With recent press about wildlife gardening and drought-resistant planting, you may have decided to grow a wildflower meadow. But what do you need to do to establish one?
Perennial wildflower meadows need poor soil, because then grasses compete less with the wildflowers. Annual meadows need rich soil, so are ideal if you’re converting an existing garden border. If your heart is set on a perennial meadow, then you may want to remove the top layer of soil, and rotavate and sow directly into the subsoil.
On lighter, sandier soils, September is the ideal time to sow your wildflower meadow, as some of the seed will germinate straight away. However, on heavier soils, any seed that doesn’t germinate now is likely to rot over winter, so it’s best to wait until March and April to sow.
First, use glyphosate-containing weedkillers to kill off perennial weeds such as nettles and docks. As when you are laying lawn turf, you then need to dig the soil, and firm and rake to make a seedbed. Allow a month or so for the soil to settle and for any weed seeds to germinate so that you can remove them.
If you’re converting an existing lawn into a wildflower meadow, this will take time. First, you’ll need to stop feeding and weedkilling the turf, but keep mowing it every week to weaken the grass, at least for the first year. Some wild species will establish by themselves, but you will need to introduce others. You can do this using plug plants, or raise them from seed in pots, introducing them when they are one to two years old.
You can sow even quite large areas of seed by hand, using the broadcast rate given on the seed packet. As with lawn seed, after sowing, rake it in, water thoroughly and net it to protect it from birds, pets and children.
The major problem with wildflower meadows is that grass tends to outcompete the flowers, especially in early years. You can overcome this by sowing yellow rattle, a semi-parasitic plant that weakens the grass. Sow seed in late summer or autumn onto grass that has been cut short, or introduce as plug plants and allow it to seed the next year.
For both annual and perennial meadows, you may need to sow more wildflower seeds for several years, until the balance between grass and flowers has been struck. You can also use plug plants of particular species, if you find that some do not establish very well in your garden.
(For more: Pros and Cons of a Wildflower Meadow)
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