Friday, 25 October 2013

How to create a perennial flower meadow

Perennial flower meadows can look very attractive and will flower for many years once established. Most of our native wildflower meadows have disappeared due to intensification of agriculture and by creating your own flower meadow you bring a tiny fragment of this precious habitat back and provide food and shelter for many different types of wildlife especially pollinators and other insects, spiders, birds and small mammals.

Perennial meadows are relatively easy to create if the area is suitable and the right species mix is used. They also need only minimal maintenance after the plants are established as there is only one autumn cut to do.
You can create perennial meadows consisting exclusively of wildflowers native to the UK which will be in full flower from June to August.  These native meadows are very beneficial for all sorts of wildlife and look more natural (at least to me). If you are more adventurous, want a different range of colours or later flowering season you can also opt for non-native perennial meadows such as the popular prairie-style flower meadows which will be in full flower from mid-summer onward.
Perennial flower meadows look best if created on a large area. If you have only a small garden you can still try to create a mini-meadow but it will probably need more maintenance and will be less resilient to negative impacts such as excessive grass growth and weeds.

A perennial flower meadow can look very colourful

Follow these simple steps below to create your own perennial flower meadow in your garden next year:

1. Choose the meadow site: Perennial meadows often grow best in full sun but there are some mixes available for more shady sites. Best would be a soil with moderate fertility but normal garden soil should work as well. 

A colourful perennial seed mix with native wildlfowers
     2. Now you have to choose the seed mix you want to use. There are many different perennial seed mixes available; for different soil types (clayey, sandy, chalky etc), for shade or full sun, wet or dry soil, with native wildflowers or with a mix of native and non-natives, with added grass seed or without. Choose carefully and select a mix which matches your conditions as often the success of your meadow depends on the right seed mix for your chosen location. I would also recommend using a perennial seed mix without added grass seeds as often garden soil is quite fertile and will favour the growth of the grass which would soon dominate your meadow.
Sowing rate of perennial seed mixes vary from seed mix to seed mix to please refer to the seed company’s descriptions to make sure you buy enough seed for your chosen area.

For a wide selection of native seed mixes have a look on the EmorsgateSeeds website.
      3. Ground preparation can start in autumn or early spring. Remove the turf if you want to convert part of your lawn into a wildflower meadow (you can stack the sods face-down in a corner of your garden to rot down). The next step is to dig (or rotovate) the ground  and remove any weeds you see. Look for roots of perennial weeds such as Couch grass, Ground elder and Bindweed and remove every little piece as they can grow back from tiny root fragments. To prepare the seed bed level the ground and rake the soil to a fine tilth.

Perennial meadows will attract many different pollinators

      4. Do not sow immediately but wait a few weeks to let weed seeds germinate. Kill off all weed seedlings either by hoeing or by using a weed killer such as Glyphosate if you do not mind using herbicides. By doing this weed growth in your meadow will be considerably reduced. 

Meadow seedlings about 4 weeks after sowing
    5. Once your seed bed looks relatively weed-free you are ready to sow your perennial seed mix. Sowing can take place in autumn or spring. Sowing your seeds in autumn has the advantage that the soil is still warm from summer but is, thanks to autumn rains, moist enough for speedy germination and establishment of the seedlings before winter sets in. This way you avoid unfavourable sowing conditions in spring such as unseasonably hot and dry weather.      Mix the seeds with dry sand (about 1:10) so you can see were you have sown already. It will also help distribute the seeds more evenly over the area.
If you have a small area to sow you can just scatter the seed/sand mix evenly over the whole area. If you have a larger area to sow it helps to split the area into several sections and divide the seed/sand mix within each of these areas.

      6. After you have scattered the seeds rake lightly. If no rain is forecast you can water your meadow a few times until the seeds germinate if the area is not too large.

Don`t let your meadow grow taller than 15 cm in the first year
    7. Once your meadow reaches a height of about 10-15 cm cut it back to about 5-8 cm and collect cuttings. This needs to be done to remove larger weeds and to help the meadow plants to spread out and fill the gaps. Repeat this every time your meadow reaches 10-15 cm and never let it grow taller than 15 cm.

     8. In the second full growing year of your meadow let the meadow flower and only cut once in September (or later if the meadow is still flowering). Collect the cuttings after about a week so seeds have the chance to drop. Do one autumn cut in any subsequent years and collect the cuttings a week later. If your meadow has grown a lot over winter and exceeds 15 cm in early spring you can do a second cut in March or early April and collect the cuttings.

      9. After about 4-5 years scarify parts of the meadow to create some disturbance which will help the meadow plant seeds to germinate and to rejuvenate the meadow. You can also scatter some chosen meadow plant seeds over the disturbed patches yourself to enhance species diversity.

     10. Sit back, relax and enjoy your perennial meadow and all the wildlife it will bring into your garden.

A native wildflower meadow in July
A honeybee collecting pollen and nectar from a Musk mallow flower
Meadows are an  important habitat for many different insects and other wildlife
A Small tortoiseshell
Wild carrot flowers in August and attracts many different hoverflies
An Ivy bee drinking nectar from an Autumn hawkbit
Yarrow, Black knapweed and Ox-eye daisy

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing on How to create a perennial flower meadow!! You know I don’t have suitable area for that, but I would like to find a suitable area so that I can create that. Well can you also suggest which type of Flower Bouquets I should send to my FiancĂ© on her birthday?