Whether you let the lawn grow wild and free for no-mow May, or you’re tempted to turn your garden over to the wild side more permanently, creating a meadow lawn is full of benefits.
There are several ways to grow a wildflower lawn, you can overseed an area with wildflower seeds, plant wildflower plugs, lay a carpet of wildflower turf or simply stop mowing and let nature take over for a while.
From providing a haven for nectar-loving insects to having a supply of beautiful flowers on tap, we’ll look at how you can create a wild lawn, the best wildflower seeds to choose and how to maintain it.
Why make a meadow lawn?
There’s a lot to be said for a beautifully manicured lawn. It looks incredible, it’s practical and it’s relatively easy to look after. However, unless you have large, plant-filled borders and pots filled to the brim with flowers, it’s not great news for wildlife.
Many wildflower species are in decline due to overdevelopment, intensive farming, the growing trend for artificial turf and other invasive plants. Since the 1930’s the UK has lost 90% of its ‘unimproved grasslands’, this is devastating for the millions of insects that rely on nectar from our native plants. Whilst honey bees will collect pollen from a wide range of plants, solitary bees and other insects may only pollinate a small number of plants.
Here are just a few reasons why creating a wildflower lawn is a good idea:
- A wild lawn is great for biodiversity – with so many different species of wildflowers and grasses, it’s easy to introduce many different plant varieties to your plot.
- A meadow lawn will improve soil health – wildflowers can help to reduce erosion, improve drainage and lessen the effects of drought.
- Wildflowers will attract pollinators – a wildflower garden will entice a horde of butterflies and bees, as well as birds. The bigger the variety of flowers you plant, the more diverse the visiting wildlife will be.
- It will look amazing – a healthy green lawn is a sight to behold but a garden brimming with wildflowers and buzzing with wildlife is nature at its beautiful best.
- A wildflower lawn is lower maintenance than turf – let’s face it, no one really enjoys mowing the lawn weekly. Letting your garden go wild is a wonderful way to free up your time and you won’t need to worry about weeds, sparse grass or fertilising.
If you’d like your lawn to grow wild, there are a few different types of meadow flowers to consider:
Short-flowering meadow plants
Also known as annual meadows, these wild zones consist of cornfield plants such as poppies and cornflowers. These are the most rapidly declining wildflowers. Once considered weeds, these flowers will germinate, flower and self-seed in one year. These plants require richer soils to thrive.
Long-flowering meadow plants
Perennial or long-flowering meadow plants will return each year. Yarrow, oxeye daises, forget-me-nots, bluebells and cowslips are all long-lasting plants that can live for several years. These plants will thrive in poorer soils where they don’t have to compete with grass.
How to plant wildflowers in grass
If you’re keen to start a wildflower garden or even a wildflower roof, there are a few ways to do it:
Overseed an area with wildflower seeds
One of the easiest ways to create a wild lawn, simply choose the area that you’d like to re-wild, prepare it and seed. Wildflowers grow best in soil that is disturbed and nutrient-poor so you can either lift a section of turf or choose an existing bare patch and lightly rake over it. If you’ve used a lot of fertiliser, you’ll have more success if you remove the top few inches of topsoil first. You can also sow a crop of mustard the year before sowing your meadow seeds, this hungry plant is excellent at stripping the soil of nutrients.
You’ll need to sow the wildflower seeds in spring for a summer burst of colour. You can choose a grass and wildflower seed mix, a random wildflower mix or handpick your own flowers. The beauty of a wild garden is that other flowers will naturally find their way into the mix.
If you sow your seeds at the right time, you can expect to wait around 50-80 days from seed to flower. The types of wildflowers that will thrive in your garden will depend on soil type and the aspect of your garden. Some beautiful, native wildflower species include bird’s foot trefoil, common spotted orchid, sorrel, selfheal, clover and wild marjoram.
Plant wildflower plugs
Another effective way to introduce wildflowers into your garden is to plant wildflower plugs. As these plants are already established, it’s a quick way to get results and relatively inexpensive too. This is a good way to start a wildflower garden if you want to confine the meadow to a smaller area of your lawn.
Lay wildflower turf
Also known as a meadow mat, this is the quickest way to create a meadow in your garden or on the roof of an outbuilding. You can replace large areas of existing turf with wildflower meadow turf. There are a few different types to choose from depending on the area that you wish to cover.
The advantage of wildflower turf is that it’s extremely quick to establish and the flowers have been specially selected to provide colour and interest throughout the year. You can pick turf to suit the aspect of your garden and soil type, and even opt for bespoke turf.
When to lay wildflower turf
You can lay wildflower turf at any time of the year, as long as the ground isn’t frozen but we’d recommend laying it in spring for the best results. That way, you won’t have to wait too long until the flowers bloom.
Stop mowing (and let nature do it for you)
Alternatively, you can just let your garden grow and see what happens. If you’re turning the whole garden over to the wild side, you might want to mow a path or two through the garden for access.
Leaving the grass to grow will work best in areas that already have dense grass cover. Initially, the grass will grow longer and longer, often becoming patchy and uneven. In time, new grasses, weeds and wildflowers will colonise the area. You can choose to let your grass grow from March, May or early July and then cut it during late summer depending on the flowers that are growing there.
How to care for a wildflower lawn
For a wildflower lawn that looks beautiful every year, you will need to give it the occasional cut. After the first flowering season, cut the lawn in midsummer, leaving the cuttings for a few days so that any seeds can fall to the ground.
After the first year, you can cut the meadow during dry weather in late July, August or September, leaving the cuttings for a few days before collecting them. You can vary the cutting time each year to allow different flowers to flourish. You’ll probably need to use shears for this job. You can cut the lawn again between September and April if needed.
Can you sow wildflower seeds on grass?
You can sow wildflower seeds on grass, but for the best results, you’ll need to remove an area of turf as wildflowers will germinate best on loose, crumbly soil. You can also lay areas of wildflower turf or plant plug plants and bulbs in an existing lawn.
Can you throw wildflower seeds on grass?
You can scatter wildflower seeds and hope for the best, but it’s unlikely that many will take root on an established lawn. Plant wildflower seeds on freshly raked soil or in pots, buckets or troughs for the best results.
What are the best wildflower seeds for lawns?
Many companies sell packs of ready-mixed wildflower seeds and you can pick specific varieties to suit your soil type. You can also pick and mix wildflowers and grasses. Poppies, cornflowers, oxeye daises, buttercups, speedwell, cowslips, irises, teasels and borage are all beautiful, native varieties. Good grass varieties include fescues and bents.
What wildlife can I expect to see in my wildflower meadow?
Expect to see a noticeable increase in different species of butterflies and bees, as well as grasshoppers, beetles and birds. As your meadow establishes and evolves, the visiting wildlife will too.
Although seemingly easy to establish and much lower maintenance than a turf lawn, you do need to follow a few steps to create a beautiful and healthy meadow lawn. Pick native wildflowers for the best results and either sow the seeds directly onto loose soil, plant plug plants into an existing lawn or overlay areas of lawn with wildflower turf.
As well as looking beautiful, a wild lawn will help wildlife to thrive and boost dwindling insect populations. Imagine the difference we could make if we all dedicated a small corner of our garden to the wildlife.
If you’ve grown a wildflower lawn, we’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.