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Meadows

Old meadows provide a home for many colourful wildflowers. They are the natural homes for butterflies, bees and grasshoppers. No wonder meadows have been the traditional places for picnics and summer walks. In recent years over 95% of our wildflower meadows have disappeared. Although they can never be exactly recreated, with a lot of patience, colourful wildflower meadows can be grown from scratch. But it requires long-term commitment. Beware, meadow creation can involve introducing plants which may spread to sensitive areas, such as ancient pasture. This can upset the natural balance. If in doubt seek advice from a professional.


A meadow planting along side a hay field.

Converting an existing grassy area into a meadow
Wildflowers growing up from seed
Growing from seeds and pots

Pot grown wildflowers

If you want to turn a grassy area into a wildflower meadow you need to know what is already growing there. Let it grow during the summer to see what turns up. The results can be spectacular; even rare orchids have been known to appear. You will often find that only a few flowers appear, such as buttercups or daisies. So you may have to introduce some yourself. This can be through 'over-seeding', but is best done by planting.

Over-seeding

Scattering wildflower seed over your grassy area will not be successful. You will have to make gaps to give the flowers chance to grow. The best way to do this is to remove whole squares of turf and topsoil (30cm x 30cm) and seed with one or two carefully chosen types of wildflower in the autumn.

Planting pot grown wildflowers

Wildflowers can be introduced into grassy areas as pot grown plants. Local stock can often be bought from nurseries or grown from seed. Plant them in groups into the turf. Plant in autumn to allow the roots to become established before competition from other plants builds up in the spring. To help reduce this, spread a mulch around your new plantings or replace the turf upside down. You must care for your meadow; see "Looking after a Wildflower Meadow".

Creating a wildflower meadow from scratchPreparing the ground

Preparing the ground

This is the ideal way of creating a wildflower meadow. Good ground preparation is essential for success. The secret is a low fertility soil. A fertile soil will just cause vigorous growth of a few grasses and 'weeds'. You can reduce fertility by stripping off the top 5-10cm or so of topsoil. Then lightly rake and roll the soil to produce a seed bed.

Sowing the seed

The best time to sow your wildflower seed is in early autumn. You can sow in April, but many seeds need the cold winter months to break their in-built dormancy. They will therefore not germinate in their first year from a spring sowing.

For best results:

  1. Order specific quantities of the different types of seeds you have chosen. Sow them in patches into an area which has been lightly seeded with a natural grass mix.
  2. The sowing rate should be very low to avoid overcrowding.
    1.0 to 1.5g of grass mix per square metre is best.
  3. To get an even spread of seed mix it with sand or sawdust.
  4. Immediately after sowing, rake the surface lightly and firm with a small roller.

Aftercare

Take care to look after your new meadow.

Choosing the right species

Poor soils are best

Poor soils are best

Rich soils encourage vigorous grasses

Rich soils encourage vigorous grasses

The soil will determine whether your meadow is going to be successful and the types of wildflower seed needed. Some soils are naturally too rich to bother with.

Don't despair if the soil is too fertile, you could create a cornfield flower patch instead. Simply sow a mixture of cornfield annuals (such as poppies, cornflowers, corncockles and corn marigolds) over bare soil for a colourful display. After the flowers have set seed, rake over the soil so that there is open ground for them to grow in next year.


Remember ...

Important

Always use local seed and plants to reflect what naturally grows in your area. Never use imported seed or plants grown from unreliable sources. Check before buying.



Examples of some wildflowers and their requirements

Wildflower Soil type Wildflower Soil type
Ox-eye daisy A Field scabious D
Yarrow A Cowslip B
Bugle A Wild carrot B
Selfheal A Yellow rettle A
Salad burnet B Meadow buttercup A
Meadow cranesbill B Black knapweed D
Goat's beard A Agrimony A
Lady's bedstraw D Betony A
Cuckooflower A Birds-foot trefoil A
Devil's bit scabious C Perforate St Johns wort A

KEY
A - does well on most soils
B - prefers limey less fertile soils
C - tolerates both acid and limey soils
D - prefers well drained soils

Cutting \ Mowing

Leave an uncut edge for insects

Leave an uncut edge for insects
Strimmer and Rotary mower
Watch Out !!
When using a strimmer, please make sure that you are not injuring or killing small animals such as hedgehogs and frogs.

If you are going to cut your meadow, it is best done twice a year at the following times:

The cuttings must be removed. This will make sure that the wildflowers can grow. It will also prevent thistles, docks, brambles and scrub from taking over.

The autumn cut gives the meadow plants the best chance to flower and set seed. However, traditional hay meadows can be cut in late July. Farmers may also want to cut at this time to provide hay for farm animals. The spring cut knocks back thistles and vigorous grasses that may have taken hold over the winter.

Cutting is flexible, allowing a great deal of control over the timing, area and height of the cut. However, cutting a whole meadow in one go can take away all the food needed by insects. So leave some areas uncut for them. The best way to do this is to cut the edges of your grassland in rotation. Leave a different side uncut each year. A four metre margin is ideal.

Cutting can be carried out with a variety of tools. This will depend on the size of your meadow and what is available to you. On a small meadow, in medium to long grass, hand sythes or a power strimmer can be used. On a larger area long grass can be cut for hay using a power sythe or a tractor drawn grass cutter.





Grazing

If you have a pet pony or have access to cows, goats or sheep, you could graze your meadow. The best time to graze is usually in the early spring and late autumn, as with cutting. But - always get advice about timing.

If your meadow is invaded by 'weeds' such as docks and thistles, then animals can be kept on over the summer to knock them back. However this is harmful to insects and should only be done every few years.

The effects of grazing are complex. There are a number of things to consider.

Seek professional advice about the number and type of grazing animals to use.

Choosing between cutting and grazing

Type of site Grazing Cutting
Small, less than half a acre May be difficult to get right level of grazing and difficult to support a grazing unit Cutting is likely to prove more economical and simpler on a small site
Large, more than half a acre Grazing will be a more attractive proposition for a farmer Without suitable machinery cutting requires many people
Uneven ground Grazing can cope well on uneven ground Cutting will be difficult
Urban areas Animals may be prone to disturbance, especially by dogs Cutting will be less problematic
Site preparation Need to provide fencing and a source of water Need to clear rocks, etc, which could damage machinery/tools


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