Updated: Aug 31
In my last blog I wrote about 3 common mistakes to avoid when establishing Wildflower meadow. One of the mistakes involves area preparation so in this blog we will go through seed bed preparation in more details.
Sowing wildflower seeds is not science but many people do make mistake of just throwing the seeds into vigorous grass which will smother most wildflowers. As with all things in life, little bit of preparation goes long way.
There are 2 ways of area preparation that determines the look and blooming density of wildflowers:
1. Stale seed bed
With this technique you get most successful germination and blooming rate. Area needs to be stripped of lawn, grass and weeds, ideally with few inches of rich top soil. Wildflowers thrive in poor soils, lawn and weeds in rich soil. Small area can be done by hand, for large area use sod cutter or larger machinery. If you use rotavator make sure to sow extra yellow rattle as the grass might grow back.
Once you remove grass wait for few days until you see weeds germinating. Then you can kill them off by hoeing or other mechanical way (please avoid using weed-killers) and sow the wildflower seeds.
2. Grassland or lawn
This technique is based on No-Mow May or reduction of mowing which is advised by Biodiversity Ireland but as most commercial lawn seeds are very vigorous you will need to do some preparation.
First buy native mix that contain yellow rattle. Yellow rattle is semi-parasitic annual wildflower that suppress grass by taking water and nutrients from grass via attached roots. This will allow more wildflowers to establish and thrive. Even if yellow rattle is in the mix it is wise to add some extra and sow yellow rattle at a rate of 1.5g per sqm.
Area is prepared by mowing the grass on shortest setting and raking out as much vegetation as possible exposing bare soil. For small area use hand rake, for larger try scarifier or rotavator. Important is to weaken the grass and expose bare soil.
With this method you will get more meadow look and subtle blooms due to competition from the grass. It will also take longer to establish but in year 2-3 you can expect more wildflowers and less grass. Nevertheless it is still beautiful and important wildlife habitat.
As already discussed buy only native wildflowers, cheap mixes are cheap for a reason. Regardless of area preparation sowing technique is the same. Sow seeds in 2 directions to ensure even spread. Do not mix with grass or sand, use 'Readybrek' type cereal as its lighter and white. Rake lightly and walk or roll over the seed bed to ensure good seed contact with soil.
Autumn sowing is generally easier as you don't need to worry about watering and you will get early blooms the following year. If sowing in spring, make sure there is no frost forecast and water regularly in dry weather for about 2 weeks until you see successful germination.
Wildflowers are low maintenance but not no-maintenance. Some mixes can and should be cut 3-4 times per year to keep them tidy and increase blooms but for most mixes cut once a year in autumn is sufficient. After cut remove all vegetation to avoid enriching the soil. If you have small spring bulbs as snow drops or crocuses you can do few mowing over winter to keep the vegetation low.
With annuals you will need to either re-sow them every year or let them self seed and rake the soil for continuous blooming cycle.
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