How to grow wild flowers in the garden: when to plant.

pollinator border beside polytunnel

 

Wild flowers are an absolute joy and every garden should have some.  They're great for supporting pollinators and they really are stunningly beautiful.  Mother Nature has been growing wildflowers since time immemorial and some species are quite fussy about the conditions they need to grow and reproduce.  But don't let that put you off.  Most of the joy in gardening is about experiementing.  What works where? how do I get more of these plants? How do I control the plants I don't want?

Here's a little snapshot summary of the different ways you can establish wild flowers into your garden and when is the best time of year to be doing it.

wildflowers and cultivated plants intermingle in this pollinator border

How do wild flowers propogate themselves?

Most species of wild flower are quite happy to reproduce themselves where they live.  Some, like poppies or cornflowers set seed and then die.   These plants rely on the seeds falling on to disturbed ground where they will grow the following spring.

Some wildflowers, like yarrow, oxeye daisy, clover and birdsfoot trefoil are perennials.  That means that the same plant grows in the same place year after year.  Nevertheless they still distribute seeds in the hope of making new plants.

Then there are the perennials that mainly reproduce by growing new shoots from their roots.  Stinging nettles are the prime example of this.

When to sow wildflower seed

poppies in bloom

Poppies grow best when seed falls onto disturbed ground

Wildflower seed can be a bit tricky to grow.  We gardeners are used to buying cultivated flower seeds from the garden centre that has been carefully bred so that all the seeds germinate at the same time, grow at the same rate and flower at the same time.  Wildflower seed doesn’t work like that at all. 

For some species – usually the prettiest ones - germination is erratic at best and can take more than a year.  Cowslips for example are beautiful but they’re really fussy about where they grow.

Some wildflowers start happily in pots or seed trays but need to grow where they germinate – so pricking out seedlings and then transplanting them to their final growing position just isn’t an option.

The trick with starting a wildflower area from seed is to sow the seeds directly onto the ground at the same time of year as Mother Nature would do it.  So late summer/early autumn is best.  Some will grow if the seeds are planted in spring.

Growing a wildflower meadow from seed is by far the cheapest way of  establishing it – but you may well find that the soil will grow more than you sow.  We’re talking here about weeds.  Weeds are cunning little devils that are a nightmare to control and many a seeded wildflower area has failed because of them.

When to plant pot grown wild flowers

Another way of bringing wildflowers into your garden is to buy established plants in pots. There are nurseries that will germinate the seeds for you and sell them as plug plants or as larger plants in containers.  This is a brilliant, but more expensive, way to buy wildflowers.  You can see what you’re getting and you can plant them at pretty much any time of the year.  Take advice from the grower on planting times, water requirements and what sort of conditions they like to live in.

You will need to weed between these plants until they get established – mulch is good for cultivated garden plants buy wildflowers like impoverished soil and using barkmulch, leafmould or compost will add to the nutrient levels – which is something you should avoid at all costs.

When to plant wildflower matting

laying Meadowmat wild flower mat

laying wild flower matting

The third and easiest way to start a wild flower area is to use a pre-grown wild flower matting like Meadowmat.

The plants arrive already growing strongly on a matting system.  It looks and handles like turf but the roots haven’t been disturbed during the harvesting process so the plants don’t think they’re being transplanted.

Simply unroll the matting on to prepared ground and it will act as mulch, supressing any annual weed seeds in the soil and saving you the hassle of trying to control them.

If you were to count the number of plants in one square metre of wild flower turf, and then multiply that number by the average cost of a wildflower plant from the garden centre, you’d probably find that wild flower turf is by far the best value for money.  BUT you don’t have 100% control over what plants will be in the mat.  The grower will be able to tell you what seedmix was sown to make the mat but cannot guarantee that all of those species will be present in the matting when it’s delivered to you.  Expect the contents of a wild flower mat to change over time as it adapts itself to conditions in your garden.

Wild flower matting will need to be kept moist until the plants root into the garden soil but you can choose when to install it.  It’s available all year round, except when the ground is frozen.  That means that you can schedule the installation in to suit yourself and the weather.  The nicest thing about a wild flower mat like Meadowmat is that it can be delivered direct to your door within 3 days of your order being confirmed. 

Best time to plant wild flowers

The best time to plant wild flowers is:

  • Using seeds:  autumn or spring
  • Pot grown plants: check with the grower
  • Wild flower mat: all year round provided the ground isn’t frozen

 

 

More about wild flower matting

Video: How to lay Meadowmat wild flower mat