or unloved, labour-intensice lawn into a traditional wildflower meadow, then yet another way (very effective and much less laborious) is to sow seed of yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor), a native wildflower that’s key to the establishment of many successful traditional meadow projects. This small, hardy, hemi-parasitic annual is often found growing in old meadows and grassy stretches and has a very special trick up its sleeve, which is its ability to steal nutrients away from the competing root systems of vigorous wild grasses such as Yorkshire Fog, a coarse perennial that will often dominate a meadow at the expense of more delicate species. After it dies back every autumn, yellow rattle leaves behind bare patches of soil which provide these daintier, less vigorous meadow species with the space and opportunity they need to get established. Once established, yellow rattle also continues to set ripe seed every autumn, which germinates in spring once exposed to a period of cold weather (a strategy common to many meadow species). Over time, this inconspicuous little wildflower can have a transformative effect on a wildflower meadow’s plant diversity, as proven by head gardener Seamus O’ Brien’s skillful management of the beautiful wildflower meadows of Kilmacurragh Gardens in County Wicklow. Another example is the species-rich meadows of the famous gardens of Great Dixter in the UK.
Again, now is an excellent time to sow it. For the best chance of establishing communities of yellow rattle in existing lawns, meadows or areas of coarse grass, cut the existing vegetation to the ground and remove it before using a garden spade (or the tip of your boot) to expose little shallow pockets of bare soil, then scatter the yellow rattle seed directly onto it. From an ecological point of view, your yellow rattle seed should ideally have been sourced fresh and as locally as possible. But this isn’t always a realistic option, in which case it’s possible to buy it from online Irish suppliers such as wildflowers.ie and seedaholic.com. Wildflowers.ie also supplies a range of traditional wildflower meadow seed mixes whilst pictorial meadow mixes can be sourced from pictorialmeadows.co.uk. For more detailed advice on establishing a traditional wildflower meadow, get your hands on a copy of Meadows at Great Dixter and Beyond by Christopher Lloyd and Fergus Garrett (revised and updated issue published by Pimpernel Press).
This Week in the Garden
Irish-grown tomatoes. Photograph: Richard Johnston
Keep an eye out for self-sown seedlings of garden plants, which can often be found in the border, in paths or even in paving cracks at this time of year. These can be gently lifted using a garden trowel or daisy grubber and then either transplanted into another position in the garden or allotment, or potted on to give as gifts or plant out later in the year/next spring. Always lift self-sown seedlings in the cool of the evening to avoid heat stress. Use a garden trowel to minimise damage to their fragile root systems and gently water them immediately after transplanting or potting on to help their roots to re-establish as quickly as possible.
This year’s Totally Terrific Tomato Festival in the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin established a new world record for the largest number of varieties of tomato (256) to be exhibited together under the one roof , proving that Ireland is truly a nation of tomatophiles. If you’re thinking about submitting an entry for next year’s event, remember that September is an excellent time to home-save seed of tomatoes. As long as it’s a variety that’s open-pollinated and not a modern hybrid (F1 after the varietal name means that it’s the latter), it will come true to type. To save the seed, gently squeeze the squishy inner pulp of the ripe fruit into a bowl, add a splash of water and then leave it somewhere warm indoors for a few days to ferment. This helps to remove the seed’s slippy, gelatinous coating. Then top up with fresh water and stir before carefully discarding the water along with any floating seeds. What’s left are the viable seeds, which will have sunk to the bottom. Rinse these carefully before spreading them out on on a piece of kitchen paper (you can write the name of the variety on the same tissue paper) in a warm, well-ventilated room out of direct sunlight to dry. The seeds will stick to the tissue paper but don’t worry; it’s actually a great way to stop them from getting lost and won’t impede their germination next spring. Store somewhere cool and dry.
Try not to leave vegetable beds empty over the coming months, as it means that the soil is vulnerable and exposed to compaction and loss of nutrients while it will also become colonised with fresh weed growth. One option is to sow a crop of green manure, which will suppress weed germination and also help to replace lost nutrients and revitalise beneficial soil micro-organisms . Suitable varieties to sow at this time of year include field beans, clover, phacelia, buckwheat and winter vetch/ tares, seed of which is available to order from Sligo-based online supplier Quickcrop, (quickcrop.ie). Another solution is to mulch the ground with manure, fresh seaweed or homemade garden compost and then cover it with a layer of strong black plastic sheeting with the edges trenched into the soil to prevent it being lifted by a winter gale. Peel it away next spring and it will have rotted down, leaving behind a beautifully weed-free, fertile, crumbly tilth.
Dates for Your Diary
Tuesday 25th September (8pm), Foxrock Parish Pastoral Centre,18 Kill Lane, Dublin 18, ‘Small Bulbs for a Small Garden’ a talk by Richard Hobbs of UK’s Witton Seeds on behalf of the Foxrock & District Garden Club, see foxrockgardenclub.com for details
Saturday 29th September (2pm), Woodville Walled Garden, Kilchreest, County Galway, ‘Harvest Festival’, an illustrated talk by organic gardener and author Klaus Laitenberger on his recent travels to South America and the vegetable crops suitable for cultivation in Irish gardens that he found growing there, admission is €12 including refreshments, booking essential, contact Margarita (087-9069191 or Marie (087-2711970).
