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Creating a Wild Flower Meadow  

Traditionally, wild flower meadows were hay meadows which were cut during the summer for hay and used for grazing over the winter.  They consisted of wild rather than cultivated grasses with a large variety of other native flowering plants.  Their value lay in the diversity of their plant life which provided food and shelter for many different invertebrate species which in turn meant that there was an abundance of food for birds and mammals.  The plant species composition varied from area to area depending on geological, soil and climatic conditions. 

The wild grasses provide the basic architecture for the meadow.  Over the years, a thick mat of old, dead, fibrous foliage builds up and provides shelter in the winter for a great variety of invertebrates.  Grasses are also the larval food plant of many different meadow butterflies.  Some butterflies require a mixture of wild grasses growing in the same area as caterpillars favour different species at different stages of their development.

We can create our own version of a wild flower meadow.  There are four main types of wild flower meadow depending on the mix of seeds sown:

  • wild flower and grass meadow - similar to the traditional hay meadow with a mixture of wild grasses and wild flowers

  • wild flower only meadow - for a higher concentration of wild flowers leaving grasses to colonise naturally over time

  • meadow grasses only 

  • cornfield annual meadow - annual wild flowers only which will flower profusely in their first year

The first two types of meadow can be created by either clearing the site completely before sowing or converting an existing lawn.  The meadow grasses only and cornfield annual meadow will need to be sown onto a clear site.  

Preparing the Site:
Wild flower meadows prefer thin soils of low fertility.  If your soil is richly fertile, then it is probably best to choose a Cornfield Annual Mix rather than a Meadow Mix.

Wild flowers will not be able to compete well in areas of lush weed growth, so it is important to start out with a completely weed-free site.  This can be achieved by either digging out any existing plants or using a weedkiller such as glyphosate.  It may be necessary to repeat these activities over a period to ensure the area is clear.  Don't cultivate the ground or turn the soil once you have cleared the surface weeds as this will bring seeds held in the soil bank to the surface where they will germinate.  The next step is to rake over the area to a fine tilth ready for the seeds.

If you decide to convert an existing lawn, best results are generally achieved by planting plugs rather than seeding, but if you do decide to convert an existing lawn using seed, it is important that your lawn does not contain rye grass as this will compete too vigorously with your wild flowers.  Cut the existing grass down to 5cm, scarify the thatch and remove any clippings.  Small areas can be completely stripped of grass to improve establishment.  For best results, aim to expose around 50% bare soil. 

Choosing Seed Mixes:
Choosing the correct meadow seed mix is important for the success of your project.  We supply a number of different meadow mixtures depending on whether you want wild flowers only, grasses only or a mixture of the two.  There are also mixes for specific soil types and for different locations.  There are more details of each of the mixes on the Wild Flower Seed Collections pages (wild flowers only) and the Meadow Mixtures pages (wild grasses and wild flower mixtures), but in summary:

Meadow Mixtures (Wild Flowers & Grasses):

     Butterfly & Bee Meadow Mixture - a meadow mix with 6 species of wild grasses (80% by weight) and 21 species of wild flowers (20% by weight). Suitable across a variety of soil types.

     Long Flowering Season Meadow Mixture - a meadow mix with 6 species of wild grasses (80% by weight) and 24 species of wild flowers (20% by weight). Suitable across a variety of soil types.

     Spring Flowering Meadow Mixture - a meadow mix with 6 species of wild grasses (80% by weight) and 15 species of wild flowers (20% by weight). Suitable across a variety of soil types.

      Traditional Old English Meadow Mixture 2 - a meadow mix with 4 species of wild grasses (80% by weight) and 15 species of wild flowers (20% by weight). Suitable across a variety of soil types.

     Flowering Lawn Wild Flowers & Grass Mix - a mix with 6 species of wild grasses (80% by weight) and 12 species of wild flowers (20% by weight). Suitable across a variety of soil types.

     Mixture for Chalky Soils - a meadow mix which contains species found on lime-rich soils. It has 7 species of wild grasses (80% by weight) and 21 species of wild flower (20% by weight).

     Mixture for Clay Soils - a meadow mix which contains species adapted to growing on soils with a high clay content.  It has 8 species of wild grasses (80% by weight) and 16 species of wild flowers (20% by weight).

     Mixture for Loamy Soils - a meadow mix which contains species found on loamy soils. It has 6 species of wild grasses (80% by weight) and 17 species of wild flower (20% by weight).

     Mixture for Sandy Soils - a meadow mix which contains species found on sandy soils.  It has 6 species of wild grasses (80% by weight) and 17 species of wild flowers (20% by weight).

     Mixture for Hedgerows - a meadow mix which contains species which will tolerate semi-shade.  It has 7 species of wild grasses (80% by weight) and 16 species of wild flower (20% by weight).

