Meadows, borders and containers planted with wildflowers, are lower maintenance than lawns and managed borders of non-native herbaceous perennials (which remain the two most popular 'habitats' in residential gardens in the UK) 😥
But you still have to take care of them. It is much less of a bind, than mowing a lawn every week for 8 months of the year, or constantly having to weed a formal border, but it still needs doing, if you are to be successful.
To make this easier, we can group all native wildflowers into 3 categories. Each have slightly different requirements, but it is possible to combine 2 of them, and have the 3rd in a separate area of your meadow/border.
CATEGORY 1 - Spring flowering only
This includes all spring bulbs, plus Cowslip, Primrose and Violet.
For this area, you must mow/cut your grassland area (or ensure borders are free from dead plant material and well weeded before winter) IN NOVEMBER, ideally.
This cut should be to 5cm (just under 2 inches), so that the grass is short come the Spring and the bulbs emergence.
Then, you must not cut it until mid-June. As any Bluebell/Cowslip etc are fading. Earlier flowering bulbs may look overgrown by then, but will have greatly benefited from the sunlight they received after flowering, to strengthen their bulbs for dormancy and next year.
If you don't do this cut, some of the above wildflowers will get overwhelmed. Particularly Cowslip/Primrose/Violet.
CATEGORY 2 - Suitable for "Chelsea Chop" cutting
Let us explain!
Wildflowers in grassland and in 'wild patches' always need an annual chop, each Autumn. However, a large number of our varieties will benefit from a cut mid-Summer.
This seems counter-intuitive, of course, because your meadow or border will be flowering profusely, and some have not even started to flower by the end of July.
Yet we recommend cutting in early-July, on some sites that are particularly fertile.
Why would you cut down your beautiful meadow, so early in the Summer? It sounds crazy.
Well, it is because you essentially have 2 choices with a wildflower meadow.
CHOICE 1 - Which peaks in late May through to mid- August, but then can start to topple and look ragged after summer thunderstorms. This kind of meadow doesn't look it's best after September.
CHOICE 2 - Also peaks in late May, but then gets cut down in early-July. This tends to avoid you having to watch your meadow topple in late summer, and temporarily makes it neat again.
Lots of wildflowers are chopped down, BUT it lets in precious light and warmth from the sun to the wildflowers basal leaves. Ridden of the need to support flowers by the sudden cut, the meadow will grow away again quickly in the summer heat. You WILL have to water though, unless you are lucky with regular wet weather. The regular late-summer thunderstorms now nurture the cut meadow rather than smash it down. AND, here is the good bit. 75% of your wildflowers will now give you a second flush. A second perfect month of a dream meadow - this time in September, lasting right into October and a late Autumn cut. However, you will start to get re-flowering from late July, and plenty in August, as some varieties recover very quickly for a 'second-wind'.
So, if you want the second look/effect, you need to do a "Chelsea chop" (the cut in early July)
NOTE - if you manage a wildflower meadow/patch, this way, YOU CAN COMBINE WILDFLOWERS FROM CATEGORY 1 AND 2 INTO YOUR MEADOW!
This is because delaying the cut of a Spring wildflower grassland area until July, doesn't overly harm them (it is usually done in June), as so Bluebells and Snowdrops, can co-exist with Red Campion and Ox-eye Daisy, in a meadow managed this way.
If you want these wildflowers in your meadow/patch, you shouldn't cut between early Spring, and Autumn (ie. no Chelsea Chop).
So that's another way of saying, all of the other wildflower varieties we sell are in the previous 2 categories. These are the only exceptions - if you cut them in July they won't recover. You can cut from mid-September to late October.
Note, if you want Category 3 plants in your meadow, you can also have all Category 2 wildflowers, but you mustn't do the mid-summer cut. So the meadow will fade from late August, but look amazing all Spring and Summer.
That was a lot of rambling.
What MUST be made clear, is that unless you follow one of these cutting regimes, you WILL start to lose wildflowers - particularly in a grassland or wild-patch environment.
Because without a cut AT LEAST every Autumn, they will be out-competed over the years by the grasses and weeds.
This is the summary of our experience.
IF YOU DON'T CUT - you lose 25% of your wildflowers, each year.
IF YOU CUT ONCE - on rich sites, your wildflowers might spread. On poor sites, this is sufficient for many to spread and multiply.
IF YOU CUT TWICE or THREE TIMES - You will mirror the original cutting routine of grassland that became wildflower meadow. This is the best routine to encourage establishment and spreading of your wildflowers.
Good 'spreaders' in the right conditions include:
Lady's Bedstraw, Ox-eye Daisy, Common Sorrel, Bird's Foot Trefoil, Lawn Daisy, Meadow Buttercup, Yarrow, Self Heal, Red Campion.
But other will spread slowly if managed correctly, and you suit their preferred conditions.