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 create a mini meadow; so ideal in a garden, community area or existing grassland/ lawn.

Use of plug plants

Plug plants are small plants which are ready to plant out. PlantWild plugs are larger than most; please click here for image, 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 if wildflower seed is being sown or they can go in later, once the seed has started to establish. Alternatively the area can be planted entirely with plug plants.

Plug plants are also ideal to plant in an existing grassland or in a lawn where they can be planted in Autumn or Spring providing the sward is cut very short when they are planted. the grass cuttings should be removed before planting, to ensure nitrogen levels are reduced. In a lawn it is preferable that the lawn has been left unfertilised for several months, and in a grassland, any perennial weeds should be removed as detailed below in the site preparation tips. Plug plants are also perfect to create a focal area in a large area of meadow, where specific wildflowers can be chosen to complement the plants that are present already

Competition from surrounding grasses can be reduced by digging out small circles of grass before planting, or in a short lawn they can be planted directly into their chosen site. If vigorous grasses are likely to be an issue then it is recommended to include Yellow rattle which is a partial parasite of grasses and will keep their vigorous growth in check. Although Yellow rattle is an annual it will self seed when the area is cut from July on wards.

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 pollinators locate the plants when they flower, and helps them to establish over time to give a higher impact. They can be planted with a small trowel or a dibber , adding some peat free compost to the planting hole and should be watered well to prevent then from drying out until they are established. Following which, through the growing season the wildflower plug plants should compete favourably with any fine grasses that are present. The first cut of the area would not be required until around mid July, although this would also be dependant on the flowering time of the plug plants. (see the meadow maintenance article here)

Rabbits also enjoy plug plants! If you have a lot of rabbits please protect the plants with fencing, mesh or thorny twigs.

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!

Site preparation

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

On existing grassland it is beneficial to identify the grass species present if at all possible. This is most easily done in summer when the grasses 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 left and diversity increased by the addition of plug plants . 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, ploughed in and plug plants (or seed) sown into the bare soil.

Weeds

It is likely that a lawn or garden would have few weeds, and any that are present can easily be located and removed by hand.

However in other larger areas, if perennial weeds are present such as docks, creeping thistles, brambles and nettles, then these are an indicator of fertile soil and their seeds can lie dormant in the soil for many years.  Therefore, to remove areas of these weeds it is well worth devoting an entire growing season to eradicating weeds before planting in the Autumn. The site may be ploughed and cleared with 1 or 2 applications of weedkiller. A spot weedkiller would be preferable to target the troublesome weeds, although no planting should commence until at least 6 months after the last application.  However, the chemical-free method is to spread black plastic mulch over the area for at least 6 months before sowing or planting, or even to hand dig the weeds.  If there are buttercups present, it is beneficial to identify the species if possible: creeping buttercup is an invasive weed, whereas meadow buttercup is a meadow flower, and can be left to grow as part of the meadow mix.
After eradication of the weeds it is recommended not to plough again or cultivate deeply as this will raise another batch of weed seeds to the surface. Instead,cultivate the top couple of inches of soil to create a firm, fine seed bed.

If the plan is to plant on 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 planting, to ensure weed seeds germinate and if so they can be hoed out before planting. If the common arable weeds such as fat hen, sow thistle, red deadnettle appear in the first year, they are not an issue as  they are annuals or biennials and are not going to be a long term problem. They can be cut to prevent seed setting and they will soon die out from the meadow as it evolves.

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