Alice, Conservation, Gardening, How To

Wildflower meadows are a pollinators’ paradise. Bursting with a diverse range of nectar sources, these magnificent meadows were a haven for bees, butterflies, birds, and other wildlife. However, since the 1930s, we have lost over 99% of these areas, which is a likely contributing factor to the decline of the bee population. Luckily, there are ways of recreating these biodiversity patches in the comfort of your own back garden. Not only can these wild patches look fantastic, but they are also great for supporting bees along with other pollinators and wildlife. Here is how to grow a wildflower meadow in your garden.

how to grow a wildflower meadow

What is a Wildflower Meadow?

A wildflower meadow, or bio-diversity patch, is an area of grass where wildflowers grow. They occur naturally in the British countryside, referred to as semi-natural or unimproved grasslands, but can be created manually. These spaces attract a multitude of wildlife and provide an eye-catching alternative to lawns and flowerbeds.

Annuals & Perennials

Perennial wildflower meadows are more representative of those found naturally. These meadows are most successful in larger areas and may take years to fully establish. They thrive best on poor soils so the grasses will not crowd out the flowers. 

Although not a true meadow, annual wildflower meadows can create a bold display of colour for a season. Unlike perennials, these wildflowers grow better in rich, fertile soil. Some seed mixtures contain a mixture of annuals and perennials. 

How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow Step by Step

1. Choose your area

The first step to creating your wild meadow is to select an area of your garden for it to occupy. It needs to be an open space in a sunny position, but can be on flat or sloping ground. You may choose an area of your lawn, or an unused flower bed or border. The plant seeds can be planted into the soil or an established grass area. 

2. Reduce fertility

Highly fertile soil encourages excess vigour in grasses causing them to crowd out wildflowers, so if your soil has been enriched with fertiliser, it may be too rich for growing a perennial wild meadow. You can reduce the fertility of the soil by removing 3-6 inches of topsoil using a turf cutter or spade, or plant a crop of mustard plants as these will absorb a lot of nutrients. If you are planting your wildflowers on an existing lawn, stop using fertiliser and weed killer beforehand. This step can be skipped if you are planting an annual wildflower meadow.

3. Prepare the soil

If you are sowing in soil, making sure to prepare the ground beforehand. Rake the soil to a fine tilth (like breadcrumbs), then lay some black plastic sheeting over it so any existing weeds in the soil germinate then die. If your soil contains stronger perennial weeds such as docks, nettles, and dandelions, you may need to employ some chemical weed control to eliminate them. Use a systemic glyphosate-based weed killer. You can then water if necessary. If you are planting on a lawn, mow the lawn to less than 5cm long before sowing wildflowers.

4. Sow the seeds

Now time for the fun part- sowing the seeds! There are some great wildflower seed mixtures out there, which offer a ready-made diverse meadow. Our Wildflower Mixture Seeds offer a colourful variety of native flowers, and our Wildlife Attracting Garden Varieties Mixed Seeds have been specifically selected to attract bees, butterflies, and other beneficial pollinators into your garden. If you prefer, you can also choose your own selection of flowers. Good varieties include ox-eye daisies, red clover, cowslip, and field scabious. The most useful addition is the yellow rattle, which has the magic ability to reduce the vigour of grasses. Rattle, eyebright, and lousewort can also be effective. 

You will need about 5 grams of seed per square metre of meadow. Scatter the seeds as you walk across the ground; there is no need to cover with soil, but gently walk across the seeds afterwards to make sure they are in contact with the soil. If you are converting a lawn into a meadow, using wildflower plug plants can be a good option. Keep growing plants well-watered until they are established, and protect from birds and slugs.

5. Maintenance

In the first year of growth, cut your wild meadow in July-August. In subsequent years, cut it from September onwards once the summer is over, and perhaps again in early spring. For a small meadow, you can use a strimmer or a power scythe; larger areas can be cut with a power scythe. Leave the cut hay on the patch for a week so the seeds can drop, then clear away and compost to prevent the soil from becoming too rich. 

You may need to do some weeding to remove dock, nettles and thistles. It is a good idea to water annual wildflowers while they establish. Perennial meadows should be left to grow naturally without any additional water.

Your meadow will continue to evolve year by year; some may take years to establish properly and flower, with some species overtaking others over time. You may wish to add more flowers as you go along, particularly if you are using annual species which die after one blooming season. Wildflower meadows will attract bees and butterflies- you may also see bats, birds, grasshoppers, and other wildlife.

