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What Is a Wildflower Meadow? How to Establish One in Your Garden

Growing a wildflower meadow can help the environment and improve your garden, Here's everything you need to know about creating one.
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A meadow is a naturally occurring wild habitat, featuring a wide assortment of grasses and wildflowers. It differs from a pasture because you won’t see a lot of domesticated animals there. It also differs from a field, which is a wide uncultivated lot of land. A meadow booms with life, from countless herbs and flowers to the small fauna which inhabits this ecosystem.

Discovering a wildflower meadow in a forest or the mountains is like finding a sacred oasis, which melts all your worries away. Many meadow herbs also have a lot of health benefits.

Due to the soothing nature of meadows, many people who own large outdoor areas try to recreate the meadow vibes at home. In what follows we will discuss a few things about what makes meadows so special and which meadow plants are the most interesting. We will also give you a few simple tips for selecting and growing wildflower meadows at home.

Benefits of Wildflower Meadows

Ever since humans started to settle, land became the most valuable resource. Nowadays, with overpopulation becoming an increasing problem, the land is more valuable than ever. Every uncultivated lot of land is seen as a goldmine, be it for agricultural or for construction purposes.

Nonetheless, uncultivated land can do a lot more for us if it allowed or helped to become a native meadow. These wildflower lots are not only aesthetically pleasing, but they have many benefits for our planet. Here are just a few of the major ways in which planting a meadow will help our planet.

You create a natural habitat for pollinators

Pollinators pollinate more than 85% of our planet’s flowering plants. These plants account for 1/3 of the food that we consume. Industrial agriculture often ruins many habitats which has led to a decline of native pollinator species. Meadows are a safe haven for bees and other pollinators. They are also filled with plants that act as hosts for butterfly caterpillars.

Create a natural habitat for insects and wildlife.
Create a natural habitat for insects and wildlife.

You build a foundation for a greater ecosystem

Not only are native meadows great for pollinators, but they are also an excellent food source for songbirds and many other creatures. The meadow plants are home to many insects that feed birds. Moreover, many of the meadow plants produce seeds which are an important food source for small wildlife.

You improve soil quality

Many meadow flowers are perennials. As opposed to lawns or annual plants, perennial plants have complex root systems which improve the quality of the soil. For starters, the complex roots of meadow plants create irrigation channels in the soil. Moreover, the longer roots can bring nutrients up from deeper layers of the soil, which will help a wide range of plants thrive.

Meadows are low maintenance

Meadows looks best when they are allowed to grow wild. As such, as opposed to lawns or other garden styles, a garden meadow will need little to no maintenance. For starters, there is no need to mow the meadow. This means that you don’t have to invest in mowing equipment, and you will also reduce your carbon footprint by not using mowing equipment. Meadows don’t need supplemental irrigation, so they will also cut down the water consumption.

Best Plants for a Wildflower Meadow

Whether you have a backyard garden or a larger uncultivated land that you want to turn into a meadow, there are a few key plants that you must start with. Most of these plants are highly resilient and very easy to grow.

Papaver rhoeas

Most commonly known as Field poppy, this cornfield annual is often associated with roadsides or cultivated land. Its scarlet red flowers are very attractive for bumblebees. It is a plant frequently used in traditional medicine as a cough remedy or as a mild sedative. It grows about 90 cm tall and 30 cm wide. It blooms from June to August and it is very hardy, even in drought conditions.

Red Poppies
Red Poppies

Growing poppies is relatively easy, as long as they benefit from full sun exposure. Poppies thrive in most soils, and they can easily be grown from seed. You can sow the seeds directly outdoors in spring or fall. It is best to sow them in the fall to enjoy blooms the next summer.

Primula veris

Also known as Cowslip, this yellow flower perennial will attract many pollinators to your garden from early spring. Primula veris blooms from April to June. It features multiple stems with clusters of lovely funnel-shaped blooms. It thrives both in full sun and in partial shade. It prefers moist soil which is why it enjoys growing along the edges of ponds. It grows up to 25 cm tall and 25 cm wide. Primulas attract bees, butterflies, moths, and numerous other pollinators.

Cowslip
Cowslip

You can grow Primulas from seed, but you will have to start the seeds indoors in a tray of peat compost. You may need to place the tray in the fridge before sowing to break the dormancy cycle and start the germination. Plant the Primulas in autumn to enjoy flowers the following spring. After they flower, allow them to self-seed and mulch them annually.

Leucanthemum vulgare

This plant is known as the ox-eye daisy. It grows particularly well in free-draining nutrient-poor soil, provided that it has full sun exposure. It grows 40 cm tall and 30 cm wide, and each plant features a singular white flower.

Daisies
Daisies

Leucanthemum attracts bees, beneficial insects, and birds. It is also great for keeping bees at bay. Keep in mind that it is toxic to cats and dogs, so don’t plant it if you have curious pets.

You can easily sow it from seeds. Start the seeds indoors in spring or sow directly outdoors in the fall. It blooms from June to August. Once it matures, it will seed itself.

Trifolium pratense

You may know this plant as the red clover, although its flowers are mostly pink or purple. It’s an essential plant for any meadow, not only due to its ornamental value but mostly because it does a great job fixing nitrogen in the soil. It is one of the plants whose flowers last the longest. You will enjoy the pink blooms from early June to late October. It has no known toxicity and it attracts all types of pollinators.

