Here is how to create a wild flower lawn using my special ‘low flowering lawn seed mix’. If you wish for a low tidy lawn which you can mow regularly yet still enjoy wild flowers blooming all summer, then this is the mix for you!
Ideally choose a site that receives a reasonable amount of sun. Although this lawn mix will tolerate a fair degree of shade it will flower much better where it receives more sun.
Within the area to be seeded kill off any existing vegetation. You can either remove the top thin layer of vegetation just below soil level to reveal bare ground using a spade or a turf-cutter is good for this (which one can hire), or lay some black plastic or old carpet over the top of the vegetation to kill it (this takes a few weeks).
Alternatively and for larger areas spray off the existing grass or weeds with Glyphosate (Roundup) weed-killer or any natural alternative. Ten days after spraying, cut the dying vegetation as tight to the ground as possible and remove the cuttings. I only advise the use of Glyphosate as some other weed-killers do not break down on contact with the soil and so remain active to kill or weaken the future germinating seedlings. It is also the least harmful chemical weed-killer to use from a wildlife perspective. For weedy areas, or where a lot of weed seeds have been allowed to build up in the soil’s seed-bank in the past, it is best to carry out a second spray when the area has greened up again, which can be several weeks later. Then undertake the seeding. This will reduce the amount of weed seeds that will germinate from your soil along with your sown wild flower seeds.
You can simply sow your seeds on the surface of the soil which has been revealed by the weed killing process described above. You can cultivate the ground but you do not have to; if you do you may expose many more weed seeds dormant in the soil’s seed-bank, which will germinate along with your sown seeds. If you need to cultivate the ground because it is rather compacted or you need to bring in soil, do this early to allow the weed seeds within the soil to germinate and then carry out the weed-killing procedure outlined above, then seed it. For smaller areas I favour spreading over the top of the bare ground a layer about 1cm thick made up of multi-purpose bagged compost from your local garden centre. This creates a great germination bed but it is not thick enough to prevent the seedlings getting their roots into the firmer ground beneath as they get bigger. Keep an eye out for weeds though that may get introduced with compost as seeds if the compost has been stored loose outside, species such as Fat Hen (Chenopodium album), Nettle and Polygonum are common.
You can sow your seeds anytime of the year but the rate of germination will depend on the level of moisture and warmth in the soil. If the weather is dry following seeding water the area regularly to speed up germination and establishment. Not all the wild flower species germinate at the same time, some are months behind others so there is always new things to spot when you inspect your wild flower lawn. If for any reason you find that you are not able to sow your seeds as quickly as you had hoped, do not panic, as long as you ensure the seed is kept in the bag and stored in a cool, dark, dry place it will be viable for 12 months or more.
Seeding. If seeding by hand, divide up the seed packet and your plot into quarters and this way you will get early warning if you are sowing too thickly and are likely to run out of seed before you reach the end of your plot! If you have scales to measure 3 grams accurately, do this and then between your fingers carefully scatter that quantity of seed over a marked 1 metre x 1 metre square of flat material such as a cardboard or plastic sheet etc. By doing this you will get to see the seed pattern/quantity that you should be using when sowing at 3 grams per square metre. You will also get an opportunity to see the array of different seed shapes and sizes as many are very tiny and hardly noticeable from looking at the packet. Save the seed from this exercise to sow with the others. If you are using a mechanical spreader, calibrate it to output at 3 grams per square metre.
I would encourage you to take the time to put some seed on a piece of plain white paper and use a magnifying glass to see their wonderful variety of shape and size. Even more amazing is looking at them under a microscope at x20 magnification – this is how I check and identify seeds – tiny round seeds that look the same to the naked eye can be from several different species and will have a very different appearance when magnified x20. At this magnification they can be seen for what they are, some of Mother Nature’s incredibly beautiful designs!
Do not cover with soil. Don’t worry about birds eating your wild flower seeds, I have never found them to be a problem as the seeds are too small, some grass seeds may be taken but this will not affect the final appearance. However if you will have wild rabbits entering the seeded area then do protect it from them i.e. fence them out using rabbit netting, as they love young seedlings and will eat them before you even notice your seeds have germinated and you will end up with very few wild flower species or large bare areas.
Once the seeds have germinated and you see vegetation growing start mowing it when it reaches about 3 inches high, with your mower cut height set to about 2 inches (it is preferable to remove the cuttings). It will begin by looking very gappy with bare ground but will fill in as the plants germinate and spread to create your wild flower lawn.
Mowing. The species in this mixture will tolerate close mowing to a height of about 2 inches (5cm). To receive good flowering all season maintain a mowing frequency of about one cut every 3 weeks for the majority of the summer – this is approximate and you can certainly extend this mowing interval. However, if you mow too regularly i.e. every week, then many of the flowers will not get a chance to bloom, although you will not kill the plants you will not have much flowering. The final cut of the year should be done shorter than 2 inches to leave the lawn quite tight and ideally remove the cuttings to ensure good flowering resumes in the spring. When the wild orchids start flowering (this will not be until 3 to 4 years after sowing) you might want to mow round their lovely flowering spikes as they will only flower once each summer unlike the other species which will put up more flowers following mowing. Please note that the wild flowers in your lawn seed mix are perennial and come up year after year but only a few will flower during the initial year of seeding as they usually like a year of growth before flowering.
If you wish to maximise the flowering and wildlife benefits of your wild flower lawn once it is established (which would normally be from the second year), instead of mowing the whole lawn in one go, you can mow alternate halves every 10 days or more i.e. alternating which half of the lawn you cut each time, this will ensure that there are always flowers to view and for bees and butterflies to enjoy throughout the summer, as it can take a week to ten days for flowering to resume following each mowing.
When will the wild flowers appear? Being perennial wild flowers they take longer to germinate than annuals and depending upon the levels of warmth and moisture in the soil the majority will not germinate until late June or early July from a spring sowing (so be patient and don’t panic!). There will then be a succession of different species germinating throughout the following weeks and months. Many of the perennial wild flowers spend their first year bulking up their leaf growth and root structure instead of flowering so do not expect to see very much flowering in this first year. It is from the second year when your wild flower lawn will mature, with different species flowering en masse throughout the spring and summer. During the first year it is quite normal for it to look patchy with only a little colour but this changes during the second year. Your low flowering lawn wild flowers are all perennial which means they will survive year after year without the need for re-seeding. They are fully hardy to survive the winter.
If you follow these simple management instructions your wild flower lawn should survive indefinitely and bring you much pleasure and fascination year after year. No two years will be the same as different species will bloom at differing levels of abundance, producing an ever changing feast of colour and form for your enjoyment and the bees and butterflies too.