Convert your lawn into a meadow!
Posted on September 3, 2014 by dcbcomputing
We have another guest blog this week, from Bumblebee Conservation Trust supporter Eric Homer. Read on to find out what he did and see his results…
My wife and I are keen on helping wildlife and enjoy encouraging wildlife into our garden. We get a lot of pleasure seeing the birds, bees, butterflies, frogs, newts and insects in the garden, so last year we decided that we’d like to make the garden more bee friendly by converting the back garden lawn into a wildflower meadow, hopefully attracting more wildlife into the garden and helping the bees and other species. Our suburban garden is not large and the lawn only covered a small area, approximately 20m2. We wondered if a small area like this would have any effect, but we were not disappointed.
I had a look on the internet for guidance and there were different opinions and ways of going about the conversion. Not sure how to approach the project I sought guidance and advice from the BBCT on the best/easiest way to convert the lawn into a wildflower meadow. Anthony McCluskey from BBCT responded to my enquiry with good advice and guidance.
The most important thing to do when planting a wildflower meadow is to remove as much grass as you can from the area. Some people use herbicide or dig it up, or you can cover it with plastic sheeting for as long as possible. This will destroy any grass underneath, and give you a blank canvas to work from. This is important because grasses will compete with wildflowers, and are the main reason why wildflower areas don’t work.
After that, the seeds can be sown. Do this in autumn or spring, after raking the soil so that it’s fine. You should then cover gently (e.g. by raking again) and water well. You’ll need to keep watering them to make sure they germinate, and after the seedlings come up they should be fine. He provided me with this link to Habitataid where I found more information and links to other resources including seed suppliers, sowing rates etc. which was very useful. This site also has a video to explore the different ways it can be done.
We took the plunge in September 2013. We were only converting a small area so we decided to dig up the turf, still a major job and hard work, and then prepared the ground. We then sowed our seedbed. Preparing the ground and sowing in the autumn can help some wildflowers as some of the seeds fair better if they can germinate over the winter. We thought that this would hopefully give us quicker results.
As it was a small area we decided to go for wildflowers only rather than a wildflower/grass mixture. We used seed sent to us by the BBCT when we joined, some we’d collected ourselves on our walks and bought some from one of the suppliers recommended by habitat aid. I don’t think it stopped raining since we sowed so watering wasn’t an issue.
October was relatively mild and wet and we had shoots coming up in November which we hoped were wildflowers and not rogue grasses. Anthony’s advice was that at this stage the most important thing to do is to make sure that there is no disturbance of the seedlings (just in case you have dogs or cats that like to dig!). Over the winter we seemed to have nothing but rain and the newly seeded meadow was flooded on several occasions giving us concern over germination.
In early spring we decided to plant some plant plugs to add some species not contained in the seed packs that we’d sown. We bought some wildflower plants from the garden centre, split them and distributed them over the meadow. We also added some wildflower plants that were in a friend’s garden.
Slowly but surely the meadow started to develop, they say patience is a virtue. It took eight months from sowing to seeing significant results but the wait was worth it. The photographs to the right below show the early progress.
The meadow, although in the infancy of its first season, has attracted greater numbers and varieties of hoverflies, moths and butterflies. The goldfinches and sparrows have also taken a liking to the cornflowers. The numbers of bees in the garden has also increased dramatically. They seem particularly attracted to the cornflowers, scabious and bird’s foot trefoil.
Two hoverflies that we have not seen in the garden before that were easier to identify are the Large pied or Pellucid Hoverfly (Volucella pellucens) and a hornet mimic hoverfly Volucella zonaria. Butterflies new to the garden are the Common Blue, Meadow Brown, Ringlet and Small Skipper, all seen on the meadow. We’ve also had our first 6 spotted Burnet moth in the meadow.
We are very pleased with the results so far, we are enjoying the experience immensely and excited to see what else might spring up next year or be attracted into the garden.
From Lawn to Meadow
Meadows improve water quality by intercepting pollutants that are not absorbed by turf. A buffer of native vegetation along a stream can keep more pollutants and sediment out of the water than turf in the same area. When treated with fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, turf lawns can themselves be a source of these pollutants.
To stay green in warm, dry climates, turf lawns consume massive amounts of water. The EPA estimates that landscape irrigation accounts for a third of all residential water use nationwide, totaling nearly 9 billion gallons per day. As much as 50% of this water is wasted due to evaporation or runoff from inefficient watering methods. Commercial areas and municipal spaces also require billions of gallons to meet their irrigation needs.
The native species that comprise meadows, on the other hand, are adapted to the climate and can thrive without irrigation. When meadows replace lawns, especially in drought-prone areas, communities can save clean water for essential uses like drinking.
Wildlife species benefit when an area is converted from mowed grass to meadow. It’s really quite simple: when grasses are mowed less often, vegetation diversity increases. As the number and types of plant species increase, the meadow attracts different insects and other invertebrates, which in turn draw insectivores—and so on up the food chain.
