Advice and information
Let's begin with our 3 best tips for approaching a re-wilding project - whatever the scale.
TIP 1 - Take your time.
Sowing a meadow versus planting one (or any wildflower habitat) is like the Hare and the Tortoise. Sowing produces a year 1 flush, which fades (if it works at all). Planting gets stronger in year 2, and reaches best effect in year 3.
You also need 2 or 3 seasons of maintenance cutting to establish your flowers, and you'll benefit from adding more plugs each year.
TIP 2 - Expect it to look wild.
Most people have soil too rich and deep to get a classic perfect look, so come into the project with the mindset that you'll get flushes of beauty, then a bit of tattiness and some aftercare requirements.
So try to devote an area that can absorb this natural look without dominating what you see from the window. Or choose an area set away from the house for maximum wildlife benefit.
TIP 3 - Experiment
We manage many acres of planted wildflower meadow, and a number of wild borders. We always experiment and layer our planting over a number of years.
We sell 39 varieties of wildflower over the course of a season, and the chances are that many will love your habitat. But some will die off.
The great experiment is seeing those that prosper and spread, those that can be encouraged to hold their own, and those that just won't play ball.
1) Give meadows a haircut with the mower (at the highest blade setting). Mow around spring bulbs.
Grasses and certain plants grow away faster in spring, than most summer wildflowers. This cut equalises the race for light. Your wildflowers are not harmed even if trimmed, nor are caterpillars etc (too early).
Remove all cuttings.
2) Prepare "Bear claw" scratches into the turf or border to expose soil. Sow annual cornfield mix wildflowers.
Annuals like Poppy and Cornflower really add value to a meadow or border, but need help reseeding each year. Use your own gathered seed if possible. Trample the seed into the earth, but don't cover with more earth. We've found this better done in Spring once warm, than Autumn.
3) Add extra perennial plugs to your meadow or border, choosing those that establish quickly to avoid damage from summer heat-stress.
Oxeye Daisy, Musk Mallow, Wild Chicory, Common Knapweed are recommendations.
Also add some Yellow Rattle plugs. This is useful, even if you've sown it the year before. It ensures establishment of some Rattle even if sowing fails or is limited in success.
It is probably best in the East and South of England, to add perennial plugs in autumn. This is because recent hot and dry springs and summers, have tipped the scales. In most parts of the West and North, it is still fine to add plants in the early Spring. Try to do it before the end of April. This allows rooting before any hot dry weather spells.
1) Consider a Chelsea-chop.
A Chelsea chop is a cut-back of perennial flowers/plants, to encourage regrowth that is lower, bushier, and sometimes more floriferous. By doing so between mid-June and mid-July, you WILL lose 6 weeks-worth of flowering in summer, but regain it from late August right through to October and the autumn cut.
It's a good option that we use in more vigorous meadows and borders - where vegetation tends to get too dense and tall, and start to topple.
Try doing half of your border this way, or even a third, to compare and contrast results.
We cannot over-emphasise enough that what kills meadow wildflowers, is not cutting. The process of cutting lets in light, air, and moisture and perennial wildflowers respond with vigorous regrowth.
Try and time it to 1-2 days before good rain is forecast. Or water responsibly once you've removed the cuttings.
HOW TO DO IT:
Small sites - Shears, Strimmer, Brush Cutter, Hedge Trimmer used as strimmer.
Larger sites - Tractor hay cut (hire a local), Strimmer, Brush Cutter/Purpose built meadow cutter. On some very low growing sites, you can use a sit-on mower with the highest blade setting.
You are aiming to cut at 2 inches / 5cm height. A little higher is fine, lower is potentially too short.
2) Maintain mown paths for access - the point is to enjoy the meadow. Most people do already. But as a tip, it's common by mid summer for the paths to get swamped by the neighbouring vegetation. So try cutting a 1-2 ft (half a metre) strip either side of the mown path, to half-height. Use a hedge trimmer, or strimmer.
The protects the inner paths from toppling grasses and wildflowers, but still leaves the grass long enough to be distinct from where people walk (and to still look meadow-like)
3) If you don't do a Chelsea chop, consider cutting your meadow in August.
Cut to 2 inches (5cm) - that's walk-on short - and remove all cuttings. If possible, leave for 3 hours to 2 days, for the hay to dry, seed to fall, and mini-beasts to drop back into the cut meadow. It makes it easier to rake off too.
You have to do this in a meadow. You are replicating the hay cut done by farmers at the end of summer.
This practice is what kept meadows alive.
You will cut down flowers, and it will feel heart breaking, but by now the grass will have browned and toppled, and you are doing the habitat a necessary service.
At this point, you can sow Yellow Rattle. See the Autumn section for details.
1) Cut your meadow, or wild border, as explained in tip 3 (Summer jobs).
2) Sow Yellow Rattle.
August or September, using fresh seed from that year. To bare earth, which usually means heavy raking or harrowing, or 'bear clawing' slashes in the turf or soil, to allow the seed contact with the soil.
Is covered in our Blog on the subject - accessible on the top menu bar.
Sow thinly and sparingly in an average meadow, but more heavily in vigorous grasses.
3) Add perennial plug plants to top up your meadow and improve diversity.
You can go for almost any perennial wildflower at this time of year, because both fast-establishing and slow-establishing plants do well from Autumnal planting. October is probably best, but from early September to mid-November, timed after the meadow-cut.
The plants get 12-15 weeks of imperceptibly slow mainly root-growth into your soil, rarely troubled by hot or dry weather.
Plant in 3's, 5's, or 7's in single variety or three-variety mixes of wildflowers. This looks more natural, and 'seeds' your meadow with some new plants, which will hopefully spread, and top-up your existing colour.
In summary, you must cut once. If you only cut once, do so mid-Aug to mid-Nov.
It's better to cut twice. Mar/Apr, then Sep-mid Nov.
However, you can experiment with 3 cuts, the extra one being a Chelsea-chop between mid-Jun and mid-July. This way your final cut can be Oct-mid Nov (late season flowering)
Lastly, remember, that the best meadows come after 10 or more years of following this routine. Cut-plant/sow-Cut-Plant.
Gradually, this helps the wildflowers get a strong foothold against the ever dominant grasses and vigourous plant species.
We have had meadows where the first 3 seasons of planting seemed to have little effect and flowering was underwhelming. But in years 4 and 5 everything seemed to blossom at once.
STICK AT IT - LIKE ANY WORTHWHILE HOBBY!