When to sow wild flower seed

Robert Allen teaching customers about wildflowers

Robert Allen (purple tee-shirt) explaining his craft to a group of garden designers, journalists and landscapers

 

Meadowmat Production Manager, Mr Robert Allen has successfully grown thousands of square metres of wild flowers from seed.  Here’s his advice on the best time of year to sow wildflower seed.

 

Work with nature not against her

Robert’s knowledge and experience in growing plants has been thoroughly tested by growing wild flowers from seed.  This is a forty-something year old guy who’s spent his whole life working in agriculture, fruit production and horticulture.  You’d think he’d find wild flowers easy.  But no.  These plants are a law unto themselves.  He describes growing wildflowers from seed as “just as challenging as trying to nail jelly to a wall”.  Still, judging by the quality of his Meadowmat, he seems to have worked it out.

Robert’s number one rule is “work with nature, not against her”

That means:

  1. Observe plants in the wild.  When do they naturally set seed? How long before the seeds germinate? Do the seeds need light? Frost? Disturbed soil? Plenty of space or the protection of other plants?  This will help you decide where and when to sow seeds in your garden.
  2. Forget everything you’ve learnt about growing flowers and vegetables from seed.  The rules are much looser for wild flowers and their behaviour is much less predictable.
  3. Pay attention to the soil.  Its temperature, its texture, drainage, aspect and depth.  There’s no point in sowing seeds into cold wet soil. 
  4. Accept that what you sow isn’t necessarily what will grow in the first year.  Some wildflower seeds take 2-5 years to germinate.  Don’t worry though, you will see those plants eventually.
  5. Be patient.  Very patient. 

Spring or autumn sowing.  Which is best?

Some wildflower seeds need to feel the frost before they will germinate.  Hay rattle is a prime example of this.  Sow the seeds in spring and they’ll refuse to grow.  Sow them in autumn and provided we get a cold winter, seedlings will start to appear as soon as the soil warms up.

Some wild flower seeds, sown in spring will flower later than the same species sown in autumn. 

Somehow though, it feels so much more rewarding to cultivate the soil on a bright spring day, sow seeds and watch them grow.

Spring sowing works better for some of the tenderer annual wildflower species such as poppy or cornflower.  And it works well for robust perennial wild flowers like oxeye daisy, yarrow, knapweed and campion.

But do you know what? When it comes to growing wildflowers from seed – anything could happen and at any time of year.

A better way to establish wild flowers

I’ve done a little bit of experimenting with wild flowers in my garden.  

I’ve tried seeding (epic fail, I got very few plants and they weren’t at all strong)

I’ve used pot grown plants from the garden centre.  Nice plants but quite expensive.

But I found that the very best way to establish wild flowers and grasses in my garden was to lay Meadowmat wild flower mat. 

Meadowmat wild flower mat with beehive

Meadowmat in my own garden, still going strong 6 years after being installed.

With Meadowmat I got instant coverage; no weeds sneaked through from the soil beneath it; it rooted in quickly and easily and flowered beautifully.  That was 6 years ago.  I’ve had a stunning floral display every summer since then.  My bees love it and I have no complaints.

The secret to growing wildflowers from seed……

…..is to let Robert do it for you.  Then you can buy your wild flowers as a pre-grown mat (Meadowmat) which can be laid at any time of year, and is a whole lot more reliable than a packet of seeds.

 

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