Very few bird species, save the American robin, are attracted to lawns. Meadows, however, attract a diversity of avian species such as the redwing blackbird, American goldfinch, and eastern bluebird. They can attract several species of grassland birds like the eastern meadowlark and grasshopper sparrow whose numbers have declined over the last century due to changes in agricultural technology and loss of land to development; while small meadows (less than 25 acres) do not provide sufficient breeding habitat for these threatened species, they do provide important resting and feeding areas along their migratory pathways.
Allowing grasses to grow to maturity along waterways has the added benefit of discouraging Canada geese, whose droppings can make areas unpleasant and contribute to high bacteria levels in the water. Geese prefer flat, open, mowed grass areas and tend to avoid dense, high grasses. More buffers and meadow areas can help municipalities reduce the number of geese in public parks and recreation areas, improving the experience of visitors.
Another benefit of allowing turf to succeed to meadow is the increase in pollinator species to the area.
Pollination is critical to fruit and seed production, and is often provided by insects on the hunt for nectar, pollen, or other floral rewards. Currently, habitat loss and pesticide use threaten these bees, butterflies, and other beneficial pollinators. This is especially troubling given that pollinators are essential to the production of 75% of the staple crop plants that feed humans and for 90% of all flowering plants in the world.
Beneficial pollinators have very basic habitat requirements: flowers to forage, host plants on which to lay their eggs, and an environment free of pesticides. Wildflower meadows, grasslands, and other areas rich in native plants offer these essentials. Not only do lawns lack these essentials—the fertilizers and pesticides commonly used to maintain them can harm pollinators and other wildlife.
Reduced Oil Dependence and Associated Pollution
Americans use 800 million gallons of gasoline each year to power lawnmowers and other lawn care equipment, and, according to the EPA, spill 17 million gallons in the process—more oil than was spilled by the Exxon Valdez. These machines are responsible for as much as 5% of the air pollution in the United States; a single gas-powered lawnmower emits nearly 100 pounds of carbon dioxide each year, along with hydrocarbons and particulate matter. This pollution takes a toll on the health of communities (especially for children and other vulnerable populations), and contributes to global warming.
Unlike turf, which must be mowed regularly, meadows only require mowing once or twice a year. Fewer turf lawns means less oil is extracted from the ground, less gasoline ends up in waterways, and less pollutants contaminate the air.
While turf is necessary for some public areas and event spaces, it is worth considering the cost of turf management to municipalities and taxpayers. Besides the large up-front price tag of lawnmowers and other machines, turf requires continual mowing and maintenance; over time, the costs of labor and gasoline add up. However, meadows require very little maintenance. Converting a portion of a park’s turf areas to meadow can offer substantial cost savings to a municipality.
This holds true for individuals as well. Lawn care is a $30 billion-a-year industry in the United States, and the average American spends 70 hours a year working on their lawn. By converting some or all of their lawn into meadow, a person can save time and money.
In addition to the immediate, tangible financial benefits, meadows offer a host of ecosystem services.Though harder to accurately quantify, these services—such as absorbing stormwater, and contributing less pollution to the air—have an economic impact. Floods can result in thousands of dollars-worth of property damage; dirty air can keep people home from work and school. And when ecosystem services do not occur naturally, humans must develop alternative, engineered systems that are often costlier and less efficient than nature.
While close-cropped turf has a certain visual appeal, meadows offer much more sensory experience. On a breezy July day, a meadow is a beautiful scene, abuzz with activity. There is so much to observe: birds searching for meals, bees flying from flower to flower, the iridescence of butterflies, the steady chatter of crickets. Many meadow wildflowers persist into fall and attract songbirds who feast on drying seed heads. Even in winter, the dried stalks of meadow grasses and perennial flowers are striking.
Creation and Maintenance
The easiest way to convert a portion of turf to meadow and keep it as meadow is to mow once or twice a year, allowing the turf grass to mature and other species to grow. This mowing is necessary; otherwise, shrubs and trees, including non-native species, will colonize the area.
If your budget allows, you can augment the process by seeding native warm-season grasses and wildflowers to give the meadow more color, diversity, and visual interest. If not, over time nature will diversify the species on its own.
Areas to Convert
The most practical areas to convert to meadow are often those where simply allowing native species to flourish is easier and/or cheaper than maintaining a conventional lawn. Examples include steep slopes that are difficult to mow and swampy areas not conducive to growing turf.
Conversion is also a good strategy for areas of ecological concern. Along water corridors, meadows reduce the pollution entering waterways and absorb floodwater during storms. In places with rare or threatened wildlife, meadows can provide crucial habitat. (See “Benefits” section for more information.)
When converting areas in parks and other public spaces, municipalities face the challenge of not impeding visitors; therefore, conversion usually occurs in places that are unused or less suited for recreation.
