Inspired by television and radio gardening programs to do a little to encourage wildlife or enjoy the colours in a wildflower planting? Then you need to prepare now to sow some of our British wildflowers. Maybe you are looking to create a meadow, wildflower patch or pollinator friendly highlight in your garden? Now is the time to plan and prepare where to invest your time and money.
Before you start work out what site and soil you are working with. Partial shade, sunny and dry? What type of soil do you have? What is the ground currently like? Fertile - often found where you have added compost or areas under hedges. Free draining or damp?
Many wildflowers have particular niches. Some are particularly attracted to chalky soils so trying to establish them on a heavy clay may well not succeed.
Soil preparation may vary depending on what you want to sow or plant and where. Grass removal, fertility reduction and perennial weed removal are important before you start to sow and need to be appropriate for what you want to sow. Be aware that some wildflowers thrive in more fertile soils while others need low fertility soils. Find out what your individual flowers like before you plant them out.
Do you want to use a mix suitable for your location? Both annual or perennial mixes are available, meadow (contains a grass mixture with flowers) and flower only mixes. They are also available to suit different sites and soils.
Annual that grows in bare areas in grassland. It is parasitic on some coarse grasses but can be overshadowed on fertile soil with good coarse grass growth. Easier to establish in finer grass areas such as lawns. Sow in prepared areas in autumn as it needs a prolonged period of winter chill to germinate.
The establishment and maintenance of a meadow takes time and maintenance. Clearing the ground from pernicious weeds such as nettles and docks, raking over and allowing the tilth to settle before sowing. You may be able to reduce unwanted plant seedlings by a second weeding before sowing if you leave the soil to settle.
A mix of annual wildflower to give first year cover and perennials, which will flower in subsequent years, may help to establish it. Follow a maintenance pattern that leaves the seeds to naturally self sow.
Small Wildflower Plantings
Here you could use a mix of wildflowers or choose your own favourites. Prepare the ground by weeding out unwanted perennial weeds, breaking up any clumps in the soil and removing stones. Rake over and tamp down and allow to settle before sowing. Water in after sowing if the weather is dry.
Planting for Pollinators
There are many varieties of garden plants that are pollinator friendly - both annuals and perennials. Here you have a choice of more colourful varieties. Remember to choose simple rather than double petalled varieties and a variety of styles for different pollinators.
Autumn or Spring Sowing?
Some seeds need a winter chill period to break dormancy. For example:Yellow Rattle, Common Primrose and Cowslip, Cow Parsley, Wild Carrot and Marsh Marigold. These need to be autumn sown. Some may not put in an appearance until spring.
Some seed is biennial and will get established by sowing late summer and autumn for flowering earlier the following year. E.G Wild Carrot, Viper’s bugloss.
Note: If you have clay soil that gets waterlogged or very wet overwinter then this can cause your seed to rot in the ground. It would be better to make your autumn sowings into modules or seed trays and keep them in a sheltered spot where they can have better drainage to reduce the chance of them rotting away.
Spring sowing is good for annual wildflowers and if you have a wet clay soil with no space to protect your seed. Examples are Cornflowers, Corn Cockle and Corn Marigold andCommon Field Poppy.
Remember to be patient as some seed will take longer to germinate than you expect even given good conditions.
If you want further information about wildflower meadow maintenance then the RHS has further information: