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Creating a Wildflower Meadow

Creating a Wildflower Meadow

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Published by msblsports
Butterflies and hummingbirds will “beat a path" to your wildflower meadow and you will have the pleasure of experiencing a constant changing of colors from week to week, too beautiful to adequately describe.
Butterflies and hummingbirds will “beat a path" to your wildflower meadow and you will have the pleasure of experiencing a constant changing of colors from week to week, too beautiful to adequately describe.

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Published by: msblsports on Jan 27, 2012
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Butterflies and hummingbirds will “beat a path" to your wildflower meadow and you will have the pleasure of experiencing a constant changing of colors from week to week, too beautiful to adequately describe.

f you are looking for a family nature project that is fun and rewarding, consider turning part of your yard into a wildflower meadow. A wildflower meadow is like an endless string of birthday presents. Each day you will find an unexpected blossom to admire, or a new bird or butterfly to watch. A meadow will promote a feeling of calm as well as discovery, provide lots of flowers for cutting and materials for nature crafts, plus support wildlife with food and shelter. While several acres of wildflowers are undoubtedly lovely, a small “pocket meadow" in the backyard can also bring you months of pleasure. A wildflower meadow should look natural. It can provide contrast to a green lawn or formal flower beds. Although you will tend it by controlling invasive weeds, the overall effect will not be as groomed as a traditional garden or lawn, so you may want to discuss your plans with your neighbors and get them excited about the concept of meadows. You should also check on any local regulations that would prohibit an unmowed area. To “dress up" your meadow and make it look more tended, consider adding pathways, a fence, and maybe even a bench or two.

Creating a Wildflower Meadow
For more nature habitat information Visit these helpful websites:

A Plant's Home A Bird's Home A Homesteader's Home

Getting Started First, you must decide where to put your meadow. Although there are wildflowers that
© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 1 A Plant's Home

thrive in shady conditions, most meadows need to be in an area of full sun. The other requirement is that the soil have good drainage. Although it is generally not recommended that you fertilize a meadow, if your soil is heavy clay you might want to add some organic matter to improve drainage. Most wildflowers will care for themselves once they are established, but they will have to be kept moist for the first few weeks as they germinate and set down roots, so your meadow area should be near a convenient source of water. Choose a site that is only as large as you are willing to work to maintain.

gardens are planted in your area. If you have cold winters, spring planting after all danger of killing frost is best. It is also possible to plant in summer, up to two months before frost, but then you must expect to do more watering. Gardeners who live in cold climates might choose to try “dormant planting." This means waiting until after killing frosts, when the ground has cooled enough to prevent sprouting. The seed will winter over in its dormant state and sprout in the spring, giving you earlier blossoms.

WindStar is a member, recommends that native grasses make up 50 to 80 percent of the meadow seed. They are beneficial because they help support and protect tall wildflowers, crowd out weeds, and prevent soil erosion. The grasses will also add color and texture to your meadow, as well as provide food and cover for wildlife. Depending on the species, their growth form will be mat- (or sod) forming, or bunch-forming. Those that form mats spread by runners – stems that grow horizontally along the ground and put down roots. Bunch grasses form clumps and usually don’t flower or set seeds the first year. Some may only be 2 or 3 inches tall by the end of the growing season. Beneficial native grasses include buffalograss, big bluestem, little bluestem, grama grasses, Indian grass, and muhly grasses.

Seed Wildflower seed can be purchased from a number of sources. It is important to use a reputable company. You can get a list of suppliers for your area from the National Wildflower Research Center, 4801 LaCrosse Avenue, Austin, Texas 78739. If you decide to plant selected species rather than use a mixture of flowers, pick plants that are native to your part of the country. They will grow better and you won’t risk introducing a species that can become invasive and crowd out native vegetation. Beware of generic “wildflowers in a can" because they often contain undesirable weeds and grasses.

Those living in warm climates with light or no frost can plant almost any time, but the hot summer months are not recommended. Generally speaking, you want to plant when the soil is warm and rain will promote germination.

Soil preparation Your soil can be prepared by hand or by rototilling. Wildflowers are hardy but not magic – you can’t just throw the seeds on the ground and expect them to perform well. They have to have contact with the soil, and a chance to grow without overwhelming competition from weeds. If you use a tiller, go only deep enough to remove old roots. Digging deeper just brings more weed seeds to the surface to germinate. If tilling isn’t sufficient, there are other methods to try. Your choice will

When to plant Wildflower seed is best sown about one week before vegetable

Grasses A natural meadow includes grasses as well as wildflowers. The National Wildflower Research Center, of which

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A Plant's Home

depend upon your time, budget, the size of your site, and attitude towards herbicides. Method One involves early site preparation three weeks prior to sowing. Tilling is followed by repeated cultivation during that time period, thus eliminating the early annual weeds. Method Two starts six weeks ahead of sowing. During the first three weeks after tilling, weeds are allowed to grow (even encouraged with watering) and then they are treated with a herbicide such as Roundup. The weeds will die during the next three weeks and can be raked away. This also gives the chemicals time to wash out of the soil. This method is good if you have persistent perennial weeds to remove. Method Three takes more planning, but requires no chemicals. Till in the late summer or early fall of the year before you want to plant. The soil can be left fallow, or you can plant a cover crop such as buckwheat or annual rye grass. This will hold the soil in place, add beneficial organic matter to the site, and help to crowd out germinating weeds. In the spring, lightly cultivate to loosen the soil and turn under the cover crop just before planting.

two equal parts. Put the first half in a container and add about 10 parts of light sand or vermiculite. This will help you to spread the seed evenly, and also make it easy to see where you’ve already been. Sow this half over the whole area to be seeded, either by hand or using a handcrank cyclone seeder. You may want to sow up to 2 or 3 times the supplier’s recommended minimum rates, but don’t go higher than that because it will inhibit good growth.