Concerns and Barriers
When vegetation is intentionally allowed to grow beyond the height of a conventional lawn, it might be perceived as untidy or neglected. Some communities specifically prohibit this practice and regulate what residents can and cannot grow in their yards. Homeowners in these areas can seek to change the problematic municipal ordinance or homeowners’ association rules; alternatively, they can explore other landscaping alternatives like low-growing groundcovers. See the “Additional Resources” section for information about pursuing these pathways.
Maintaining a swath of mowed turf around the edge of a meadow or posting an explanatory sign can visually communicate that the area is intentional, well-managed, and desirable.
For those managing larger meadow areas, development of trails alongside or through the meadows can demonstrate that the area is well-maintained. Trails have the added benefit of encouraging people to see a meadow’s beauty up close and potentially learn about its other benefits.
Ticks often carry Lyme disease and other diseases. Unfortunately, the very conditions that make meadows great habitat for wildlife also attract these tiny pests. Those considering converting lawn to meadow should consider how to minimize the potential for human contact with them.
Ticks like moist, shady habitat; they don’t like dry, sunny areas. Maintaining wide, well-mowed edges between meadows (and wooded areas, which also provide good tick habitat) and where people walk and play can minimize the potential for contact. So too can edging meadows with wood chips, which ticks don’t like to cross. These and other strategies are explored at various websites such as http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/wellbeing/natural-tick-repellants-protect-your-yard.
The Pennsylvania Landscape and Nursery Association article “Alternatives to Lawns” contains information for individuals interested in converting their yards.
Penn State Extension offers the guide Meadows and Prairies: Wildlife-Friendly Alternatives to Lawn, which provides more in-depth information about the conversion process that can be useful for individuals or institutions.
The Pennsylvania Environmental Council offers the factsheet “How to Create a Meadow in Southeastern Pennsylvania,” which gives tips specific to that region.
The Missouri Prairie Foundation offers a model municipal ordinance encouraging the use of native plants as an alternative in urban landscape design.
Soil is compacted by the heavy equipment used in construction. In public spaces, foot traffic and other forms of human use also contribute to compaction.
Ecosystem goods and services are the benefits that productive natural ecosystems provide for human society. Goods are the material resources like timber, food, and oil; services are the actual life-support functions like absorbing stormwater, sequestering carbon, and pollinating plants.
Examples: perennial grasses, flowers, and sedges that spread and thicken to cover an area without growing tall. They require little maintenance and can crowd out weeds. Some species are tough enough to handle repeated foot traffic.
Meadow Lawn Alternative: Learn About Planting A Meadow Lawn
A meadow lawn alternative is an option for homeowners who are tired of the labor involved in maintaining a traditional lawn, or for those who are concerned about the considerable environmental impact of watering, fertilizing and weed control. Planting a meadow lawn is a lot of hard work initially, but once established, it requires very little upkeep. Turning lawns into meadows provides shelter for wildlife, attracts butterflies and native bees, preserves native plants and nourishes the soil.
Turning Lawns into Meadows
Careful planning before you plant your meadow garden will prevent a multitude of headaches later on when it comes to meadow lawn care. You may want to start with a small meadow, especially if you want to retain a grassy area for picnics or for children to play. Native meadow plants require plenty of light and air, so be sure you have an open, sunny area.
Research the laws and landscape ordinances in your area to ensure a meadow lawn is acceptable, then tell your neighbors your plans before you begin. Explain the many benefits of planting a meadow lawn. Although meadow lawn turf offers countless advantages over a traditional lawn, it doesn’t have the green, manicured appearance that most people are accustomed to.
You also need to decide if you want a meadow filled with annual wildflowers or perennial wildflowers and grasses. Annuals add color and beauty immediately but require replanting every year. A perennial meadow takes about three years for the long roots to fully establish but the plants need water only for the first season and rarely require replanting.
Choose only native plants that are suitable for your climate. A local greenhouse or nursery that specializes in native plants can help you choose suitable plants. Beware of inexpensive seed mixes that may include non-native plants that can take over your meadow and spread to neighboring lawns and fields. Plugs or starter plants work well for a small area, but seeds may be the best way to go if you’re planting a large meadow.
A specialty garden center or the Cooperative Extension Service office in your area can help you determine the best way to remove existing vegetation and prepare the ground for planting. They can also advise you how to plant and maintain your meadow.
Start a wildflower meadow
- What is a wildflower meadow? It’s an area of permanent grass where wildflowers grow – not a bed of cornfield annuals like poppies nor the gold-themed flowers which were planted around the Olympic park.
The reason it’s important to make the distinction is that a bed of poppies grows on fertile soil. Wildflower meadows grow better on unproductive soil, where vigorous grasses don’t out-compete the flowers. The best time to create and sow your meadow is in autumn.
- Choose a suitable area. You might want to turn some of your lawn, or an old flower border into your new wildflower meadow.
It needs to somewhere open and sunny, but can be flat or sloping. A relatively large area is best, where you have space for growing a range of wildflowers.
- Reducing the fertility. Your soil is likely to be too rich for a meadow if it’s had plenty of fertiliser added over the years. The best way to reduce the fertility is to remove the top three to six inches of topsoil, using a turf cutter, or a spade and muscle-power!
