Fields of Flowers - Planting a Meadow
The word "meadow" summons a vision of a large, open, flower-filled field. Meadows may happen naturally, but only after decades of natural processes. Where land has been cultivated, it needs a little help to become a meadow. Choosing "meadow" over "lawn" also means choosing "minimal summer maintenance and watering chores." Add "extra flowers," and who wouldn't want a meadow?
Check your site for full sun and good drainage
Meadow wildflowers do well in full sun. Your designated future meadow should be level and open. The soil need not be especiallly fertile or moist. Meadow wildflowers grow well in "less than lush" conditions. How large is a meadow? Your meadow can be huge or pocket-sized, as long as the area is clear of the shade of large trees or buildings. These will block a surprising amount of sunlight during morning and evening hours. This article will focus on seeding a meadow of 500 square feet or more.
Plant seed in late summer or early spring
David Trinklein, writing for University of Missouri, recommends planting field wildfowers from seed in late summer and early fall. At this time of year, he explains, your seed will have less competition from existing "weed" seed in the soil. The most troublesome weeds are not sprouting at that time. Perennial and annual wildflowers will sprout in fall or early spring, responding to natural cycles of cold and mositure. Though you certainly can install live plants, using seed will save time and money on large plantings. Early spring is also a favorable time to plant meadow seed.
Buy seed - choose a mix designed for your area
Plant perennial and annual wildflowers from purchased seed. Mixtures of seed are designed for various growing regions. The smallest quantities of bulk meadow seed are one-quarter pound, or enough to plant 500 to 1000 square feet of area. (500 square feet equals an area of 25 feet by 20 feet. A full quarter acre of area is about 10,000 square feet.) Seed prices start from under ten dollars to fifteen dollars for seed to cover 500 to 1000 square feet (plus handling) - pretty economical as large landscape projects go. Use recommendations from the seed supplier to determine the amount needed. You want thorough coverage with seed; using amounts much greater than called for may not ensure any better resuts.
Prepare the ground - remove existing vegetation
Remove all existing growth from the future meadow. Seed cannot compete with a thick cover of existing grass or brush. Thick sod may have to be removed with a sod cutter. Otherwise, mow as short as possible and remove the cut material. Short acting herbicides like Roundup can be used to kill existing plants. A power rake or dethatching can open the ground surface to receive seed. Don't till the soil deeply, though. Tilling would stir up more dormant weed seeds. Canadian seed supplier Veseys (use this link) gives a thorough discussion on the details of each method of preparing the site.
Plant - get full even, coverage with seed over a large area
Cover the entire area in two separate passes- here's how. Divide the seed into halves. Mix builder's sand into each half. Use ten parts sand to one part seed. Now spread by hand or seed spreader, covering the whole area with one batch of seed and sand. Then spread the other half of the seed-sand mix over the entire field. The sand helps you see where you have seeded, and crisscrossing helps ensure even coverage. Now the seed needs good "contact" with the soil. Use a roller to press the seed into the soil on large areas, or rake, or lay a plywood sheet and tromp on it, repeatedly, for small meadows.
Water, but don't fertilize
Keep the seedbed moist for four to six weeks. Here's where fall planting can be helpful. It's easier to keep the soil moist in fall, with cooler sun and heavy dew. After a month or six weeks, many seed should have sprouted (in spring) or the weather has cooled down and nature will take over (in fall.)The meadow will rarely need fertilizer. High fertility encourages undesirable weeds and grasses.
Maintaining the meadow - give the lawnmower the summer off
Once seed has sprouted well, watch your meadow develop. Annual species will flower in their first year, produce seed, and die. Perennials may or may not flower that first year, while developing hardy, persistent roots for yearly reemergence. Biennials develop a base plant, but wait to bloom another year, then set seed and die off. Pull noxious weeds (before they can bloom and set seed) if they threaten to take over. Cut the meadow once a year, in the late summer lull when annuals have all set seed and browned off. Use the highest setting and leave the clippings with attached seed heads. You may want to mow a path through a large meadow, so you can wander between the flowers and see them all from different views.
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Trinklein, Ravid H. "Wildflowers in the Home Landscape", University of Missouri Extension, http://extension.missouri.edu/p/G6660
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center http://www.wildflower.org/howto/show.php?id=5
Bailey Seed Co. Inc.
- Site http://www.baileyseed.com/wildflowersregional.asp
- P.O. Box 306, Westfield, Wisconsin 53964
- Garden Watchdog review http://davesgarden.com/products/gwd/c/376/
- Site http://www.americanmeadows.com/wildflower-seeds
- Garden Watchdog review http://davesgarden.com/products/gwd/c/68/
- Site link http://www.veseys.com/
- Garden Watchdog review http://davesgarden.com/products/gwd/c/93/