Germination All seeds, even wildflowers, need moisture and warmth to germinate. Some will sprout in a week, while others take months. Most mixes will include both annual and perennial flowers. The annuals germinate quickly and grow fast. They bloom early and heavily, set seed, and are killed by frost. They may reseed, but you will probably want to add more seed every couple of years to insure a good performance. Perennials come back every year from the same roots. They grow more slowly and may not flower until the second year. They get larger and stronger each year, forming clumps that may die back in winter but return the next spring. A third type of plant, biennials, form leaves the first year, bloom the second, and are killed by frost after blooming. They are generally considered perennial performers, however, because of their heavy seed production.

Sowing Once your ground is bare and loosened and you are ready to sow, there are some tricks that will make the process easier and more successful. Choose a nearly windless day, and separate the seed into roughly

Mix the second half of your seed in the same way, and spread it over the whole area also, making sure that you hit any bare spots that were missed the first time. Don’t rake or cover the seed with soil. Instead, press it into the ground using a lawn roller or piece of plywood that you walk on. If compressing isn’t possible, it is better to do nothing than to rake or cover the seed.

Maintenance Fertilizer is not recommended. Wildflowers grow best in soils with low fertility, where nitrogen levels are low. Using fertilizer will also promote weed growth. Water to get the meadow established, and then only in times of stress. Overwatering yields more leaves and fewer flowers. You might have to pull up some weeds or shrubs that intrude on your meadow, but often it is easiest to just let them go and become part of your natural landscape. Once a year, at the end of the growing

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"If it is true, as Emerson suggested, that the earth laughs in flowers, then a meadow is the earth laughing right out loud."
—Laura Martin The Wildflower Meadow Book

While many perennials will also germinate the first year, their root growth comprises two or three times the amount of the above-ground vegetation, and they normally don’t flower until the second or third year. The Second Year will see the native bunch grasses flower and produce seeds, assuming that there has been wellspaced and abundant rainfall. Some biennial and perennial wildflowers will begin to bloom. If weather conditions weren’t optimal the first year, residual seeds from that planting may germinate. As the meadow fills out, you may want to re-seed or transplant species to fill in bare spots or increase diversity. If annual weeds are a problem, remove them before they set seed. The Third Year and Beyond may see enough growth that you might consider a “controlled burn." Fire is a natural process in many ecosystems and can reduce the woody plants and other invasive species. Burning also stimulates the growth of many native grasses and prairie perennials, and breaks the dormancy of some seeds. However, burning is a technique that requires special expertise and should not be attempted without first consulting experienced experts. Since fire affects all the species in the meadow, be sure of your goal before using it as a tool. Many areas require permits for burning, or may prohibit it completely, so check
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local regulations. If you choose not to burn, you can continue to control weeds by mowing or spot-treating with herbicides. Although a wildflower meadow is not maintenancefree and requires some advance preparation, once it is established it is less laborintensive and costs less to maintain than a traditional lawn. In addition, it will provide you and your neighbors with an ever-changing display of color and texture, while at the same time offer food and shelter to some of the wildlife displaced by development. Your meadow may inspire others to follow your lead, perhaps even as community efforts at schools or along roadways. A wildflower meadow is a treasure in every season, so why not start right now to make your plans for a beautiful future.
This article was written by Thomas D. Patrick, President, WindStar Wildlife Institute. It was edited by Maryland Master Wildlife Habitat Naturalist Cathy Gilleland. For more information or for the name of a Master Wildlife Habitat Naturalist in your area, please contact: WindStar Wildlife Institute E-mail: wildlife@windstar.org http://www.windstar.org

season and after seeds have formed, you should mow the entire area with the mower on its highest setting (6-8 inches). This will keep tree and brush seedlings under control, and destroy the seed crop of annual weeds. Wait until at least half of the late-blooming wildflowers have had time to drop seeds. If your meadow includes tall, warm-season native grasses, wait until late summer or early fall to mow. Leaving seed heads in place through the winter adds interest to the meadow and provides food for the birds. After mowing, leave the clippings in place, unless the meadow is in a moist area, in which case the clippings need to be removed. What to Expect The First Year will be dominated by the annuals that germinate quickly. These are bright and showy, with the best display in mid- to late summer. Although they will reseed a certain amount, to maintain the color level you should plan to reseed annuals every two or three years.

WindStar Wildlife Institute is a national, non-profit, conservation organization whose mission is to help individuals and families establish or improve the wildlife habitat on their properties.

© WindStar Wildlife Institute

A Plant's Home

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