Vast areas of the UK’s natural habitats have been destroyed since the 1930’s: 98% of wild flower meadows, 75% of open heaths, 96% of open peat bogs and 190,000 miles of hedgerow have been lost. Loss of habitat is a threat to all of our wildlife. Bees, butterflies, birds and mammals are all part of the intricate web which depends ultimately on our native plants. Why not consider a wildflower meadow and make a difference! If you have a large area, using meadow seed is a good start and below is some advice for using meadow seed to plant your meadow. If you are planting a smaller area in your garden or within a lawn, plug plants are a good option- our advice on using plug plants can be found here.
How to create a wildflower meadow from seed
A local provenance meadow seed and grass mix can be sown in spring or autumn, but for best results sow August to October.
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.
There are several methods for the creation of a wildflower meadow. The method chosen will depend upon the size of the area, the current condition and flora on the site and the availability of machinery.
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.
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.
If your soil is fairly fertile the seed mix should include yellow rattle, a semi-parasitic annual which reduces the strength of the grasses and so helps the more delicate wild flowers to thrive. In some parts of the UK eyebright or red bartsia may occur in place of yellow rattle. Some seeds, such as yellow rattle will need a period of cold weather before they will germinate (stratification). If seed is sown in the spring or summer the rattle seed will germinate the following spring after stratification, but we recommend sowing extra fresh rattle seed in the autumn. Sow seed into bare soil at 4g/m2 or 40kg/Ha (16kg/acre), you can mix the seed with fine sand or sawdust to make sowing easier and more even. Broadcasting by hand is often easiest. A seed spinner or fertiliser spinner may be useful. Firm the soil by rolling or treading but do not cover, drill or bury the seed. Water in dry periods where possible.
Adding diversity to existing grassland
Existing lawn or pasture can be successfully sown with meadow flowers if it is made up of fine grass species rather than tall, broad-leaved, vigorous or clump-forming grasses ( e.g. couch, rye grass, cocksfoot, false oat grass). The sward should be scarified with a rake or chain harrow to create pockets of bare soil making up 1/3 of the total area. Alternatively every third strip can be sprayed with weedkiller, lightly cultivated and then sowed. The sowing rate on existing grassland is 1-2g/m2 or 10-20kg/Ha (4-8kg/acre) The seed mix used should still be a locally sourced mix of approx. 30% flower seed 70% grass seed and the meadow grasses will gradually replace any less well adapted existing grasses.
Please note that we no longer harvest or sell wildflower meadow seed mixes, however we are happy to put you in touch with some of our colleagues who specialise in wildflower seeds and may be able to help.
We do sell wildflower meadow plug plants however, so please see our Wildflower meadow plants for more details. Together with our information on How to use plug plants for creating a meadow why not make a start creating your own meadow from seed or plug plants. And to help you plan we also supply a meadow collection of plug plants so you are ready to go!
Please be patient. Creating a beautiful meadow from seed will take 3-5 years and from existing grassland will take 5 years + depending on the existing species. A well-managed meadow will go on improving over 15-20 years. Do feel free to contact us if you need any further help and advice about your meadow.