How to Grow Your Own Wildflower Meadow

Jo.Baker
Published on June 16th 2019
74
A group of colorful flowers in a field

For the Festival of Flowers this month, it would be criminal not to spotlight British wildflowers!

Native wildflowers provide food and shelter to an abundance of insects, birds and mammals. According to Kew Gardens, 97% of UK wildflower habitats have been lost since the 1930s.
In the garden, we believe small acts of kindness can make a big difference. Just one of the ways we can help nature flourish is by providing wildflower habitats in our green spaces. Keep reading to find out how to create your own wildflower meadow from our gardening expert, Jo.
Driving around Wiltshire for work, I'm lucky to see areas of wildflowers providing a haven for our pollinators alongside verges, in rough patches of land and scrubby corners.
But in urban areas, wildflowers can be a much rarer sight. Conservation projects set up by organisations such as Buglife have been working hard to change this. One of their recent projects, 'Urban Buzz', has created 50 Wembley Stadiums worth of habitat!
But with insect populations still declining worldwide, it's clear more work is needed to reverse the trends.
A group of  wildflowers in a field in an urban area

Roadside Verge Maintenance: For or Against?

Scheduled ground maintenance can be vital for road safety and is a cost-effective way of managing public spaces.
However, over the last year, it has sparked plenty of debate online about whether we should be changing our expectations of tidiness to help restore our local environments and wildlife.
As a result, more and more councils are investigating and trialling wildflower areas. In 2013, the organisation Plantlife began campaigning for more sustainable management of roadside verges. You can read more about their progress with the movement here.
We, as gardeners, can help by continuing to request councils for wildflower areas while also creating our own at home.
A red poppy in a wildflower meadow

How to Create a Wildflower Meadow Quickly

  • For instant results, you can purchase wildflower turf, which, like lawn turf, is pre-grown and can be laid at any time, as long as the ground isn't frozen or waterlogged. However, if you are happy to wait, there are a few things you can do now in preparation for seed sowing.

How to create a wildflower meadow in your own back garden

1. Prepping the ground
  • Research which seed mix you need for your area and time of year. Always make sure the flowers included in the mixes are native to the UK.
  • In the UK, the best time to sow wildflowers is either in spring (March and April) or autumn (around September).
  • Choose a sunny spot and investigate your soil. Wildflower meadows thrive on poor soil. Most gardens have been enriched with organic matter and are too fertile for most perennial wildflowers but suit annuals. You may need to remove the topsoil altogether if your ground is nutrient-rich.
  • Remove vigorous perennial weeds such as nettles, docks and dandelions if they are dominant. If it's only a small area, you can cover it with a weed-suppressing membrane until Autumn, or you can apply a touch of weed killer to individual plants.
  • For large areas, wait until mid-July, then remove all existing vegetation (either by digging it over or it spraying off), rotovate the soil and firm and rake to make a seedbed. Leave this for six weeks for the soil to settle. This will also allow any dormant seeds to germinate so you can remove them before sowing the wildflowers.
  • Tip If you're planning to convert an area of your lawn, continue mowing and removing the cuttings throughout the year, as this will help to reduce the fertility of the soil. Stop applying lawn treatments that include feed and weedkiller, and some species will start to establish without our assistance.
2. Sowing the seed
  • Depending on where you get your seed, how much you need to sow per meter square may differ slightly. So make sure you read the instructions carefully!
  • Wall to Wall Plants makes life extra easy by providing ready-made seed balls to cover a one-meter square of the garden. Alternatively, you can fill 3-5 medium-sized garden pots with wildflowers if you own a container garden.
Shop ready-made wildflower seed-bombs:
Other plants great for wildflower meadows
A picture of an overgrown grass are
Grass will dominant and crowded out all but the most vigorous wildflowers if not kept under control

Caring for wildflower meadows

  • If you created a patch earlier this year, then you will need to continue weeding out the vigorous perennials (thistle, nettle, bramble, etc.) to allow your new perennials to establish.
  • You can also buy additional plug plants to add to the area.
  • Newly sown meadows need cutting down to 5cm (2") every two months in their first year. This encourages good root development for future years.
  • Established meadows can be cut either once or several times a year, depending on how vigorous the growth is.

When to cut your meadow

  1. In Spring (before the end of April). This time is best for meadows that are predominantly grass as it helps to reduce the fertility of the soil (as long as you take away the clippings) and opens up the area for wildflowers to grow through.
  2. In Summer, cut between late June and the end of August. This traditional "hay cut" is left on-site for a few days to allow the ripe seeds to fall to the ground before being baled and removed. It is done early or late, depending on which plants you want to encourage. A late cut will benefit knapweed, scabious and other summer flowers, while an early cut will allow bugle, fritillary and cowslips to germinate.
  3. The Autumn cutting is done between late August and November and can also be done throughout the winter, depending on growing conditions and how fertile the site is. This is also the time to sow Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor), the semi-parasitic annual wildflower that reduces grass vigour.
A mound of bramble growing in an abandoned field.
Bramble and other vigorous weeds will soon take over wildflower meadows if they are not managed.][

Tip: Cutting small areas is best done with a scythe, but take it steady and wear boots.

Standard mowers will struggle with the long grass, and strimmers cut the grass too finely, making it challenging to collect.
If you have a large area, then it should be possible to hire a motor scythe. You will still need to collect the clippings and arrange a way to dispose of them.
Having regularly helped out at "Hay cut" time, I'm no longer surprised by how much plant material comes off a meadow. Just don't add it all to the compost heap in one go. And have the makings of muscle relaxing bath ready, and no plans for the day after.

Festival of Flowers

Have you grown a wildflower meadow before? Or do you live near a wildflower meadow managed by the council or charity? Follow us on @candidegardening and us your best blooms by using the hashtag #ShowUsYourBlooms.
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