Take a hike through a meadow in full bloom and chances are you’ll wish you could recreate a smaller version in your own yard. The colors and varieties of flowers and grasses are totally random, yet about as close to landscaped perfection that you’ll ever find. Whether you have a large expanse or a small area, a wildflower garden can be a unique addition to your landscaping plan.
The native plants are hardy and once established require little care, fertilizer or watering. In a true wildflower garden, the flowers are planted close together, at least one per square foot of dirt. This allows them to provide shelter for one another, conserve water, and helps to eliminate weeds. The brightly colored flowers attract a variety of birds and butterflies and can provide a taste of wilderness even in the most urban setting,
Once a wildflower garden is fully established, you can sit back and enjoy, but the real effort comes with the soil preparation and maintenance in the first two or three years. Here is a guide to the successful planning and planting of your own wildflower meadow.
Designing Your Garden:
Plant a combination of wildflowers and native grasses. The most common complaint from new gardeners is that the garden bloomed beautifully the first year and proceeded to get sparser in subsequent years, accompanied by a high concentration of weeds. This is often the result of choosing a seed mixture consisting of non-native annuals instead of true native, perennial wildflowers and grasses. With the latter species, you shouldn’t expect blooms until the third year.
When choosing plants, use a combination of Spring and late bloomers, as well as a mixture of tall and low growing species.
Flowers that attract birds or butterflies, include Blazing stars, coneflowers, asters, silphiums and sunflowers. If deer are a problem in your area, choose a combination of deer resistant seeds such as lavender hyssop, nodding wild onion, coreopsis, purple clover, purple coneflower and meadow rose.
Choose a sunny location with good air circulation. Your wildflowers will need a minimum of one half day of full sun to really thrive. Steep north-facing slopes tend to be sheltered from the sun and are not the best candidates for meadows, but do well with ferns or woodland wildflowers.
Soil & Site Preparation:
Determine your soil type, adding to it if needed. For instance, a sandy or clay type soil will benefit from added organic matter which breaks up heavy soils, improving ability to absorb water and provides air flow to the roots. The other effective method for improving poor soil is to plant a “green manure crop” such as buckwheat. Let it grow for a year and plow it under. The roots will draw up the nutrients from the lower soil and convert them into organic matter.
In addition to proper growing conditions and good soil, the most important factor in growing a successful wildflower garden is having a smooth, surface, free of weeds. The first step is to remove any existing vegetation is by smothering, cultivating, herbiciding or a combination of these.
On smaller areas, smothering is an effective method of eliminating weeds. Cover the planting area with dark plastic, tarps, old carpeting, plywood or a thick layer of leaves for a complete growing season. Adding a layer of newspaper before covering will enrich the soil even more. As the paper decomposes, worms will move in, adding even more nutrients.
A broad spectrum, non-persistent herbicide will also do the trick, especially on larger areas. The third alternative is to cultivate the area using a rototiller or tractor.
Once you have prepared your site, purchase your seeds from a reliable grower. On areas less than one acre, the seeds can be dispersed by hand, by mixing with a lightweight material such as vermiculite, peat moss or sawdust. For a 1000 square foot planting, combine one bushel basket of this material, dampened slightly, with your seed. Take half the mixture and spread across the area. When spreading the second half, walk perpendicular to your first spreading. If the soil is dry, proceed to roll the area. If it is wet, then wait until it dries slightly to avoid compacting the soil.