If you don’t want to strip the soil, you can reduce some of the fertility by sowing a crop of mustard plants in the first year. Part of the brassica family, they’re notoriously hungry plants and will remove some of the nutrients from the soil as they grow.
- Dig the soil and get rid of any weeds. Time for more backbreaking effort! You want to create a fine tilth (soil which looks like breadcrumbs) for seed sowing, as you would with a lawn.
Once you have bare soil, lay black plastic over it so that any weed seeds already in the soil germinate and die. Some people resort to chemicals at this stage if they are beset with nettles or docks.
- Choose your wildflower seed mix. Good mixes include:
- birds-foot trefoil (important for common blue butterfly caterpillars)
- common sorrel (important for small copper butterfly caterpillars)
- field scabious
- hoary plantain
- greater and common knapweed
- lady’s bedstraw
- meadow buttercup
- ox-eye daisy
- red clover
- ribwort plantain
- wild carrot
- plus a range of wild grasses, such as bents, fescues and crested dogstail (not lawn grasses).
And the magic ingredient is yellow rattle, an annual flower that has a special ability to reduce the vigour of the grasses.
- At last, sowing! This is the fun bit and is best done in autumn. You need about five grams of seed per square metre of meadow. Because the sowing is so thin it’s best to mix the seed with dry silver sand (the type used for block paving). Do not use builders’ sand as it is not fine enough and is usually too damp. Pale-coloured sand helps you see areas that you’ve already sown and whether you’ve missed anywhere. The correct ratio is usually three-five parts sand to one of seed.
Just scatter the seed as you walk across the ground. To try and get an even coverage, split your seeds into batches and sow one batch walking in one direction and another batch walking at 90 degrees.
There’s no need to rake the seed in or cover it with soil, but gently walk across it so that the seeds are in contact with the soil. You may need to net it from birds.
Keep it well watered until it has established.
- Aftercare. In the first growing season, cut the growth in midsummer and remove all the dead, spent material (known as the arisings).
In subsequent seasons, the main method for managing a meadow is to not mow from early April to late July, August or even early September. It’s best to vary the time you cut each year or some plants may begin to dominate others. If you’re cutting early (eg July), leave an uncut refuge for grasshoppers as their nymphs are most vulnerable then.
Cut the hay in dry weather – it will probably be too high for a mower, so use grass shears or you might even want to do it the old way with a scythe. Leave it lying on the ground for up to a week for the seeds to drop, and then clear it all away for compost.
Give the meadow a couple more mows during the autumn and maybe once in early spring if it needs it. You may need to do some ‘spot’ weeding, to remove things like nettles, dock and thistles.
If you give it a go, we’d love to see your results and hear your stories.
- Your meadow will evolve year by year, with some species coming through strongly to start with and then others taking over. You should see bees and butterflies start to use your meadow and, if you’re really lucky, grasshoppers. Birds should feed there and bats may fly over the top. Yes, it can become one of the most life-filled parts of your garden. Recent studies in London parks have indicated substantial invertebrate benefits within two years of meadow creation.
Are you sure your meadow is a meadow?
Perhaps the most frequent enquiry we get at Plantlife is, “How do I grow a wildflower meadow?” This is almost always immediately followed by, “I tried it once and it looked fantastic in the first year, but then it looked rubbish”.
What could be more disappointing and dispiriting? Who’d want to carry on growing wildflowers after that sort of experience?
The problem is that much of the seed sold to grow a “wildflower meadow” is not meadow seed at all. It’s something entirely different.
When a meadow isn’t a meadow…
A true ‘meadow’ is an area of grass maintained by an annual hay cut. It’s made up of perennial plants – species that grow and flower each year, re-appearing from their underground roots each spring. It includes meadow flowers like:
- grasses, such as Crested Dog’s-tail, Sweet Vernal Grass and Yorkshire Fog
- types of daisy, including Greater Knapweed, Oxeye Daisy and Cat’s-ear
- types of pea and vetch, like Red Clover, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Bush Vetch and Sainfoin
- many others, such as Buttercups, Meadow Crane’s-bill, Lady’s Bedstraw, Cowslips and Wild Carrot.
But many wildflower seed mixes that claim to be meadows are not meadows at all. Instead, they contain only annual plants – species that germinate, flower, set seed and die in one year. For the display to continue in future years, fresh seed has to germinate each year. These seed mixes include many colourful and familiar cornfield flowers such as:
- Corn Marigold
- Corn Chamomile
A floral display for years to come…
Why does this matter? Well, it matters a lot, because the two have to be cultivated very differently if you want flowers to appear every year:
- Cornfield flowers are annuals and the patch of soil where they’re growing has to be cultivated – dug over or rotarvated – every year. If this is not done, they’ll quickly disappear.
- A true wildflower meadow of perennial plants, on the other hand, is basically a grassy lawn with lots of flowers. Once you’ve sown the seed in the first year, all you do is mow the meadow in late summer, remove the cuttings, and then leave alone until the following summer.
