How to create a wild flower meadow

This advice page on how to create a wild flower meadow guides you though the process of turning an area of uninteresting grass or bare ground into a beautiful wild flower area using my wild flower seed, 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. 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.

When to sow

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 the rabbits 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.

Colin Reader
www.wildflowerlawnsandmeadows.com