It takes time to establish a self-sustaining wildflower meadow. And patience. And a bit of titivating every now and again. True, there’s nowhere near the amount of work as there is in a herbaceous border or a veg patch. But if you want your wildflower area to be as floral as a herbaceous border, then you need to keep it well maintained.
In this article, we’re looking at winter wildflower meadow maintenance jobs.
To Tidy Or Not To Tidy? That Is The Question
Mother Nature loves a bit of a mess. However, too much mess can be detrimental if you are trying to reduce soil fertility and encourage plant biodiversity.
If your wildflower meadow didn’t get a haircut in either spring or autumn it will probably be pretty messy right now. There’ll be lots of dead vegetation and fallen plants. Those are not good things. You must clear them ASAP otherwise delicate wildflower species will be weakened or killed by the lack of sunlight.
Leaving seed heads in your wildflower area for birds to feed on overwinter brings more interest to your garden. However, be wary of leaving dead vegetation lying on the ground. It will damage the plants beneath.
A few hollow stalks and seed heads left standing though are a good thing. Some beneficial insects like to overwinter in the straw-like stems. If there are any seeds left in their pods, small birds will enjoy feasting on them.
Trim if you need to but be sure to remove every bit of debris and never cut shorter than 10-15 cm. Certainly, don’t do any cutting when there’s even the slightest threat of frost.
Let There Be Light
There’s a reason why forest floors aren’t particularly floral in the summertime. It’s because wildflowers need a certain amount of sunlight to survive.
If your wildflower patch is a bit grassier than you’d like and if you are seeing fewer and fewer species, it could be that there’s a little bit too much shade.
Some wildflowers are more shade tolerant than others and it’s important to ensure that the species in your wildflower area are right for that space. Digitalis or foxgloves are perfect for areas that are partially shaded. Introduce new plants in autumn or winter.
Winter brings a good opportunity for you to cut back overhanging branches to let more light into the area. Trim trees and hedges and review the species that are actually thriving. Maybe this would be a good time to introduce some of the more shade-tolerant plants such as digitalis (foxgloves), silene (campion) and Allium Ursinum wild garlic. Wild garlic (aka ramsoms) is edible – if you manage to establish it you can use the leaves to cook with.
Which brings me on to our next job…….
Adding New Species
Provided the plants and the ground are not frozen, winter is a great time to introduce new plants to the meadow.
If you like the idea of plug planting, have a look at the website for British Wild Flower Plants. This Company is run by one of the UK’s foremost wildflower experts and offers plants for sale. You can order online and have your plants delivered to you.
Alternatively, why not introduce some patches of Meadowmat? You don’t need to cover the entire area – especially if it’s large. But you could lift the turf in some of the least biodiverse areas and replace it with a square metre or two of Meadowmat wildflower turf. It’s a quick way to establish new plants that will set seed next summer.
Another way of increasing the species in a meadow is to underplant it with spring-flowering bulbs. I like crocus – I know they’re not a wildflower but they do flower early providing a food source for queen bumblebees as they emerge from hibernation. Native bluebells are my favourite for shaded areas.
Further Reading For Winter Days
In my garden, there’s plenty to do all year round. But when the weather is awful and I don’t feel like going out, I sit by the fire with a pile of books and I plan.
If you are of the same mindset, you might enjoy this free garden design download from Harrowden Turf. It’s packed with inspirational ideas for easy and wildlife-friendly gardening.