This essential difference is rarely explained. But, if you sow a mix of cornfield annuals and treat it like a wildflower meadow, it will look spectacular in the first year and rubbish thereafter. Without the annual cultivation of the soil, the flowers won’t germinate and grow. If you’re prepared to dig over the patch of soil each year though, you’ll keep that spectacular display going.
A true wildflower meadow seed-mix will contain just those perennial flowers. The display in the first year might not look great (perennials usually take a few years to get going) but as long as you don’t mow until late summer, it will improve and get more spectacular each year.
For more on how to grow a meadow, see our guide here.
A note on ‘Pictoral Meadows’…
Mixtures of cornfield annuals are wonderful. They provide bold splashes of colour, they’re very easy to grow, and are a superb source of nectar, pollen and food for all sorts of insects and other wildlife. Every garden should make room for a patch of them.
In order to separate them from true wildflower meadows, they’re often called ‘pictoral meadows’. This helps, but it still uses that word ‘meadow’, which they’re not. As a result there’s confusion around what real grassy meadows are like – many people expect all meadows (including those in the countryside) to be the riotous blaze of colour that in reality can only come from annuals.
We prefer the terms ‘cornfield flowers’ or ‘cornfield annuals’ to describe these mixtures, especially the latter as hints at the annual cultivation needed to keep them going.
Types of meadow & how they are managed
What is a meadow?
For the Coronation Meadows project, a meadow is any grassland that is maintained by traditional farming practices and allowed to develop over many years, becoming richer and richer with wild flowers over time.
The connection to traditional farming methods is vital, as without them such meadows quickly lose their species and character. Typically, this link means that an annual cycle will be followed: in late July or August a hay-cut will be taken, following which livestock will be allowed to graze the grass short. In early spring, the livestock are removed and the plants allowed to grow and flower, setting seed in summer before a hay-cut is taken again.
For a wealth of other flower-rich grasslands, especially in western parts of England, Wales and Scotland, no hay-cut is taken. Instead, livestock graze the grasslands to keep the grass down, either lightly year round or heavily during late summer and autumn. In such situations, wild flowers thrive. The annual cycle of cutting and grazing keep coarse grasses, bracken and shrubs like bramble, hawthorn and gorse under control allowing smaller, more delicate flowers and grasses the room they need to grow, set seed and spread.
What are they? These are the classic flower-rich meadows of our fertile, pastoral landscapes; mostly found within enclosed field systems and on soil that is neither strongly acid, nor alkaline.
How are they managed? In lowland areas, dry neutral meadows are subject to an annual hay cut, ideally after mid-July. The re-growth (aftermath) is then grazed (normally by sheep or cattle) in late summer / autumn. In upland areas, management of the meadows follows a similar pattern, but these meadows were also traditionally subject to spring grazing, prior to the fields being “shut-up” for hay.
What are they? These are river-side meadows with a distinctive flora including great burnet, meadowsweet and the iconic snake’s-head fritillary. Floodplains were historically amongst the most highly-valued areas of farmland, being regularly enriched by silt from flood events.
How are they managed? Hay is removed when the crop is at its peak and weather conditions are suitable. This will generally be in late June or July, with some flexibility in cutting dates from year to year being beneficial, and also reflecting what would have happened historically. However, where ground nesting birds are present, it important that hay is not cut until chicks have fledged; generally not until the second half of July.
Chalk and limestone meadows
What are they? These are grasslands that are found on shallow soils over lime-rich substrates, such as limestone bedrock. Such grasslands are typically used as pasture, but a few examples are cut for hay. They often have a short turf of fine grasses, low-growing plants such as kidney vetch and carline thistle; and aromatic herbs such as wild thyme and marjoram.
How are they managed? Where chalk grassland is managed by annual cutting rather than grazing, this should take place as late in the summer as possible, allowing the full variety of species to flower and set seed. The cuttings should be collected, whether or not they are used for hay.
Machair and coastal meadows
What are they? Machair is a Gaelic word meaning an extensive, low-lying fertile plain. It refers to dune pastures and adjacent fields that are covered by white shell-sands blown inland, producing lime-rich soils.
How are they managed? Crofters used to crop machair in summer, on a two or three year rotation, so that no more than half the machair was cropped at any time. Small plots were ploughed and sown with barley, oats or rye and potatoes. Today, very little machair is cropped, and the grasslands are generally grazed by cattle or sheep, often between September and April. Removing livestock in early May allows wild plants an opportunity to flower and set seed, before animals return at the end of the summer.
Wet Rush Meadows
What are they? These are rough grasslands on peaty soils with a rather primeval quality, being on permanently soggy ground and composed mainly of rushes or tall, coarse grasses, including the tussock-forming purple moor-grass. Among the grasses and rushes is a rich array of moisture-loving herbs alive with insects and the heady aromas of meadowsweet and water mint. There are important areas in Devon and north-east Cornwall, where it is known as culm grassland, and also in south Wales, where it is known as rhos pasture.
How are they managed? Most marshy grasslands are traditionally maintained by grazing, principally during the period from May to September. Hay-making during dry summers was once part of their traditional management, and a few areas are still managed as hay meadow, with a July hay cut followed by aftermath grazing.
