My Little Wildflower Meadow
Meadows have a special hold on our imaginations. There is a simplicity to open fields of wildflowers that sparks a kind of primal emotion in many of us. When we moved to this property in December 2015, I imagined the possibility of growing a meadow. I quickly learned it's not just a matter of sprinkling some seeds around in the field grass and magically the flowers and grasses would co-mingle, creating a tapestry of sweeping colors dancing in the breeze. It is more complex than that. For one thing, wildflower seeds will not germinate in the dense root systems of established grass. I will share here the basics with how we managed to create at least a small portion dedicated to wildflowers.
The trouble with creating a meadow is that you have to start with a blank slate. Ideally, the soil should be completely free of weeds and weed seeds, grasses included. They create too much competition for the flowers. The ways to do this are to till the land regularly (for a long time, sometimes a few years) until you exhaust the weed seed bank in the soil, to smother the grass with a thick layer of organic material to kill what's underneath (sheet mulching), put down plastic (solarize) in full sun to kill the grass, to remove the sod manually with a sod remover, or finally to apply herbicide. We chose to remove the sod, till the area and hope for the best. The problem with tilling is it creates a disturbance that brings up more weed seeds to the surface. One ultimate goal is to have more native wildflower or desirable seeds in your soil than the weeds so that when a disturbance is created in the future, you'll likely get more of the good stuff.
We tilled the area and sowed wildflower seeds purchased at American Meadows, a California outfit with a large selection of area-appropriate seed mixes. Then nothing happened. For a long time. I sowed them in summer and also planted a few ornamental grasses. Weeds came and I hand-weeded. I hand-weeded for two years, which is not the ideal way to do it. A better way is to sow the seeds, let it all grow then mow it. Yes, mow it all. The annual weeds will die, just make sure you get them before they go to seed. The perennials will keep putting energy into their roots. The next year the desirable wildflowers will have stronger root systems and the general gist is that they will out-compete the weeds. Mine eventually did that, but I am stubborn and just hand-weeded to see what would happen. Now in its third year, I give you my little wildflower meadow:
A few advantages of a meadow vs. lawn for example are that it attracts a wide range of pollinators which in turn attract more birds, there is less mowing (only once a year), no chemicals or fertilizers are necessary, they absorb runoff, and it needs little to no maintenance once it's up and going. Also if you grow food crops, the presence of bees is most welcome to help with pollination.
While we probably could have done it an easier way, we couldn't be happier with the results for our third year in. The whole process was not particularly difficult, just slow. I think the key is that you really do want to get rid of as much grass and weeds before you begin to be successful. The mowing over technique I imagine really works, we would have to employ it should we decide to expand the meadow for in that method you use time to your advantage with much less work.
Here are a few resources if you are considering growing a meadow in your garden:
This site from Wildflower Farm has very useful information and step-by-step instructions.
The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center that I just visited last month is a wealth of information about individual plants in their database. They also have very useful information about the work they do.
A fantastic book by Larry Weaner and Thromas Christopher, Garden Revolution, is a marvelous resource. I highly recommend it even if you don't plan on growing a meadow. It's just flat out excellent and offers practical explanations about how to use succession to your advantage which is in my humble opinion the future of gardening.
Well, that's what's happening at Chickadee Gardens this week. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, we do so love hearing feedback from you all and also what you are up to in your own gardens. Happy gardening one and all!