Monday, 15 October 2012

When to plant a wildflower meadow

wild flower meadow in spring
wild flowers in spring
Traditional wildflower meadows look their absolute best in late spring and early summer but unlike cultivated plants or turf, we can't go into the garden centre, buy a meadow in flower, bring it home and plant it.

Creating a really good, species rich meadow that will look amazing and benefit wildlife requires patience - and plenty of it.

I installed a small area of Meadowmat wild flower matting quite soon after Q Lawn' launched the product.....around April 2011.  In that first summer, I was pleased with the number of flowers I had and the attention it recieved from insects, particularly bumblebees, but I had been hoping for a more spectacular floral display.  This summer, my patience was rewarded with a lovely show of flowers that lasted from May until the end of July.  Sadly, horrible weather all summer meant not too many butterflies and bees came to visit but I did see my first ever Hawker was HUGE (and rather ugly).

The little area of meadow I started from seed at the same time as installing my Meadowmat also did well this year.....see....I just needed more patience.....but I'm not convinced that the plants I enjoyed so much this year actually came out of that seed packet.  They're all indiginous to my garden and I spent 26 years pulling out dead nettles, campions and mallow before I saw the light.

seedhead of birdsfoot trefoil
birdsfoot trefoil seed head
Mother Nature likes to sow wildflower seeds from late summer through to autumn.  Now as a gardeny type of person, I'm used to sowing seeds in spring...probably in the greenhouse...and then having them flower (or fruit) that same summer and I think that maybe I've got into bad habits by doing that. 

Horticulturists and plant breeders are incredibly clever, they've managed to tweak plants so that they do what we want them to do, when we want them to do it. Not so wild flowers.  Wild flowers do their own thing.  They set seeds when the weather tells them to, and those seeds germinate when the time is right for them...not necessarily for us.  That's why, when sowing a wildflower meadow from seed, it's best to do it autumn.  You may have to wait until spring for some of the species to may have to wait until spring 2015...some seeds are fickle.  But patience will pay off.

lay wildflower matting for speedy meadow establishment
If you're like me....impatient...lay some wild flower matting.  Most of the seeds are already germinated and you're effectively buying 12 months worth of time.  It can be installed at any time of year, but for best results I'd be inclined to install it in autumn so that the roots can get really well established into your soil then, come the spring, all the plant needs to do is grow and flower.


So when is best to plant a wildflower meadow? 

Using Meadowmat, it can be whenever suits you but for best results think autumn/winter and if you want the greatest possible number of flowers in the first summer, definitely lay Meadowmat before mid April.    Seed from perennial wild flowers can also be sown at any time of year but as these plants haven't been improved by plant breeders, it's best to copy nature and sow them in september/october or maybe november if the soil is still workable. 

Meadowmat wildflower turf                                 Meadowmat wildflower meadow seeds
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