How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow For Bees & Pollinators
Knowing How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow Is Essential If We Want to Encourage Pollinators into Our Gardens. We May Not Have Rolling Acres, But Even a Few Nectar Rich Plants in a Corner of The Garden Can Help.
As gardeners and/or environmentalists we know that bees and other insects are in decline. Yet they are vital to our survival because without pollination so many fruit and veg we rely on will cease to produce our food. In my case I’ve sown over 20 nectar rich wildflowers in my lawn to form a wildflower meadow. But if you’ve less space that’s not an issue. Every nectar plant we can grow, whether in a window box, corner of the garden or elsewhere will help.
There are several ways we can start. In my case I went for seed. An alternative to this si to buy “plugs”, small plants of selected species, that can be planted where they will do most good.
And if you don’t have space for any plants there something else you can do. Since the pandemic lockdown many councils have stopped cutting roadside verges. In just a few weeks with no cutting spring flowers are emerging and the roadside is buzzing with bees and other pollinators as the verges are awash with colour and beautifuls flowery smells we haven’t experienced in generations.
So everyone can ensure that councils don’t reinstate cutting regimes that raze these verdant verges to the ground, devoid of wildlife and hope for our future.
How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow From Plugs
Growing wildflowers from plugs is easy. There are numerous suppliers online that will post a wide range of plugs to customers. These can then be planted into existing grassed and other areas and will normally flower the same season. If planted in grass verges or lawns its necessary to only cut the grass once or twice a year. A lot will depend on your soil type and the species selected but the idea is to allow the wildflowers to seed and grow new plants each year.
To keep areas tidy and free from tree saplings getting established, in a form of natural succession that will end in woodland rather than a meadow, we can also cut early in the spring if we wish. But hs must be before the wildflowers start to produce flower heads or make tall growth preparatory for flowering.
Plug producers provide full instructions on their websites. They also provide information on each species they provide and list suitable plants for different locations and soil types. This ensures that we can buy plants that are going to thrive in the conditions in our plot.
How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow Using Seed
This is how I started my own wildflower meadow. I started by buying a pack of wildflower seed that suited my location and soil type. These were freshly harvested by the seed company (fresh seed is much better as some species don’t keep well and old seed will have poorer germinations rate).
After the last cut in the season, I scattered the seed thinly over the lawn and left it to it. To ensure success I also sowed a small amount of seed in plug trays. This meant that if I had any “bare” patches in the spring I could plant them and fill the gaps.
Germination was however very good and I didn’t need to fill any gaps. And as I write this I have a lot of wildflowers with flower buds that should open in a few days. However, not all the species I sowed won’t flower this year. Some, such as foxgloves, are biennial and will not flower until the second year. This year they will grow into large plants, ready to flower next year. With a spectacular flower like foxgloves it’s worth the wait.
How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow: Choosing the Right Species Mix
The seed companies have selected seed mixes suitable for all soil types. From limestone soils and sandy or loamy soils to alluvial soils, clays and wetland habitats they have the right mixes. In my case, I choose a traditional wildflower mix comprising 23 different species of wildflowers. It’s the sort of mix used if you want to create a permanent meadow of diverse perennial wildflowers. If I’d chosen the wetland and pond edge seed mix I would have had species that are found along the sides of waterways, ponds and in very wet low lying areas. There would have been Yellow-flag Iris, common Sedge and Water Avens, none of which would survive in my drier coastal situation just a mile from the sea.
Contrast both of these with the hedgerow and light shade area seed mix, containing over twenty woodland edge species and you can see how important it is to get the mix right.
AS for how much of each species you get; the seed companies have done their homework and have determined exactly what percentage of each species is best for a given location. That’s much easier than having to buy each separately and having to mix them ourselves.
How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow, Sowing Wildflower Seed Mixes
In nature the seed falls from the plant and normally germinates without too much fuss. A few species have more complicated lifecycles but most are very simple. That’s why they are so successful, There’s no fuss.
The only complication for us that the amount of seed to be distributed is very small. I only needed 3 grams per square metre. That’s a really small amount, and sowing needs care.
So step one is to realise that the seed species all produce seed of different size and weight and that they settle out in the packet. So step one is to mix them thoroughly.
Step tow is to add them to a filler of some sort so that they are easier to spread. I took some very dry sand and added about a kilo of sand to 100g of seed. The amounts aren’t critical, it’s what works best for you. Mix the carrier with the seeds as thoroughly as possible.
Step three was to distribute the seed. I took a pinch of the mix and scattered it as thin as possible whilst walking over the lawn. This is like the biblical sowing of seeds! The trick is to walk across the plot and scatter a pinch of seed every step. Criss cross the plot in parallel strips and try to sow half the seed this way. Then repeat whilst walking across the plot at ninety degrees to the first transect.
It’s easy when you know how but quite hard the first time! If in doubt try it first with just some sand without the seed. Once you have the knack you can repeat with sand filler and seed!
The Wild Flowers I’ve Sown in My Wildflower Meadow – How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow
Lady’s Bedstraw, Galium verum, Flowers Jun-Sep, Height 50 – 80cm, Perennial
Lady’s Bedstraw is widespread across the globe, from the UK and Europe to Jap and NZ. It’s a low scrambling herbaceous plant that is well established in folklore and has had many uses. From coagulating milk in the cheese-making process and being used as a colourant in Double Gloucestershire cheese to making yellow and red dyes and the Danish drink bjæsk. The name, Lady’s Bedstraw, comes from the fact it was used to fill mattresses and it’s claimed it keeps fleas at bay!
