How to Boost Diversity in Your Garden: Wildflower Meadows

Caledonian Horticulture is regularly posting ideas for ways in which you can help boost biodiversity in your local area, from simple everyday changes to nature projects in your garden. Today we are discussing wildflower meadows.

Why plant wildflowers?

Planting wildflowers provide vital food and shelter resources for a wide variety of insects, which in turn provides food resources for birds, bats, and hedgehogs. It is also a great way to avoid the frequent use of lawnmowers which are mostly powered by fossil fuels.

You can simply let areas of your garden or land grow wild which will allow patches of long grass and different plant species to grow. This helps insects thrive and create food opportunities for other animals. Or you can sow your own wildflower patch or meadow which requires more management.

When should I sow my wildflower meadow?

The best time to create and sow your wildflower meadow is in the autumn or early winter.

    Where should my meadow be?

    Wildflower meadows need to be somewhere open and sunny for most of the day and can be flat or sloping. Wildflower meadows grow better on unproductive soil, where vigorous grasses don’t out-compete the flowers.

    If the desired area for planting has had fertiliser added in recent or previous years, then it is advised that the fertility of the soil needs to be removed by removing the top three to six inches of topsoil.

    If you don’t want to strip the soil, you can reduce some of the fertility by sowing a crop of mustard plants in the first few years.

    Alternatively, you can use a soil testing kit to test several potential areas for wildflower meadows. This kit can test the pH and nutrient profile of your soil and the least nutrient-rich soil will be best for wildflowers.

      Starting out

      Often meadows will start out species-poor as the soil is fertile and so mostly grasses and fast-growing plants will dominate but after a few years the fertility will have reduced, and more species will grow.

      Prepare the area for planting by digging over the soil and raking it to a fine tilt.

      What species should I plant?

      Wildflower yellow rattle should always be included in the first species to be planted as it is an annual flower which parasitises the roots of grasses. This will reduce their vigour and allow wildflowers to have room to grow.

      We have put together a list of species that are commonly used for wildflower meadows and which support a variety of species:

      Bird’s-foot trefoil
      Sheep’s Sorrel Bugle Cowslip Bush Vetch
      Meadow Buttercup Cat’s Ear
      Burnet Saxifrage Common Knapweed  
      Common Sorrel
      Common Vetch Devil’s-bit Scabious Meadow Vetchling Field scabious
      Tufted vetch Greater knapweed
      Ox-eye Daisy
      Hawkbits Red clover
      Garlic mustard Common rock-rose
      Kidney vetch Yarrow Yellow rattle

      Some grass species such as meadow foxtail, red fescue, sweet vernal grass, sheep’s fescue, and crested dog’s-tail, can also be planted as they also will provide food and habitats for a variety of invertebrates.

      How do I know that things are going well?

      Once species such as buttercup, ox-eye daisy, clovers, and knapweed start growing, this is a good sign that the flowers can grow, and they are great for attracting pollinators.

      Management and maintenance of your meadow

      Within the first few years, it is important to manually remove the fast-growing plants such as thistle, hogweed, nettle, and ragwort that take advantage of higher nutrient levels and grow very quickly at the expense of the slower-growing wildflowers. These plants are not harmful (some butterfly species will feed on thistle and ragwort), but they will dominate the wildflower patch unless they are dealt with. 

      You must schedule an annual cut of your wildflower meadow at the end of summer. The cuttings must be lifted and composted elsewhere to keep the soil nutrient levels low and therefore reduces vigorous grasses growing.

      Leave at least one-third of the meadow unmown. This allows species of butterfly and moth to remain on some of the plants throughout winter.  You can do this on a three-year rotation system.

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