Wildlife Gardening - Wildflower Meadow
Created | Updated Sep 10, 2013
Introduction | Mammals and Birds | Woodland Habitat
Insects, Amphibians and Reptiles | Wildflower Meadow | Water Habitat
Natural Slug Control | Natural Weed Control | The Winter Border
Wildflower meadows are fast dying out as the result of clearing for crop space and homes. They act as a staging post for invertebrates, especially insects, and in the garden they can be used to keep the seeds of declining species going.
Low-growing Lawn Flowers
The easiest way to create a meadow is to stop mowing part of the lawn and to stop using weed killers and fertilizers. Many lawns have low-growing wild flowers among them naturally, leaving the mower blade on the highest setting and mowing once a fortnight or less, or simply not mowing at all will allow them to flourish. Keeping the meadow away from borders will prevent weeds from spreading. Pot-grown plants can be added, but the meadow will gradually improve with time.
It can take a few years to establish a wildflower meadow, as the soil needs to be dealt with in a particular way. The less fertile the soil, the more chance the flowers will have, otherwise the grass will succeed at their expense. Nitrogen-hungry plants that grow quickly can be planted for a year to strip the nutrients out of the soil. Weeds that will be a problem have to be dealt with.
The simplest way for a home gardener to establish a wildflower meadow is to remove turf physically, scarify the soil (as opposed to deep tilling, which is not recommended), and sow seed mixed with some inert material like sand or clean soil (one part seed to two parts sand) - commercial seed mixes can be bought for many types of soil. A home-made mix can be sown, but it is not always easy to obtain seed for every species that is required. As the meadow matures, more species can be added as they will spread out as they flourish.
Sowing is best done in September, although the beginning of October is not too late. Many seeds need a cold spell to break their dormancy. If the soil is bare it is best to sow the grass1 seed first, rake it in thoroughly, and then sow the flowers without further raking. Keep the seed bed protected from birds with netting or branches.
Six weeks after the start of the growing season in the following spring, when it is about 10cm high, the meadow will need mowing. Cut between 5cm and 10cm with a scythe or rotary mower, and then again in a further six weeks, when it reaches the same height. This should be done throughout the growing season.
By the second summer it should only need to be mown once or twice, although this should be flexible to cope with varying growth rates. In the third year, it need only be kept under 10cm if the grass is still dominant.
The grass clippings should be left on the meadow for one week to allow seed to be dispersed, then they should be collected to prevent them rotting down and adding unwanted nitrogen to the soil.
Types of Meadow
There are many different types of meadow that can be sown. The ones most likely to succeed are listed below with management plans.
Spring flowers - This type should be left uncut until late June, when the flowers have died down, and then mown down to between five and eight centimetres. It can be kept at this height, or left to regrow and give another mild show of flowers. It should be cut back again in late September to ensure a good display of flowers the following year.
Summer flowers - This can be left uncut until September, raking at the same time to remove dead grass.
Butterfly - Each species of butterfly likes different conditions. The best way to deal with this is to leave some areas short, some long, and others in between. Make sure these areas are varied from year to year. A path can be mown through the meadow, as long as the route is changed each year. Mow some parts in June, some in July, and then a final cut in autumn, raking up the grass. Leave some of the meadow unmown over the winter, and another part the next. This should encourage as many different types of butterfly as possible.