How to turn your yard into a successful meadow
Weeks of lawn mowing can make a backyard meadow seem like an especially appealing alternative.
Even small yards can accommodate a carefree carpet of flowers and grasses.
Although a mature meadow requires little maintenance, thorough preparation and planning is needed to establish it. Don’t let “meadow in a can” or some other promise of an instant meadow fool you into believing that just sprinkling seeds or rolling out a seeded, biodegradable carpet will result in a carefree riot of season-long colour.
You need to plan because meadow plants are not set out in neat, easily weeded rows. That would ruin a meadow’s random charm. The goal, therefore, is to create conditions as weed-free as possible before setting out plants or sowing seeds.
Scale is your first consideration; a small site raises different practical issues than a large one does.
For a small meadow, mow the existing vegetation; smother it beneath four or more layers of overlapping, wetted paper (such as newspaper); and then blanket the paper with some weed-free organic material to hold it down.
Suitable materials for covering the paper include compost, marsh hay, sawdust and straw. Wood chips are also suitable, and are widely available and often free. You can set wildflower and grass transplants right into wood chips that are not too coarse. (Meadows do need a certain amount of grasses, bunch grasses, for soil stabilization.) If the chips were sitting around wet and are already on their way to decomposition, all the better. For planting seeds rather than transplants, cover the paper with compost.
A large meadow presents more ground than can be feasibly covered with paper and mulch. Successful planting is a combination of art and science, so it may be wise to plant a part of it each year, learning as you go. At any rate, begin by mowing — to literally even out the playing field.
Once mowed, the vegetation needs to be killed, and herbicide or tillage is the most practical way to do this on a large scale. The herbicide Roundup kills any plant it touches, but has known and unknown environmental and health hazards. Less effective but more benign “organic” alternatives exist, such as repeated sprays with household-strength vinegar to which a little dish detergent and oil has been added, or commercial products containing citrus oil, clove oil or special formulations of soaps.
Tillage presents a more bucolic scene for ground preparation than herbicide spraying. A few passes with a rototiller are needed to thoroughly break up and kill plants. Tillage should be shallow to minimize the amount of soil — and weed seeds — brought to the surface, and to minimize the destruction of soil structure and organic matter.
To fight off weeds and to protect the surface from wind and water erosion, sow a “cover crop” such as rye or buckwheat or, even better, successive cover crops. After a season of cover crops, the meadow is ready for planting.
Timing is critical to get meadow plants off to a good start ahead of weeds. Generally, the best time for planting is autumn or spring, when soils are most consistently moist. Timing for natural rainfall is not as critical for smaller areas that can be hand-watered.
Fine-tune your planting further according to the kinds of plants you’re growing. Transplants must take firm hold of the soil before winter settles in, so set them in the ground in either early spring or late summer.
If you’re planting seeds, sow them in late fall, after temperatures have turned too cold for germination, or wait until spring. The optimum time to plant seeds that sprout only in warm weather — these include some grasses and annual flowers such as cape daisy, annual phlox and prairie aster — is late spring. Distribute these seeds evenly, first mixing them with sand and then dividing the mix into two equal batches that you sow separately, the second batch spread in a direction perpendicular to the first.
If everything goes as planned, the soil is laid bare for a minimum amount of time, seeds sprout and transplants take hold quickly, and you’re soon enjoying your meadow with only a minimum of spot weeding.
How to create a wild flower area in a garden or field
Here is a copy of my wild flower seeding instructions for my perennial wild flower mixtures for creating wild flower areas that you only cut once or twice a year. I include these instructions in each packet of seeds that you might order from me. If you want to create a wild flower lawn that you keep mown short and tidy then you need to use my special ‘low flowering lawn seed mix‘ which you can view by clicking here.
Instructions for creating your wild flower area
For using my ‘clay, loam and sandy soils mix’, my ‘chalk and limestone soils mix’ or my
‘general purpose mix’.
Choose a site that receives quite a lot of sun. For shaded areas use my ‘woodland and shade mix’.
Within the area to be seeded kill off any existing vegetation. You can either remove the top thin layer of vegetation just below soil level to reveal bare ground using a spade or a turf-cutter is good for this (which one can hire), or lay some black plastic or old carpet over the top of the vegetation to kill it (this takes a few weeks). Alternatively for larger areas spray off existing grass or weeds with Glyphosate (Roundup) weed-killer or any natural alternative. Two weeks after spraying, cut the weeds as tight to the ground as possible and remove the cuttings. I only advise the use of Glyphosate as some other weed-killers do not break down on contact with the soil and so remain active to kill or weaken the future germinating seedlings. It is also the least harmful chemical weed-killer to use from a wildlife perspective.
For field areas or weedy long grass lawn areas, where a lot of weed seeds have been allowed to drop and build up in the soil’s seed-bank, it is best to spray the area off twice. Carry out the second spray when the area has greened up again, which can be several weeks later. Then undertake the seeding. This will reduce the amount of weed seeds that will germinate from your soil along with your sown wild flower seeds. This double weed-killing is not usually necessary when converting a previously well cared for, mown lawn area.
