One of the single best things you can do to help our declining bees and pollinators is to plant some flowers. Anyone can do this! Even a plant pot or two or a window box of wildflowers or herbs is a great start. Alternatively, allowing a corner of your garden to grow wild can be a boon for wildlife.
However you may want to consider converting some of your garden to wildflower meadow. Not only does this look spectacular but it will be amazing for pollinators and other wildlife. The UK has lost 97% of its wildflower meadows following World War 2, and this is one of the main reasons are pollinators are in trouble. So the more people that convert small areas of their garden into wildflower meadow, the better, and we can begin to reverse some of this loss.
How to start a wildflower meadow?
Wildflower meadows may require a fair bit of work initially to establish, but once the seed is sown, little upkeep is required. Here is our step-by-step guide to making your own wildflower garden full of colour and life:
1. Select a sunny spot. Autumn time (from mid-August to mid-October), is the best time to sow the wildflower seeds (with some wildflower species requiring a winter frost to trigger germination in spring), the exception being on clay soils where spring (between mid-March and the end of May) is preferable.
2. Match the native wildflower seed mix to one’s soil type. Use UK provenance seed, which is sourced from one’s local region, and so help conserve local species of wildflowers best adapted to one’s local area, while maximising chances of success.
3. Your lawn or topsoil will likely need stripping. It is likely to be over-fertilised and full of grasses that can outcompete wildflower species. This can be achieved via digging with a spade if one is preparing a small area, for larger areas use of a rotavator can be helpful.
4. Choose the seeds. For nutrient rich soils, a general purpose meadow seed mix containing hardy species such as common knapweed and meadow cranesbill would be recommended. A reputable seed supplier will provide different seed mixes relevant to different soil types and site conditions. Yellow rattle is a common addition to seed mixes, this being an important addition as it is semi-parasitic on grasses. By weakening the often dominating grasses, it allows other wildflower species to become established.
Alternatively, individual wildflower plants can also be planted in the meadow to help boost biodiversity quickly (remember to stay peat and fertiliser free). Local stock grown from seed can be sourced from nurseries. After mowing, either cut out a section of turf and turn upside down, or remove, and plant using a bulb planter or trowel. Backfill if necessary, and position the plant in the hole so that it sits level with the ground, and water after planting.
Note: New plants can be planted at a density of 6-10 per square metre. Autumn planting is best, followed by spring.
5. Plant the seeds. For small plots one can cast the seed over the bare ground and tread in the seed, for larger plots, water filled rollers can be hired from your local tool hire at little expense. This helps to ensure the seed has good contact with the soil, helping facilitate successful germination.
In small to medium plots, mix your seed with sharp sand to ensure an even spread of seed. The sand also helps to highlight any unsown patches against the darker Earth. 4g of seed per square metre is usually recommended unless one’s seed supplier states otherwise. For larger plots, pre-mix seed in sand in buckets and scatter evenly for a good distribution.
On larger plots, a compact tractor and blecavator or power harrow can be used to prepare a weed free seed bed of bare earth. A turf cutter can be used if removing a top layer of turf, if converting an area of lawn into wildflower meadow.
For smaller, uneven or patchy sites, a rotavator can be hired and may be preferable to break up the soil. The soil should then be raked and rolled to make a firm soil surface. Weed matting used over the summer months can also be used to create bare Earth, after raking. This is a chemical free way of controlling weeds, and facilitates germination of undesirable weed seed prior to sowing wildflower seeds, and these can be removed. Do not rake soil immediately prior to sowing, as this can create an additional flush of weeds.
6. Water regularly. This is very important when the seeds are first germinating, the soil should remain moist during this phase. Avoid the use of fertilisers and pesticides.
7. The meadow will need cutting, but this is best done in late autumn after the flowers have seeded and much of the invertebrates have departed in preparation for winter. The plant material is harvested and removed from the meadow to stop nutrients returning to the soil. Most wildflowers thrive better on nutrient poor soils where they aren’t likely to be outcompeted by grasses.
Pro tip: Any course weeds should be removed before you sow the meadow. Some invasive plants like dock and thistle have deeper tap roots and will not be eliminated by removing the surface later of soil. Hand weeding with a fork and spade of deeper rooted weeds is a good idea over the summer, helping to exhaust the weed seed bank.
And there you have it. It is hard to put into words the sense of joy one feels while looking at their motley meadow buzzing with life.
Are you planning to start your own wildflower meadow this Spring?
Let us know in the comments!