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Creating A Meadow

Wildflower meadows can be an interesting addition to your landscape and are always full of surprises. They are create habitat for butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, quail, and other wildlife. Each year, the seasonal color changes, the textures vary, and plant species ebb and flow. Given the informal appearance of a meadow, one would think that creating one would be easy. Not true. Meadows are especially difficult to establish in areas that have been neglected and weedy. Tossing out your seeds from that "meadow in a can" will often result in a planting of junk weeds. In this column there are some pointers that will help ensure your meadow's success.

First choose a suitable location.  It should be in a sunny location with a well dained soil.  It also should not be very fertile, this will cause weeds to grow faster.  Then reduce the weed population in your meadow area. This is done by tilling the soil and watering often to germinate annual weed seeds. Repeated tilling should kill the juvenile weed plants thereby reducing competition with the slower growing wildflowers. By watering and observing, you will also learn to recognize juvenile weeds. Hint: the weeds always grow twice as fast as the wildflowers.

If you must use a herbicide, apply a non-selective, systemic herbicide. Glyphosate is a common, reliable herbicide that will control most perennial weeds when the directions are followed. Two or more applications may be necessary to eradicate the tenacious ones. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions when using these products.  We do not recommend the use of a herbicide but understand that developing a meadow is back-breaking work if done naturally.  Dedication at the pre-planting stage will definitely cut down on the need for weeding during the establishment of your meadow.

The seed bed can be amended with compost or other organic matter to improve water holding capacity and aeration. Rake it smooth and broadcast seed. Be sure not to apply too much seed. Follow the recommendations that came with the seed. When in doubt, seed conservatively. If the seed bed is on a slope, a thin covering of light mulch will hold the seed in place. A heavy mulch application will prevent germination (that's why we mulch areas heavily). During the first two months, moisture is very critical. Timing the seeding with a moist season is the best way to get seeds in synch with their environment. After two months, the seedlings will have developed deep roots. Planting some containerized perennial plants will speed the development and add dimension to the meadow effect.

Wildflowers, like grasses, are either adapted to grow in the warm season or cool season. Cool season plants germinate in winter or early spring and die out when it gets hot. Warm season plants rely on warm soil temperatures to germinate and thrive in hot weather. In  The best wildflower mixes should have warm and cool season species as well as annuals and perennials. Beware of inexpensive wildflower seed mixes. They may not be well adapted to our local climate and elevation. Native grasses are also a pleasant addition to a wildflower meadow.

I'll give you a few parting thoughts: plan on weeding your meadow for at least the first year or two; pull the weeds before they go to seed; give the meadow some water during the dry spell of May-June and August-September-October and by all means, enjoy your meadow by observing it during the different seasons.


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