Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Preparing the ground for wild flowers

If you’re thinking of planting a wildflower meadow next year, now is a good time to start planning and preparing.
This is a funny old time of year, the garden doesn’t feel particularly productive, but work done now will pay off next spring/summer when the garden is in full flower and covered with butterflies, bees, hoverflies and myriads of pollinating insects. 
My husband is a farmer, his family moved to this farm in 1737, so there are several generations worth of wisdom floating around. One piece of sound advice oft repeated by Uncle Fred was “get all the ploughing finished by Christmas”.  Why? Because frosty conditions on newly disturbed soil will help break up clods, it will help kill off pests and diseases and any weeds that dare to germinate after harvest will be stopped in their tracks.
This weekend, have a good look around the garden and decide where your wild flower patch will go.  It doesn’t need to be a huge area – just a couple of square metres will do.  Remember, if every gardener in the UK were to convert just 10% of their garden into a wild flower meadow, then 10,000 hectares of butterfly habitat would be restored.  Awesome!
vegetation removed, the soil is dug over
The ideal spot for a mini-meadow (or a mega meadow) will be reasonably sunny, well drained and ideally with impoverished soil although meadow management can help reduce the soil fertility over time so don’t panic if it’s been well fed in the past. Soil type isn’t important, the flowering plants will adapt to survive in chalk, sand or clay soils.
Number one job at this time of year is to remove all vegetation, especially perennial weeds like dandelions, docks and nettles.  To be truly wildlife friendly, dig out every part of the plants, roots and all.  If that’s a scary prospect, glyphosate spray is an option but it won’t work as well in cooler weather and the way the spray works will mean that unwanted plants die back and are turned back into soil nutrients – so spraying isn’t ideal. However you decide to rid the area of unwanted plants – make sure you kill the roots too so that the weed can’t regenerate itself next spring.  Me?  I’m planning to clear the ground for my next wild flower patch with a unique tool – my eldest son and his trusty spade.
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