Meadow Making with Wildflowers
Sow Wild - Meadowscaping With Wildflowers
Meadows and happiness go together…just like peanut butter and jelly. As a kid, I loved taking the well beaten path through the field that we used as a shortcut to school; I was often seen running through the tall grassy field whenever I missed the school bus. Today, and after numerous psychological studies, it is confirmed that we humans show a preference for open meadows and, this preference, is strongest among children. Proof of course that missing the bus, no seriously though, that meadows, colorful wildflowers and buzzing insects, are all beneficial and we are wise to embrace them whenever we can.
Meadows, better known as grasslands, fields or prairies, are typically wide-open naturalized spaces usually comprised of three plant families: Grasses, Asteraceae and Legumes, with other plants scattered throughout that have self-seeded, wind dispersed, or serendipitously added by passing birds, animals and humans.
Native grasses are the most abundant element , typically comprising 25 percent (and need to be controlled; all of these plants become interwoven and each contributing to the growth of one another, and to the diversity of the meadow as a whole. ‘Meadowscaping’ (the process of creating your own wildflower meadow), can be scaled down to a residential level, to any size on your property, that has four to five hours of sun exposure. Native plants are always the best choice for meadows. Meadows have better rates of success if native plants are used as a foundation, for example, bunch grasses (fescues), groundcovers (selfheal, ajuga) perennial wildflowers (daisies, coneflowers, yarrows, and lupins) and annual wildflowers. Annual wildflowers are showy (some annuals are great self-seeders, and some will need to be replenished); this is a cost-effective way to provide ongoing colorful displays with native wildflowers (poppies, coreopsis).
Here at bumbleseeds, we try and push the boundaries of the zone/seed tolerance, and experiment with plants not native to British Columbia - with some encouraging success; we find that our property has microclimates and we are not limited. Meadows are a great way to experiment with various plants because of the biodiversity and microclimates they can provide. When starting your meadowscape, keep in mind that larger, heavier seeds (lupines and native legumes) and denser, smaller, rounded seeds (mint, bergamot, nigella, catchfly) have a better success rate than fluffy irregularly shaped seeds. A good mix of heights and bloomtimes is also beneficial.
Architectural features can also be included in meadowscapes; creative elements help to add visual interest especially between the fall and spring seasons. We added a concrete bird bath which provides water for birds and pollinators, or you can simply dig a small hole, and add a shallow bucket - place stones around the edges to create an easy access ‘beach entry’ for small mammals, and bees, and remember to place a stick over the top for birds to perch on to get a drink, and/or for insects to grasp onto should they happen to fall in. Creating small piles of branches and logs can also provide bees and small mammals some refuge. Adding some solar powered lights can highlight different features and plants and will add another interesting design element to the meadowscape...and may also attract some interesting moths!
Backyards often reflect our unique personalities and tastes. For some people, lawns may be considered an important design element to a property and may take precedence over a ‘messy looking’ meadow. Rest assured, lawns are useful as low-diversity grassland meadows, however, on the opposite side of fence, for those who feel lawns are high maintenance, costly (due to watering and labour) and well, a boring nondescript green carpet…we think meadows are the perfect solution! Check out our Sow Wild. Meadow Mix
Meadowscaping not only saves us money, these evolve and change as the seasons progress bringing joy and attracting a plethora of pollinators, and requiring much less work!
- Fall Planting: in areas with freezing weather, sowing occurs after the first killing frost. In areas with no frost, plant when the rainy season occurs. Once the ground is bare and loose sow the wildflowers immediately.
- Spring Planting: sow seeds once all risk of frost has passed and your soil temperature has reached 55 F. Once the ground is bare and loose sow the wildflowers immediately.
- Summer Planting: summer sowing is doable, however not very successful if your summers are too hot.
Meadows can be custom designed for personal preferences, growing conditions and budgets…and lawns can happily be converted to meadows with the addition of native wildflowers and grasses, with the right preparation; starting a meadow from a grassland or lawn, and from scratch, requires different approaches.
Developing a Meadow from an Existing Grassland or Lawn:
This process requires less labour than starting from scratch however the results take longer, and changes are subtle:
- Mowing: mow the lawn or grassland area as low as possible - remove as much cut grass and vegetation as possible to increase the success of seed to soil contact. Continue to mow the area until the seedlings appear - this helps reduce competition for seed growth from the existing vegetation. Continue to mow the area and raise the height of the mower when wildflower seedlings appear. Stop mowing when the seedlings are tall.
- Sowing: divide your seed mix into two equal parts and place each half into two buckets. Add fine sand – roughly double the amount of sand to seed ratio to each bucket. Broadcast one bucket of seed/sand mix over the entire prepared area in one direction - the sand will help propel the seeds further and it will enable you to see where the seeds fell, and where you need more. Sow as evenly as possible. Now broadcast the second pail of seed/sand mix over the area in the opposite direction.
- Growing: Do not rake in or cover the seeds. Using a very light misting setting, lightly water in from above to create a good soil to seed contact. Keep the area moist until your wildflowers are at least six to eight inches tall. Now you can kick back and watch your meadowscape begin to take shape and continue to grow; if there are any visible bare spots or uneven distribution of colors, simply broadcast some new seeds to the areas, and water in lightly.
Developing a Meadow from Scratch:
This process requires more money, time and effort, however once established, meadows from scratch can last centuries. The key to success in this method is to eradicate the existing vegetation and suppress any dormant weed seed in the soil area.
Several options are available:
- We chose to ‘upholster’ our overgrown areas (inundated with blackberry bushes and vinca) with black plastic suppression material for a full growing season; this is considered one of the most effective methods.
- Sheet mulching is another approach however this can add up to be quite costly if the area is huge and non-effective if the area is hilly.
- Repeated applications of broad-spectrum herbicides (grass and broadleaf) are another option however this is not recommended.
Tilling areas to eliminate weeds nearly always creates more weeds. This method chops up the roots and rhizomes of plants and grasses causing them to come back in full force; it also unearths years of dormant seeds waiting for light and rain to bring them back to life.
- Clear the area as best as you can without tilling deeply; if possible remove roots near the surface and any weeds by hand.
- Follow the steps above for sowing and growing.
- Highly fertile areas promote increased grass growth. Fertilization is not recommended as wildflowers will be squeezed out by the overgrowth of grasses. The best-looking meadows grow on the poorest of soils. One of the best ways to reduce soil fertility is to remove the dead and dried up vegetation from the area throughout, and at the end of the season.
- Meadows should be mowed late in the fall when the weather is cooler, and after your wildflowers have dropped their seeds.
- After raking up and removing the ‘thatch’, the area is now perfectly prepared to add more seeds; as your meadow becomes a thriving ecosystem, you can add different colored annuals for each season/
- Meadows should be mowed annually, or at least once every two years, and the process repeated until the meadow is naturally established.
Meadowscaping is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to create a diverse ecosystem for birds, small mammals and pollinators…it also provides its humans with numerous psychological benefits - from the restfulness and recaptured free time due to its minimal maintenance - to the sheer joy of watching it sprout, and change throughout the season. Best of all, that gleeful feeling of walking through your own shortcut,to wherever you need to be, through your own wildflower meadow that you created. Check out our Sow Wild Meadow Making Mix here.