About Wildflower Meadows Establishment
Why Should We Worry about Keeping Native Wildflowers?
Wildflower meadows are largely unnatural. What we class as a wildflower meadow now is likely to be a result of thousands of years of human intervention. The closest we have to a truly natural area would be lowland heath, which the UK lost over 80% of in the last 200 years. These lowland heath areas of high biodiversity have become increasingly precious as they dwindle. Their importance as a resource for the mammals, birds, amphibians and invertebrates that require them is an acute situation in some areas.
Increasing the biodiversity around the countryside, on golf courses, farms, school playing fields, along roadsides and within our own gardens has become a means to reduce, and in some situations, reverse the decline of species in the wild. Understanding the conditions wildflowers grow well in and the proper conditions for them to become established helps us to understand what conditions we can provide for them to grow and how to manage them.
What Does Biodiversity Mean?
It is key to understand that biodiversity exists in situations where no one species can over take the others. It is easy to notice that in many areas one or two wild plant species often thrive to the detriment of other species in that area. Generally this is where species have a adapted to particular circumstances e.g. Common Nettles have an ability to utilise nutrients very quickly and can rapidly outgrow surrounding vegetation if there is an abundance of nutrients. Similarly ephemerals or short lived weeds such as Common Groundsel are able to reproduce very quickly and will over-grow areas rapidly to the detriment of other species. Wildflower areas will benefit from a balance of competition with the grasses and each species so that each species has an opportunity to thrive. Sometimes this is generally gradually accrued over time.
How Have We Lost Most of Our Wildflower-rich Grasslands?
Established wildflower meadows that are there today may be because of earlier farming methods used over thousands of years. The regular seasonal patterns of making hay in July, grazing the aftermath in the early autumn and removing livestock before the ground becomes poached in the winter has removed nutrients to a point where no one species can dominate and a broad spectrum of species have the ability to survive – hence wildflowers had a chance to remain established. The problems have arisen however with the use of artificial fertilisers which have in turn upset the balance and certain species such as Broad-leaved Docks, Creeping Thistle and Common Nettle have taken advantage of this abundance of nutrients and over-grown areas to the detriment of wildflowers. Industrialisation and chemical developments have bought about the use of herbicides which were not very selective in what they controlled and as a consequence we have seen a massive decline in wildflower meadows in the last 100 years: we have lost over 97% of the UK’s wildflower-rich grasslands.
What Do I Need to Know About Establishing a Wildflower Meadow?
In opposition to most gardening practices wildflowers need very little nutrition. They require nutrient-poor soil to thrive. Some may have very specific requirements because they are adapted to a particular type of habitat – e.g: woodland and shade species, chalk or calcareous grassland species, alluvial soils etc. Wildflower species are mixed to replicate the type of species that would naturally occur in this context. Certain species require grasses to be present e.g. Yellow Rattle is semi-parasitic upon grass species.
Which Wildflower Seed Mixtures Should I Use?
Many wildflower mixtures are made up of 80% grass seed and 20% wildflower seed, by weight although a lot of wildflower seeds are much smaller than grass seed which balances the number of seeds out.
The appropriate seed mixture for the area needs to be selected; It will help to speak to an advisor who will offer the appropriate wildflower seed mixture based upon your soil type, existing management, current nutrient levels etc.