     Mixture for Woodlands - a meadow mix which contains species able to tolerate shade where light levels fall down to 25% of that in the open.  It has 6 species of wild grasses (80% by weight) and 15 species of wild flowers (20% by weight).

     Mixture for a Green Roof - a mix of wild flowers & wild grasses suitable for growing in a shallow depth of growing medium.  It has 6 species of wild grasses (80% by weight) and 22 species of wild flowers (20% by weight). 

     Mixture for Wetlands - a meadow mix which contains species able to tolerate a fluctuating water table and periods of being waterlogged.  It has 7 species of wild grasses (80% by weight) and 17 species of wild flowers (80% by weight).  Most plants need to be well established to withstand winter flooding, so seeding needs to take place very early in autumn or better still, in spring.

     Mixture for Pond Edges - a meadow mix which contains species suitable for the marginal boggy zone found at the edges of ponds, ditches and streams. It has 7 species of wild grasses (80% by weight) and 17 species of wild flowers (20% by weight).

     Low Maintenance Mixture - a meadow mix that will require little or no maintenance once established.  It has 8 species of wild grasses (80% by weight) and 16 species of wild flowers (20% by weight).

Wild Flower Only Seed Collections:

     Cornfield Annual Mixture - this mixture of annual wild flowers will give a colourful display in one growing season from an autumn or spring sowing. It will grow on most soil types and consists of 5 species of wild flowers. It can also be sown with meadow mixtures to give a good show of colour in the first year (cornfield 'nurse').

     Special Cornfield Annual Mixture - this mixture of annual wild flowers has the same uses as the Cornfield Annual Mixture above, but it contains a wider range of wild flower species some of which are now rare or declining in the wild in Britain. It will give a colourful display in one growing season from an autumn or spring sowing. It will grow on most soil types. It can also be sown with meadow mixtures give a good show of colour in the first year (cornfield 'nurse').

     Honey & Bumble Bee Wild Flower Mixture - this mixture contains 22 different species of wild flower seeds that are attractive to bees and other nectar-seeking insects. It consists of species from traditional meadows and will grow on most soil types.

     Butterfly Wild Flower Mixture - this mixture contains 21 different species of wild flowers that act as food plants to butterflies and caterpillars. It consists of species from traditional meadows and will grow on most soil types.

     Bird Wild Flower Mixture - this mixture contains 10 different species of wild flower seeds that will attract birds to your garden. It consists of species from traditional meadows and will grow on most soil types.

     Long Flowering Season Wild Flower Mixture - this mixture of 24 different species of wild flowers will give a colourful display over a long period from an autumn or spring sowing. It consists of species from traditional meadows and will grow on most soil types.

     Spring Flowering Wild Flower Mixture - this mixture of 15 different species of wild flowers will give a colourful display  from an autumn or spring sowing. It consists of species from traditional meadows and will grow on most soil types.

     Traditional Wild Flower Mixture - this mixture of 15 different species of wild flowers will give a colourful display  from an autumn or spring sowing. It consists of species from traditional meadows and will grow on most soil types.

     Flowering Lawn Wild Flower Mixture - this mixture of 13 different species of wild flowers suitable for growing in a lawn with a restricted mowing regime. It consists of species from traditional meadows and will grow on most soil types.

     Country Cottage Wild Flower Mixture - this mixture of 17 different species of wild flowers suitable for sowing in a garden border.

     Wild Flower Mixture for Chalky Soils - this mixture of 21 different species of native wild flowers is suitable for planting on calcareous (lime-rich) soils.

     Wild Flower Mixture for Clay Soils - this mixture contains 16 different species of wild flowers adapted to growing on soils with a high clay content.  

     Wild Flower Mixture for Sandy Soils - this mixture of 23 different species of native wild flowers is suitable for planting on sandy soils.

     Wild Flower Mixture for Loamy Soils - this mixture of 17 different species of native wild flowers is suitable for planting on loamy soils.

     Wild Flower Mixture for a Green Roof - this mixture of 22 different species of wild flowers is suitable for growing in a shallow depth of growing medium.

     Wild Flower Mixture for Wetlands - this mixture contains 17 different species of wild flower able to tolerate a fluctuating water table and periods of being waterlogged. Most plants need to be well established to withstand winter flooding, so seeding needs to take place very early in autumn or better still, in spring.

     Wild Flower Mixture for Pond Edges - This mixture contains 17 species of wild flowers suitable for the marginal boggy zone found at the edges of ponds, ditches and streams. 

     Wild Flower Mixture for Hedgerows - this mixture contains 16 different species of wild flower able to tolerate semi-shade and is suitable for sowing beneath newly planted or established hedges and on woodland edges, rides and glades.

