Creating wildflower meadows from plug plants

Meadow creation

How to create a wildflower meadow using plug plants

Plug plants are ideal to use in smaller areas to add meadow plants; so ideal in a garden, community area or existing grassland/ lawn.

Site preparation

A suitable site for a wildflower meadow has full sun, fairly low fertility and few perennial weeds. Any area chosen should be surveyed to establish the flora already present to make sure you are not destroying an area already rich in biodiversity. Also consider the nutritional condition of the soil and the soil type. Any plants or seed brought in should be compatible with the soil conditions and preferably of local origin.

On existing grassland you need to identify the grass species present. This is most easily done in summer when they are in flower. If the grasses are fine-leaved, short (up to 70cm including seed head) and include species such as Meadow foxtail, Common bent,  Sweet vernal grass, Yorkshire fog and Crested dogstail, then the grass can be kept and diversity increased by addition of seed and/or plug plants (See below Adding Diversity to Existing Grassland). If the grasses present are tall, wide-leaved, clump-forming or form a thick, dense thatch, e.g. couch grass, Deschampsia or a grazing mix rich in rye grass, the turf should be stripped off, sprayed or ploughed in and seed sown into bare soil. It is possible to change this rough or ‘improved’ grassland gradually by scarification, sowing seed and then hay meadow management, but this method is very slow (10 – 15 years) and we do not recommend it.

Weeds

Perennial weeds such as docks, creeping thistles, brambles and nettles are an indicator of fertile soil and their seeds can lie dormant in the soil for many years. If possible you should choose a more suitable site for your wildflower meadow. If you are removing areas of these weeds it is well worth devoting an entire growing season to eradicating weeds before sowing in autumn. The site may be ploughed and cleared with 1 or 2 applications of weedkiller. The chemical-free method is to spread black plastic mulch for at least 6 months before sowing or to hand dig the weeds.  If you have buttercups identify the species: creeping buttercup is an invasive weed, meadow buttercup is a meadow flower.
After eradication of the weeds do not plough again or cultivate deeply as this will raise another lot of weed seeds to the surface. Cultivate the top couple of inches of soil to create a firm, fine seed bed.
If you have a bare soil site where perennial weeds are not a problem e.g an arable field, it is still advisable to cultivate some weeks or months before sowing meadow seed. Any weed seeds which germinate in the seed bed may be sprayed or hoed out before sowing. The common arable weeds such as fat hen, sow thistle, red deadnettle will appear in the first year but they are annuals or biennials and are not going to be a long term problem. You can top them to prevent seed setting but they will soon die out from the meadow as it evolves into a permanent grassland because they are species adapted to disturbed soil.

Use of plug plants

Plug plants are small plants which are ready to plant out. PlantWild plugs are larger than most and they will start to flower in the first spring or summer after planting. We recommend up to 5 plug plants per m2. They can be planted out in spring or autumn and can go into bare soil at the same time as seed sowing or they can go in later, once the seed has started to establish. In existing grassland they can go in in autumn or spring as long as the sward is cut very short when they are planted. Competition from surrounding grasses can be reduced by spraying or digging out small circles of grass before planting. You may want to choose flowering species which are not present already, or use plug plants to enhance a more visible area of a large meadow. It is a good idea to plant plugs in groups of at least 5 of the same species. This gives a natural look and helps the bees to locate the plants when they flower. They can be planted with a small trowel or a dibber the same size as the root ball and must be watered well and prevented from drying out until they are established. When positioning your plugs you may want to consider whether they are early or late flowering (see below ‘When to cut’) Rabbits enjoy plug plants. If you have a lot of rabbits please protect the plants with fencing, mesh or thorny twigs.

To maintain your meadow please see our additional page with advice on maintaining your meadow.

If you would like help choosing your plug plants for your meadow ; why not choose the meadow plug plant collection, or do get in touch and we will be happy to discuss your project!