Bad soil we had! But these magazine quality Wildflower Meadows that "you too can create" from a tube of seeds just don't happen. They take work and lots of it!
What grows in rotten soil with little water? WEEDS! So the first step is to create an environment where weed growth is minimalized. That means making sure there's no "good dirt" around. In our case, that wasn't a problem. But still, we took the tractor and raked the remaining green weeds to reveal only the clay-dough and covered the area with several large tarps to smother any new growth. We left the tarps on for 2 weeks. Then, by hand, we sprinkled sand - yes sand - over the 1/4 acre area where we visualized our meadow. Then came seeding. We chose our seeds carefully and finally decided to go with the native regional mix suggested at http://www.wildseedfarms.com/. Although they are based in the beautiful hill country of Texas, they seemed to have a better mixture for our area than even our local places. They are a definate winner in Garden WatchDog http://davesgarden.com/products/gwd/ and their service was superb.
In retrospect, we were lucky, many gardeners attempting a Wildflower meadow must use Round-up to kill all the grass, so I guess we were lucky!
We seeded the area by hand as the seeds aren't cheap if you're covering a large area. On a very cold February morning, we both took our seed bags and dumped them into more buckets of sand as it's too easy for the winds blow the tiny seeds and also allows for even dispersal. We criss-crossed each other to make certain we had fairly even coverage. The sand was a blessing as it gave us some visual of where the seeds were being dispensed. Then began the nasty work of taking a roller that we filled with water and criss-crossed the same path over and over. Ensuring that your seeds are firmly planted in the sand, yet not buried in the soil is CRITICAL. The roller was heavy but after a few hours, the task was accomplished. It's not something that could be done with any mechanization - just grunt work :)
Now for water - we hoped for rain or sleet and were lucky enough to get it, but my hopes were quickly dashed when a bright sunny day brought out the birds. I freaked out as I watched them swoop down over the tiny planted meadow. DH kept telling me that's why you overseed, don't freak. It just looked awful - this barren plot. I was sure our careful planning was going to come to nothing. Then, one April morning, the patch started looking green and not brown/sandy. There were tiny little plants that appeared everywhere; seemingly all at once!
Silly me, I tried to tiptoe in just once and pull some weeds. My husband Michael, quickly reminded me to stop and just let it happen; that there would be weeds that would co-exist with any Wildflowers that chose make an appearance. The tiny meadow got greener and greener. Every morning I would go and look at leaves - I recognized them! The cornflowers, the rocket larkspurs, the poppies, the cosmos, the verbana, the.......all of them! It was going to happen !! Then the plants all got to be about 5 inches tall - I was so, so excited! But no.....it was time to give it a haircut. This was very hard to do for several reasons. The thought of "pruning" what we'd waited for was torture, but as so many of the seeds were annuals, we knew they would be back. It gives the perennials in the mix more time to become established. You need to mow it by hand on a not wet day or you'll just trample these tiny wildflower seedlings.
Our bluebird boxes were moved quickly so as to await their arrival and give them a real tiny meadow to raise their fledglings.
Little by little as the spring months came, so did the blooms we had long awaited :)
The wildlife came - the foxes cut paths through the cornflowers and the butterflies and bees were happy as could be.
As the months rolled by, the meadow started coming into it's own and as fall approached, the coneflowers and black-eyed susans started to mingle with the annuals - it was an ever changing display and a true joy to watch. Long about late November, we mowed it down. The very next spring, we mixed annual seeds with the sand in buckets and did our thing again with the roller. The 2nd season of the meadow was about to begin and it was much better than the first.
If you have some space, give this a try - you won't be disappointed!