You can sow your seeds anytime of the year but the rate of germination will depend on the level of moisture and warmth in the soil. Native wild flowers are hardy and winter sowing is fine but don’t expect to see germination until the ground warms up in the spring. Not all the species germinate at the same time, some are months behind others so there is always new things to spot when you inspect your wild flower area. If for any reason you find that you are not able to sow your seeds as quickly as you had hoped, or have seed left over that cannot be used straight away, do not panic. As long as you ensure the seed is kept in the bag and stored in a cool, dark, dry place it will be viable for 12 months or more.
It is preferable not to cultivate the ground or you will expose many more weed seeds dormant in the soil’s seed-bank, which will germinate along with your sown seeds. Sow your seeds on the surface of the soil which has been revealed by the weed killing process described above. If you need to cultivate the ground because it is rather compacted, or you need to bring in soil, do this early to allow the weed seeds to germinate and then carry out the weed-killing procedure outlined above before seeding it. For smaller areas I favour spreading over the top of the bare ground a top dressing about 1cm thick made up of multi-purpose compost from your local garden centre mixed with one third sharp sand. This creates a great germination bed but it is not thick enough to prevent the seedlings getting their roots into the firmer ground beneath as they get bigger. Keep an eye out for weeds though that may get introduced from within the compost as seeds, species such as Fat Hen (Chenopodium album) and Polygonum are common.
Seeding. If seeding by hand, divide up the seed packet and your plot into quarters and this way you will get early warning if you are sowing too thickly and are likely to run out of seed before you reach the end of your plot! If you have scales to measure 3 grams accurately, do this and then between your fingers carefully scatter that quantity of seed over a marked 1 metre x 1 metre square of flat material such as a cardboard or plastic sheet etc. By doing this you will get to see the seed pattern/quantity that you should be using when sowing at 3 grams per square metre. You will also get an opportunity to see the array of different seed shapes and sizes as many are very tiny and hardly noticeable from looking at the packet. Save the seed from this exercise to sow with the others. If you are using a mechanical spreader, calibrate it to output at 3 grams per square metre.
I would encourage you to take the time to put some seed on a piece of plain white paper and use a magnifying glass to see their wonderful variety of shape and size. Even more amazing is looking at them under a microscope at x20 magnification – this is how I check and identify seeds – tiny round seeds that look the same to the naked eye can be from several different species and will have a very different appearance when magnified x20.
At this magnification they can be seen for what they are, some of Mother Nature’s incredibly beautiful designs!
Do not cover with soil. Don’t worry about birds eating your wild flower seeds, I have never found them to be a problem as the seeds are too small, some grass seeds may be taken but this will not affect your final wild flower lawn or meadow appearance. However if you will have wild rabbits entering the seeded area then do protect it from them i.e. fence them out using rabbit netting, as they love young seedlings and will eat them before you even notice your seeds have germinated and you will end up with very few wild flower species or large bare areas.
When will the wild flowers appear? If you sow in the spring you should see germination within a few weeks depending upon the levels of warmth and moisture in the soil. There will then be a succession of different species germinating throughout the following weeks and months. If you sow between September and February most of the annuals will germinate from April (although Corncockle can germinate soon after sowing if the weather is not too cold and will happily survive the winter). The large assortment of perennial wild flower species in my mixtures will germinate a month or two later than the annuals with germination continuing throughout the year. Although the annuals will flower fully in the first year (from May onwards) and some of the perennials too (from late June onwards), many of the perennials spend their first year bulking up their leaf growth and root structure and so the colourful display you will see throughout the first year will be mostly coming from the annual wild flowers. It is from April of the second year when your wild flower area will burst into perennial bloom, with different species flowering en masse from early April right through until October and even November.
Future management to keep your wild flower area healthy. Treat your wild flower area like a hay meadow – cut it once towards the end of every year and remove the cuttings. If you don’t remove the cuttings they will act as a mulch and snuff out many of the more delicate wild flower species thus reducing the diversity in your lawn or meadow. For a small area that you can cut by hand with a strimmer or mower you can leave the cutting until October (or whenever it’s looking sad and untidy). Meadows will usually need to be cut earlier for practical reasons of getting machinery on the land before it gets too wet or before the rains flatten the grass making it hard to pick up (you don’t have this problem with smaller areas when using a strimmer and rake!). Try to leave your meadow cutting until at least mid August or you will be missing out on a lot of the flowering. Remember it is only the annual species which need to drop their seed to survive (and most will have done this by mid August), the majority of species in these mixes are perennials which do not rely on their seeds to survive, but continue year after year from their vegetative growth and so cutting any of these plants when still in flower will not damage the plant or the future of your wild flower area. Consequently cutting paths through your wild flower lawn or meadow is fine, indeed I would encourage this but use a mower that lifts and removes the cuttings when you do it.
If you follow these simple instructions your wild flower area should survive indefinitely and bring you much pleasure and fascination year after year. No two years will be the same as different species will bloom at differing levels of abundance, producing an ever changing feast of colour and form for your enjoyment.