How to create an annual wild flower area

Here is a copy of my wild flower seeding instructions for my unique annual wild flower seed mix. I include this in each packet of seeds that you might order from me.

These are the methods I use when creating my bright and colourful annual wild flower areas.

Within the area to be seeded kill off any existing vegetation. You can achieve this by placing a piece of old carpet or black plastic etc on top of the area to stop light reaching the ground, after a few weeks the vegetation beneath should have died away leaving bare soil. 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.

The best time for sowing the annuals is between September and the end of May or to the end of June if we have a long cold spring. This is to ensure you benefit from a good long flowering season during the summer. The later you sow them after this the later in the summer they will begin flowering. If you find that you are not able to sow the 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 stored in a cool and dry place it will be viable for 12 months or more.  

You now have two options:

Either

Broadcast the seeds evenly directly onto the surface of bare ground. It is not essential to cultivate the ground first, but in my experience you get a better response if you scatter them onto loose soil. For smaller areas I favour spreading over the top of your bare ground a top dressing about 1 inch 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. This is useful because the compost layer tends to be quite light and dries out easily whereas the firmer ground beneath will not. To speed up their growth water the seeds/seedlings in the evening in dry weather and you will have them growing and flowering a lot quicker.  Keep an eye out for weeds though that may get introduced from within the compost as seeds, species such as Nettle, Fat Hen (Chenopodium album) and Polygonum are common. For larger areas do as I suggest below.

OR

Cultivate the ground. Create a fairly fine seedbed but be aware that when cultivating ground you will bring to the surface weed seeds from within the soil which will germinate along with your sown seeds in the spring. These may not be a problem amongst your annual flowers but if you are concerned then cultivate the ground early and allow some of the weed seeds to germinate first and then carry out the weed control procedure outlined above before seeding. If you use brought in soil for your seedbed, the same advice applies.

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 2 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 2 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 2 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. 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 autumn (from September) some of the plants will germinate within a month, particularly the Corncockle (stocky, hairy little seedlings) they will survive the winter quite happily. Most of the plants will germinate from April and May depending upon rain and temperature. Flowering will usually start anytime from May onwards and will continue right through the spring and summer and often well into the autumn.

Future management to keep your wild flower area healthy. Annual wild flowers need to create new plants from seed every year (unlike most of the flowers in my other seed mixes, which contain perennial species). So at the end of the summer or during the autumn cut and clear the wild flower area, knocking any seeds still present within their pods to the ground and remove any weeds (you can spray the area with Roundup to clear any grass etc as it will not effect the seeds present). Then you can either trust that enough seed has been spread from the year’s flowers to generate a new population of annuals next year or you can spread some fresh seed onto the soil.

If you follow these simple management instructions your wild flower area should be a blaze of colour and bring you much pleasure and fascination.

 Colin Reader

www.wildflowerlawnsandmeadows.com