Large areas populated with wildflowers look fantastic but establishing a meadow can be a difficult task. Poor quality soils are best suited for wildflower establishment because rich, fertile soils allow weeds and grasses to out-compete them.
How to establish wildflowers
The best time to sow wildflowers is either in the autumn (between August and October) or the spring (between February and May). Generally, autumn is preferred because there are fewer risks from weeds.
The first task to undertake is to kill any grasses, weeds or other plants in the area. You can do so by spraying or completely lifting the turf. This is best carried out a few months before sowing, to make sure the work has been effective. After the area is cleared, the soil has to be broken up with a fork, or a petrol tiller if you are working on a large area.
Pure wildflower seed mixtures (100%) need to be sown at 3g per square metre, and 80/20 mixtures need to be sown at 5g per square metre. Spreading at such a low rate is tricky. Mixing the seed with a carrier, such as dry sand will help spread it evenly. In small patches, this is not so hard, so you can easily spread by hand. After spreading the seed, rake the soil gently, then compact it by treading the seeds in.
A few weeks after sowing the seeds will begin to germinate. The growth of the different grasses and flowers will vary, so if grasses start to emerge first there's no need to worry. For annual mixes or mixes with perennials and annuals in them, colour will come in the first year, but a perennials mix will look much better in its second year.
Keep your flower meadow in good condition, by going over the area with a strimmer at the end of the season, in September or October - after the plants have all finished flowering. Follow up by removing the debris and then mowing the area, cutting down to 15cm or so.
Establish a wildflower meadow using seed:
- Remove all weeds and debris, if necessary use an appropriate systematic weed killer.
- If the area has been overtaken by weeds, it is important to reduce the number of weed seeds in the soil.
- It may be necessary to allow time for the first flush of weeds to germinate and then remove, before attempting to sow any wildflowers.
- Wildflowers prefer poor soil with low nutrients and if practical, remove any good quality topsoil.
- Prepare the soil to a fine tilth once the weeds have been removed, ready for sowing your wildflowers.
- Try not to disturb the soil any further as this may bring more weed seeds to the surface.
- Choose a wildflower mixture suitable for your soil conditions. Think about what your soil is like during the growing period from March - October (most soils during the winter can be wet and heavy).
- Wildflower seeds are best sown between late March and late October, with the ideal time being autumn, but avoid the hot summer months.
- Sow pure wildflower mixtures (100%) at a rate of 3g/m2 and wildflower with grass mixtures at 5 g/m2. It should not be necessary to rake the seed over as the light helps germination on many species.
- It is advisable to mix the wildflower seed with a carrier (dry sand) to assist with sowing. This will help in distributing the seed evenly over a large area.
- The nurse grasses will appear within 7 - 10 days; the wildflowers may vary depending upon species - some may take only a few weeks, while others can take several months.
- Cornfield Annuals will flower the same year if sown during the spring or the previous autumn.
- Perennial wildflower species will establish during the first year of sowing and flower during the second year.
Create a wildflower border using plants:
- Transplanting young wildflower plants into grassland is a useful technique to enable the re-creation of rich flora.
- The best time for transplants is in the autumn when the plants can develop a strong and healthy root system before active spring growth, or in the spring as soon as soil temperature rises a minimum of 10 degrees centigrade.
- Plants can be introduced into existing grassland lacking in flora, or to augment the result from sowing seed mixtures.
- Suggested planting density is one plant of each species per square metre. Maximum of five species per square metre.
- The area for planting should be close-mown prior to planting and the cuttings removed. Planting can be undertaken at any time throughout the year, but the soil must be moist. Ideal planting time is August to October.
- In the critical weeks following their introduction, the plants need to be watered thoroughly, be firmed in well and shall not be allowed to dry out.
- Grass should be mown down to 60-75mm each time it reaches a height above 100mm and the cuttings removed. This allows light and space for the young plants.
- If the growth of grass is fast on fertile sites, mowing will be important until the inherent fertility falls.
- Bulbs are suitable for naturalising in conditions that are close to their natural habitat. This means woodland types will thrive in the shade of shrubs and small garden trees. Wetland plants will thrive in boggy areas around a garden pond, etc.
- Bulbs grow best planted when they are dormant in the late summer and autumn. They can be planted in large drifts in grass or under trees. Some bulbs are supplied as freshly lifted for immediate planting, these are found as bulbs 'in the green' on Landlife Wildflowers.
- The key to successful planting is proper preparation, making sure that the ground is weed free and the grass cut short.
- In general, bulbs should be planted at a depth equal to the height of the bulb, except: snowdrops (5 cm); summer snowflakes (10 cm); daffodils (10 cm); bluebells (5 - 10 cm); snake's head fritillary (10 cm); wood anemone (2 cm).