     Wild Flower Mixture for Woodlands - this mixture contains 17 species of wild flowers able to tolerate shade and is suitable for sowing in woodland areas.  The wild flowers are adapted to growing amongst established trees where shading has reduced light levels down to 25% of that in the open. 

Or you could make up your own mix and choose species which are traditionally from your locality - refer to the Postcode Plants Database for a list of native plants for your specific postcode. Look at our latest        Catalogue of Wild Flower Seeds.  If you have a large project and you require larger quantities, please email for a price enquiries@wildflowershop.co.uk.

Sowing Seeds & Planting Plugs:
Sow the seeds as evenly as possible using the quantities in the section below as a guideline.  Roll or tread in the seeds to ensure good contact between the soil and the seeds.  Ensure that the seeds don't dry out by watering as necessary.

The seed is generally best sown in the autumn (September to October) as some varieties require a period of cold to break dormancy and germinate in the spring.  However, the seeds can also be sown in the spring (February to May). On heavy clay soils it is be best to sow in spring as water-logging may cause some seed/seedlings to rot during the winter.

If converting an existing lawn, success is improved by reducing immediate competition while the wild flowers establish themselves by raking Yellow Rattle seed (Rhinanthus minor) into the grass.  This is semi-parasitic on the roots of plants, especially grasses, and once established will reduce the vigour of the original grass by up to 50%.  All ancient meadows have this plant.  Yellow Rattle needs a period of cold to germinate successfully, so is best sown between August and December.  Yellow Rattle is an annual and so once established, it is best to cut the meadow after the rattle has had a chance to seed ie after the end of July.

Planting small groups of wild flower plug plants into the site after the seed has been sown or into an existing lawn once it has been prepared as above, will improve establishment.  Look at our Catalogue of Wild Flower Plug Plants.  If you have a large project and you require larger quantities, please email for a price enquiries@wildflowershop.co.uk.

Sowing Rates for Seeds:
Sow the seeds as evenly as possible using the following quantities as a guideline:

     meadow mixes - 4g per square metre  (may use less if sowing into existing grass, but add Yellow Rattle at 1g per square metre)

     wild flower only mixes - from 1.5g per square metre depending on the density of flowering required (if sown into existing grass add Yellow Rattle at 1g per square metre as well (most of my wild flower mixes include yellow rattle)

     meadow grass only mixes - 5g per square metre.  These mixes aren't listed on the website, so please email or telephone if you would like more information.

     cornfield annual mix and special cornfield annual mix - between 2g and 5g per square metre depending on the density of flowering required (1g if sown with a meadow mix)

First Year Maintenance:
For most meadows (wild flower and wild grass mixes), you won't see a display of flowers in the first year unless you have added a companion cornfield annual mix (cornfield 'nurse') to your meadow mix.  Most of the perennial varieties will spend the first year bulking up their leaf growth and root structure.  A number of authorities (including the RHS) advise cutting each time the meadow reaches 10-15cm in height to get rid of annual weeds before they have a chance to set seed.  However, if any annual wild flower varieties have been sown with your meadow mix, it will be best to remove any unwanted weeds by hand and hold back on the first cut until July/August.  It is important to remove all clippings following cutting to prevent them enhancing soil fertility and blocking the light from the growing seedlings. 

If you have an area of wild flowers only (ie without the wild grasses), it really is up to you how you tidy the area.  Any very tall plants which collapse onto the ground and die back there will inhibit the germination of seeds and the growth of small plants underneath them, so it may be an idea to cut them back and remove the foliage.  If you have too many of any particular plants which you don’t want to increase in number, you can cut them back (or ‘weed’ them out completely) before they have set seed.  It may be best not to tidy up too thoroughly in the autumn as it will be more beneficial to insects and other wildlife over winter.  

If you have planted a meadow of just cornfield annuals, it may take time for the wild flower seed bank to build up.  This can be achieved either by allowing the seeds to fall naturally or by collecting the seeds and sowing them in autumn/spring.  If you collect the seed, dry it on absorbent paper and store in a cool dry place until you are ready to sow it.  You can also speed up the establishment of the seed bank by purchasing and sowing additional seeds in the first couple of years. 

Second Year Plus Maintenance:
Your wild flower meadow should provide a good display of flowers from the second year onwards.  If any unwanted weeds appear, remove them by hand.  If the varieties of seed you have planted are for a spring meadow, cut late June/early July and then again in September/October.  If the seed varieties you have planted are for a summer meadow (or mixed seasons), cut in September/October.  Always remove all clippings after cutting.  

For wild flower only areas, see paragraph under First Year Maintenance as the same applies.  If you are allowing grasses to colonise the area gradually/naturally, you may like to introduce a cutting regime in early autumn in future years once the grass has established. 

 

 

 

 

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