Trifolium pratense
Trifolium pratense

You can sow the Trifolium seeds from January to April or anytime throughout the fall season. Plant the seeds once an inch deep and keep the soil moist until they germinate. For the best results, plant it in full sun, although they can also grow well in partial shade. The flowers and the leaves are edible, either fresh or dry.  They are high in protein and vitamins B and C.

Asclepias tuberosa

This plant is more commonly known as Butterfly weed, although its appearance has nothing to do with weeds. It features gorgeous clusters of deep orange flowers. It is commonly used in traditional medicine, but you need to be careful because, in the wrong dosage, it can be poisonous.

Butterfly weed
Butterfly weed

Despite its resilience, this plant is a bit difficult to grow from seed and it has rigorous soil requirements. It must be planted in early spring, after the last frost. Be patient as the seeds have a very slow germination rate. It grows up to 60 cm tall and 40 cm wide. It needs sandy soil with no sogginess and full sun exposure. It blooms from June to August.

Gaillardia

This plant looks like a mixture of a daisy and a sunflower. Many gardeners appreciate it for its bright yellow or fiery red flowers which retain its vibrant colours all summer long. The flowers are rich in nectar, and they attract all types of pollinators.

Gaillardia pulchella
Gaillardia pulchella

You can grow Gaillardia from seed directly outdoors. Sow the seeds in full sun after the danger of the last frost has passed. It prefers poor-nutrient soil with good drainage. Sprinkle the seeds on the ground and cover them with a light layer of soil. Once they mature, you can enjoy continuous blooms if you deadhead the flowers, but you can also leave some flowers so that the plants can self-seed.

Pycnanthemum muticum

Also known as mountain mint, this plant has dozens of small flowers which attract numerous pollinators. It can grow up to 90 cm tall and 60 cm wide. It blooms from July to September and it features white flowers with shades of purple.

It can easily be grown from seed in sunny or partially sunny locations. Sow the seeds directly outdoors in early spring. Scatter the seeds on the ground, but don’t cover them with soil because they need light to germinate.

How to Establish a Wildflower Meadow

Whether we are talking about a garden or a large uncultivated land, you need to consider a few key factors before turning it into a wildflower meadow.

Wildflowers Perennial Mix, 50,000 Seeds, From Amazon

Sun exposure

If your land has trees or it is near tall buildings that provide a lot of shade, it is unlikely that you can turn it into a meadow. Most wildflowers and flowering shrubs need full sun exposure throughout most of the day.

Prepare the soil

Meadows occur naturally in the wild, but if you want to grow a native meadow from scratch, you will have to till the soil and do some sheet mulching. This will prevent weeds and grasses from growing in your meadow. It is also important to know the properties of your soil so that you can select the right plants for it.

Reduce soil fertility

As you may have noticed from our selection of meadow plants, most wildflowers prefer poor-nutrient soil. This is particularly true for areas that have been previously cultivated. Such areas have been enriched with fertilizer. The fastest ways of reducing soil fertility are turf-cutters or spades. For extremely rich soils, you can remove the nutrients by planting a crop of mustard plants. It will take a year, but these hungry plants will strip your soil of most nutrients.

Know your meadow plants

Our selection of meadow plants presented above are but a few of the hundreds of plants that can grow in a wildflower meadow. If you want more variety, make sure to learn about the needs of each plant. In the wild, they grow wherever the conditions are suitable, but to grow them in your garden, you will need to understand their particular needs.

Mowing needs

As we already mentioned, wildflower meadows are low maintenance, but even a meadow needs to be mowed once a year. As a rule of thumb, never mow from early April to late September. Try to mow at different times, so that some plants don’t end up dominating others. If your meadow gets out of control, and you need to mow it during the summer, leave an uncut area. This will act as a refuge for grasshoppers and other beneficial insects that may live in your little ecosystem.

Do some weed-spotting

If you prepared the soil right, weeds should not be an issue. Still, it is always good to keep an eye out for thistles, dock, and nettles. If you encounter such weeds, you will have to remove them manually. Herbicides are not to be used because they will affect the whole ecosystem.

Provide a source of water

If your space allows it, a pond will be a great addition to your meadow. It is vital if you want your meadow to have rich wildlife. A pond can be a home, a bathing spot, a food source, or a watering hole for numerous creatures. It can also attract some annoying insects like mosquitos. If you plan on spending time near the pond, make sure to plant some aromatic herbs around it to keep mosquitoes at bay.

In Conclusion

If you want to do your part for the planet, growing a meadow is one of your best options. Not only will you create a home for numerous creatures, but you will also feed countless pollinators. You will also get to enjoy your private oasis of relaxation, with minimum costs and efforts.

An important thing to keep in mind is that a meadow evolves in time. You may fully control it at first, but after a while, you will need to leave it to its own devices to develop and grow naturally.

Are you a fan of meadows? Share your experience in the comments below!

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Miruna is an experienced content writer with a passion for gardening. She is the proud owner of an outdoor rose garden and an indoor collection of tiny succulents. She bought her first succulent 10 years ago - an adorable Echeveria Setosa. Now she owns more than 100 succulents and cacti of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Miruna is a versatile writer and, as you might have guessed, her favorite topic is gardening. Contact miruna@gardenbeast.com

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