20th May is World Bee Day, so make sure to get involved and spread the word about the plight of garden bees. You can read more about bee conservation here. You can also let us know how your wildflower meadow is growing on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram

 

 

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Animals, Claire Ryan, Current Issues, Flowers

bee

Yesterday a European commission vote passed a ban on neonicotinoid pesticide use. One of the major arguments against implementing this ban was farmers’ worries about a loss in income. British farmers have been spraying pesticide “insurance” treatments to prevent crop loss and damage, for over a decade. It is unlikely that treatment is necessary for all crop pests on such a regular basis.

Now that the EU has banned this class of harmful pesticides it is time for UK farmers to begin rethinking their approaches to pest management, and build new techniques in order to maintain healthy habitats for our wildlife.

There are plenty of options for farmers, include planting wildlife strips, using trap cropping, and choosing different crop varieties. Wildlife farming may play a key part in sustaining pollinators, keeping crops pest free while still keeping farmers and consumers happy.

The sowing of floral strips – mini wildlife strips that border a crop – can be extremely beneficial. When planted with native wildflower species the benefits are innumerable. Wildflowers maintain biological diversity by acting as a refuge for many wild species such as bees, hoverflies, and butterflies. Many of these are pollinators which provide economic benefits to the farmers’ crops. Floral strips are also home to the larvae of hoverflies, which play a part as natural pest control, as they feed on aphids.

Other options exist, such as trap cropping, for example using turnip rape which attract the pests away from the main crop to the companion crop. Reducing field plot sizes also improves biological control. Crop rotations can be diversified: a narrow rotation of wheat – wheat – oilseed rape can be replaced by rotations that include peas before oilseed rape, and growing sunflowers between wheat years. Farmers can also take advantage of the appropriate crop varieties, choosing those that are tolerant or resistant to diseases transferred by key pests.

More information can also be found in this fact sheet by the Pesticide Action Network UK.

Claire small Claire is a member the Primrose marketing team, working on online marketing.

She trained as a Botanist and has an MSc in Plant Diversity where she specialised in Plant and Bumblebee ecology.

She writes our ecology themed articles.

See all of Claire’s posts.

Animals, Claire Ryan, Current Issues, Flowers

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Our Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is looking at the consequences of restricting the use of imadacloprid, the most widely used insecticide in the world. A series of publications appeared in 2012 bringing the severe impact of this insecticide to light. Over the past few weeks the media have latched on to this and discussion is building around the idea to ban this particular pesticide. The current debate centralises on the impacts for farmers and the chemical companies which profit from pesticide production.

What is imadacloprid?

Imadacloprid is a chemical insecticide known as a neonicitinoid. This toxin was selected for its purpose as it is more toxic to insects than to mammals. It irreversibly blocks insect nervous systems causing paralysis and death. It is applied and injected into plants and soil in many different ways, as a seed treatment, and in liquid or granular form. As it is systemic, once taken up by roots it can be transported to all parts of the plant. Thus any insect visitor can become poisoned via feeding on pollen or nectar. Imadacloprid builds up in the soil year on year, with many crops being treated multiple times a year.

Why should I care about bees?

As most people know pollinators such as bees are vital for food production. Bumblebees are our most efficient pollinator and for a range of reasons their populations have been falling. Starvation and habitat loss due to insufficient food sources are frequently cited as major factors, but pesticide misuse is clearly one of the biggest issues that need to be overcome if we want to bring back the sound of Summer.

What can I do?

There is a lot you can do in your own garden to help boost bumblebee numbers. By planting colourful pollinator-friendly plants throughout the Spring and Summer you can attract bees and butterflies. When buying plants check with your garden centre to find out if they’ve used neonicitinoids. We sell a selection of pollinator friendly plants in our plants section and as Spring draws near we will be letting you know more about what plants are best to help you create a wildlife garden.

You can also support Charities such as the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

It took ten years from the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring until DDT was banned in the US in 1972. DDT was a chemical pesticide used in large quantities regardless of a lack of a full understanding on its harmful impacts on ecology and human health, and was not banned in The UK until 1984. The toxicity of imadacloprid has resulted in both France and Germany banning the use of the toxin, and The UK is now under pressure to take action too.

Petition your MP to make your voice heard.

Claire small Claire is a member the Primrose marketing team, working on online marketing.

She trained as a Botanist and has an MSc in Plant Diversity where she specialised in Plant and Bumblebee ecology.

She writes our ecology themed articles.