Start a Wild Flower Meadow
Establishing a Pollinator Meadow
To boost healthy populations of pollinators, the single most effective action is to plant native wildflower habitat. Done right, pollinator meadows are easy to create and require little in resources and maintenance. Pollinators have only a few basic habitat requirements: A flower rich foraging area, suitable host plants or nests where they can lay their eggs, and an environment free of pesticides.
Benefits of a Pollinator Meadow
Besides the emotional rewards of being responsible environmental stewards and conservationists, we can also be selfish in our desires for establishing a pollinator meadow; as pollinators increase the yields of our gardens, attract beautiful butterflies, and provides pest management benefits. For example, the larvae of many syrphid flies eat aphids. The adult fly fuels itself by eating sugary nectar. It then searches for plants with aphids where it lays eggs. The maggot that hatches from the egg patrols the plant looking for aphids to eat.
Follow these easy steps to help save bees, local pollinators and to increase the productivity and beauty of your garden.
- Site Selection
- Site preparation
- Plant Selection
- Planting Techniques
How much sun will your site receive?
What type of soil does your site have?
Rich clay soils, dry sandy and rocky soils?
These are critical questions to understand when selecting your type of wildflowers. Some wildflowers prefer poor sandy soils to grow, others prefer rocky soil. For example Brown Eyed Susan’s and Fireweed, prefer poor, rocky soil which is why you see them thriving on road sides. Depending on your site select the best wildflowers which thrive in your environment. Remember when choosing native species have thrived in your area without human intervention. Keep it simple, keep it easy. When planned right you will not need to re-engineer your land or import materials to improve the soil condition.
The goal is to create a site where the flowers can thrive while also creating habitats for beneficial insects and other creatures to create a natural ecosystem. With a healthy ecosystem pests are easily controlled with beneficial creatures insuring no one pest will dominate and destroy your garden.
Before planting you will need to:
- Eliminate existing vegetation
- Reduce the amount of weed seeds in the soil
- Create a smooth surface to insure good seed to soil contact
Solarizing the existing vegetation with clear UV plastic is effective on small patches of land. The plastic usually needs to be left in place for several months during the hottest time of the year before all the vegetation underneath is dead. The goal of solarization is to raise the temperature of the soil high enough to kill any weed seeds present.
Use this pollinator plant list for your region when selecting native varieties: Pollinator Conservation Resource Center.
Select a diversity of plants with different flower sizes, shapes, colors, heights and growing habits, to support the greatest numbers and diversity of pollinators. It is important to provide a continuous source of pollen and nectar throughout the growing season. Try for at least three species to be blooming at any one time. It’s important to include flowers that bloom early in the spring to provide food for newly emerging pollinators. Bees eat the supply of honey throughout the winter and if the winter is long, the first flowers of the spring are critical for the survival of bees. Similarly, it is important to provide flowers that bloom in late summer and fall to support the colony over the winter.
Think carefully about your goals for your meadow. For example, if you would like to attract butterflies, consider including larval host plants for the species which occur in your area. Monarch caterpillars, for example, exclusively feed on milkweed.
Importance of Grasses
Though grasses do not offer nectar or high quality pollen, it is often useful to include some native bunch grass or sedge in your seed mix. Grasses and sedges are larval host plants for some butterflies, and also provide nesting and overwintering sites for some bumble bees and other insects.
For wildflowers early fall is the best time to plan. Many perennial plant seeds require exposure to cold temperatures and damp conditions before germination can occur. Additionally, winter precipitation helps the seeds settle into the soil and will stimulate germination. Though fall is the best time to plant seeds, spring planting can also yield positive results.
The best seeding method is to mix the seeds with an equal or greater volume of slightly damp inert materials such as coarse sand, rice hulls, sawdust, or other mulches. The inert material helps to provide proper species distribution and gives a visual representation of where you have spread the seeds. When spreading the seeds, apply half of it to the planting area in one direction and the other half in a direction perpendicular to the initial sowing. This will help distribute the seeds evenly.
To achieve good seed to soil contact, the seed can be compacted into the ground with a lawn roller, or other wheels found at second hand stores or building suppliers like the restore. If erosion is a concern, the planting site can be protected with a thin layer of straw.
How much seed do you need?
¼ lb per 1000 sqft. 10lb per acre
Watering your seedbed is usually not necessary unless you are experiencing drought conditions. If inadequate rainfall is received following seed germination, irrigation may be needed to ensure seedling survival. Once established, native plants typically do not need supplemental irrigation.
It is not necessary to fertilize your pollinator meadow under normal conditions. Native plants do not require fertilizer and the application of fertilizer with high nitrogen levels will tend to encourage weed growth.