In order to create a wildflower meadow the first step is to decide if you want your area to be an annual or a perennial meadow:
- An annual meadow lasts for one summer and needs to be re-seeded each year. Annual wildflowers are suitable for gardens, and even small areas can be lovely. The right seed mix will give great colour with red poppies, blue cornflowers, yellow marigolds etc.
- A perennial meadow is like a traditional hay meadow and will develop and change over the years. It is more suitable for larger gardens and for bigger areas such as verges and fields.
Both are great for biodiversity and pollinators. Perennial meadow is an important habitat that is unfortunately in decline due to the use of agricultural fertilizers and herbicides, so restoring a perennial meadow can be an excellent contribution to supporting biodiversity in your local area.
To create an annual wildflower area
- Any garden soil will do, it just needs to be as weed-free as possible
- Sow in April-May for a display from June to September
- Measure the area and purchase the correct amount of seed for that area.
- Various seed mixes are available, through our Gift Shop or on our online shop
- Follow the instructions to scatter the seed evenly over the area. It helps to mix the seed with some dry sand or soil to bulk it out – this makes distributing it by hand easier
- Rake in the seed to half cover it and then water it in
- If it is very dry, continue to water, otherwise rain usually suffices
- As the seed is scattered rather than in rows it can be hard to tell which are weeds, so it is usually best to leave it alone and only remove very obvious weeds like docks and nettles.
Enjoy the lovely colours!
Our vibrant annual wildflowers get a lot of attention and its easy to create your own. This one minute video with our gardener Mary O’Connell will show you how.
To establish a perennial meadow
From our experience at Brigit’s Garden this is a trickier but hugely worthwhile undertaking. Having a meadow that changes with the seasons is wonderful for both people and wildlife.
Here are some suggested steps to starting a meadow or turning a section of your lawn into meadow. Trying to put wild flower plugs or seeds directly into a lawn can work but may not, as the grasses often squeeze out the wildflowers.
Here are some suggested steps:
1. Review and prepare your site
- A meadow needs a mainly open and sunny site
- The best guide to what will grow well is to look at your local verges, neglected fields, graveyards and riversides
- Low fertility soil is a key to a successful perennial meadow. Has your site ever been fertilised or sown with grass seed?
- If it has been fertilised it helps to reduce the fertility. A good strategy that will pay dividends in the long run is to remove up to six inches of the topsoil, which also removes many weed seeds
- Some advisors recommend using herbicide to clear the site. We don’t advocate this as it does not reduce the soil fertility and the chemicals kill soil-based organisms and insects
- If not, you have a head start and it might be worth letting it grow for a season and see what is already there. You might be surprised at the diversity!
- If preparing the site by hand, dig over a few times to remove perennial weed roots such as couch grass, bindweed, docks etc; then rake to an even, weed-free surface
2. Decide on the type of meadow you want and source the seeds
You can buy seeds, source hay from another meadow or collect your own seeds locally. It is best for nature to use native species in a perennial meadow.
- To buy seeds, there are mixes available for a variety of soil types from www.ecoseeds.co.uk (based in Co. Down) or www.wildflowers.ie
- Scattering seed-rich hay from an existing meadow is a preferred way of establishing a meadow (come and talk to us and get some hay!)
- Ideally, collect seed from local wild plants and use these to seed your meadow. We did this very successfully for Esker Meadow at Brigit’s Garden
The other key to success for a perennial meadow is to establish Yellow Rattle Rhinanthus minor. Yellow Rattle is parasitic on the roots of the grasses and keeps them under control. It can be introduced into an existing meadow by turning over small sections of the sward with a spade and sowing the seed into the fresh soil (we often have spare Yellow Rattle seed)
3. Ongoing care of your meadow
- Keep vigorous grasses under control – if your meadow becomes over-run with grasses you can introduce Yellow Rattle as above, dig out grass clumps by hand or take more drastic action by removing the topsoil to reduce the fertility and try again
- Keep unwanted weeds under control – docks and nettles are good for biodiversity but you probably don’t want too many of them
- Remove tree seedlings, otherwise your meadow will revert to woodland
- Mow once a year, any time from late August to October. Rake up and remove the hay to keep the soil fertility low. Ideally, break up some of the surface with a wire rake (or let the neighbour’s cattle in!) to expose some soil for new seeds to germinate in.
If your perennial meadow is working well you can look forward to increasing diversity over the years. You will have a vibrant habitat with butterflies, dragonflies, bees and other beneficial insects that provide the foundation for wider biodiversity. Call down to Brigit’s Garden any time during the summer to see our meadows – we would be happy to help with your projects.
So that’s how to create a wildflower meadow. Good luck!