Lady’s Bedstraw provides nectar for bumble bees and butterflies
Black Medick, Medicago lupulina, Flowers May-Oct, Height 15 – 80cm, Annual
Black Medick is an annual or sometimes a short-lived perennial that prefers dry grasslands. It’s a legume so is in the same family as clovers, but is more closely related to alfalfa. Originally found through most of the Old World it is now also naturalised in the US, NZ, Australia and much of South America.
Salad Burnet, Sanguisorba minor, Flowers Jun-Sep, Height 15 – 50cm, Perennial
Salad Burnet is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial that is found over most of Europe, parts of south-west Asia, north-west Africa and has naturalised in a lot of North America, having been brought there by the first English colonists. It prefers an alkaline soil but is reasonably tolerant of pH. As the name suggests it was often used in salads.
Meadow Buttercup, Ranunculus acris, Flowers May-June, Height 30 – 100cm, Perennial
As the name suggest Ranunculus acris is acrid. It is therefore avoided by grazing cattle and hence becomes well established in pastures and meadows where the flowering stems can reach one metre in height. Native Americans use Meadow Buttercups for abcesses, headaches and diarrhea.
White Campion, Silene alba, Flowers May-Oct, Height 50 – 100cm, Perennial
Native to most of Europe, northern Africa and Western Asia, White Campions are most common on neutral to alkaline soils where it revels in sunny positions and rich soils. It’s a hardy plant that flowers from spring to autumn.
Wild Carrot, Daucus carota, Flowers Jun-Oct, Height 30 – 100cm, Perennial
Wild Carrot is mainly a found in hedgerows near the coast. It probably originates from Afghanistan and is the ancestor of the carrots we cultivate today (the first orange carrot was grown in the Netherlands in the 17th century and is reflected in the name s of some varieties today eg, Amsterdam Forcing).
Cowslip, Primula veris, Flowering Apr-May, Height 15 – 30cm Perennial
Cowslips are primulas and are related to the Primrose and lesser known Oxlip. It’s was found in grassland and hedgerows but as agriculture intensified is now seen more often on grass verges. Being an early spring flowering plant it is attractive to bees. The flowers are borne in inflorescences (clusters) on a tall stem.
Ox-eye Daisy, Leucanthemum vulgare Flowers May-Sep, Height 20 – 100cm Perennial
Also known as Moon Daisies they nod their flowers in long stems as the wind blows. Often seen in drifts on grass verges and motorway embankments, the flower is white with an orange centre.
Field Forget-me-not, Myosotis arvensis, Flowers May-July, Height 20 – 40cm, Annual
As the name, arvensis, suggests this is a plant of the fields where its bright borage-blue flowers stand out in spring until autumn. It’s a hardy plant that can also be a shortlived perennial
Wild Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, Flowers Jun – Aug, Height 50 – 100cm, Biennial
The beloved stately foxglove favours woodland glades, woodland edges and hedges where it normally flowers in its second year. The flower is normally purple though white is not uncommon. In German, this is Fingerhut (thimble) and elves gloves in Welsh The Latin name Digitalis refers to the digitalin for which the plant is well known medicinally.
Goat’s-beard, Tragopogon pratensis, Flowers Jun-Sep, Height 20 – 60cm, Biennial
A plant I know as Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon, because the flowers close early in the day. It’s common in fields and on roadside verges throughout Europe and North America
Common Knapweed, Centaurea nigra, Flowers Jun-Sep, Height 30 – 80cm, Perennial
This is one of the most nectar rich plants in the UK according to several research studies. Butterflies certainly love it in my garden.
Greater Knapweed, Centaurea scabiosa, Flowers Jun-Sep, Height 50 – 90cm, Perennial
Purple flowered, found across Europe, this is a plant that prefers lime rich soils and attracts many butterflies. TIt’s the host plant of the case-bearer moth, Coleophora didymella.
Musk Mallow, Malva moschata, Flowers May-Sep, Height 20 – 150cm Perennial
Musk Mallows flowers have a musky odour, hence its name. Bees love its pin flowers which grow to 24 inches in height. The leaves and flowers are apparently edible, though I’ve never tried them.
Common Sorrel, Rumex acetosa, Flowers May-Jul, Height 30 – 100cm, Perennial
Common Sorrel is sometimes grown as a salad crop. A native to Europe its been introduced in to north America, Australia and NZ.
Common St John’s-wort, Hypericum perforatum, Flowers Jun-Sep, Height 30 – 90cm, Perennial
Often grown as a garden plant it has been grown as a medicinal plant for centuries and has been used to treat burns, anxiety and depression.
Hypericum perforatum contains several classes of biologically active compounds as described in Frontiers in Plant Science.
Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, Flowers Jun-Oct, Height 20 – 100cm, Perennial
An important plant for butterflies, many species of which graze on it, Yarrow or Achillea is normally white-flowered, though both red and yellow forms have been produced for gardeners.
Yarrow has also been used in some countries as a cattle feed.
Yellow Rattle, Rhinanthus minor, Flowers Jun-Sep Height 20 – 50cm Annual
Yellow Rattle is a grassland annual and is interesting because it’s a root hemiparasite in low fertility grasslands. It parasitises a range of plants, from grasses to legumes. It’s also of interest as it must be autumn sown as it needs a prolonged period of chilling before it can germinate. It’s best sown in August to December.
If you’ve other questions on How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow please contact me.
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