Here is a copy of my wild flower seeding instructions for my ‘woodland and shade wild flower seed mix’. I include it in each packet of seeds that you might order from me.
This mix is suitable for varying woodland and shade conditions.
Within the area to be seeded kill off any existing vegetation (this is not necessary if the vegetation is very sparse). 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. This double weed-killing is not usually necessary when converting a previously well cared for mown lawn area.
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. Native wild flowers are hardy and winter sowing is fine but don’t expect to see germination until the ground warms up in the spring. Not all the 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 area. I have found that woodland and shade areas are a bit slower to establish than open situations where there is more sunlight and the soil is warmer. If you are not ready to sow your seeds yet don’t worry, as long as you ensure they are kept in the bag and stored in a cool, dark, dry place they will be viable for 12 months or more.
Please note: dark areas under Sycamore, Holly or Beech trees etc. can be too shaded to allow for the germination of seeds, if the area is largely bare ground beneath you must question why and assume it too dark and consider either letting more light in or using my wild flower bulbs or you can use my mature wild flower plant collections for woodland if there is enough light evidenced by other plants surviving at ground level (excluding the presence of ivy or plants from bulbs).
It is preferable not to cultivate the ground or you will expose many more weed seeds dormant in the soil’s seed-bank, which will germinate along with your sown seeds. Sow your seeds on the surface of the soil which has been revealed by the weed killing process described above. 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 to germinate and then carry out the weed-killing procedure outlined above before seeding it. For smaller areas I favour spreading over the top of your bare ground a top dressing about ½ inch thick made up of multi-purpose 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. This is useful because the compost layer tends to be quite light and dries out easily whereas the firmer ground beneath will not. To speed up their growth water the seeds/seedlings in the evening in dry weather and you will have them growing and flowering a lot quicker. Keep an eye out for weeds though that may get introduced as seeds from the compost if it has been stored loose outside, species such as Fat Hen (Chenopodium album), Nettle and Polygonum are common.
Remove leaf fall which can blanket seeded areas.
Please note: if you suddenly allow a lot more light into a woodland by coppicing or creating a ride you will trigger the germination of many seeds already present but previously dormant within your soil’s seed bank and these can germinate along with your sown seeds. This may not be a problem but be aware of bramble which can colonise and spread in these situations.
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 of your wild flower area. 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.
When will the wild flowers appear? In shaded areas germination is usually much slower and more spasmodic than in open situations, but generally speaking once spring arrives you should see germination of some species within a few months of seeding (later than many people realise…so don’t panic if nothing appears to be happening for a while). There will then be a succession of different species germinating throughout the following months and the second year. Many of the perennials spend their first year bulking up their leaf growth and root structure and so flowering will be very limited during the first year. It is from the second year that you should expect flowering. Once established different species will flower in succession throughout the year till October or even November. However do consider it a two year project to see wild flower presence, expect very little in the first year. I find it a good practice to also sow an additional 25% (compared to the woodland pack size purchased) with seed from one of my species rich open field mixes for clay or chalk soil (depending upon your soil type) when sowing my woodland mix, as where the shade is not too strong some of these wild flower species will germinate and flower much more quickly, usually from the first year giving you more interest and colour whilst you wait for the slower germinating specialist woodland species in the woodland mix to become established, it will also provide you with a greater diversity of wild flowers.
Also great for using in shaded areas is my winter and spring flowering bulb collection which you can view by clicking here.
Future management to keep your wild flower area healthy. If you have created a wild flower area along a sunny woodland ride or glade and there is a good amount of grass present then treat your wild flower area like a hay meadow – cut it once a year and remove the cuttings. If you don’t remove the cuttings these can act as a mulch and snuff out some of the more delicate wild flowers thus reducing the variety of wild flower species able to survive. Do this cutting towards the end of every year. For a small area that you can cut by hand with a strimmer or mower you can leave the cutting until late October (or whenever it’s looking sad and untidy). Larger areas will usually need to be cut earlier for practical reasons of getting machinery onto the land before it gets too wet but try to leave it as late as possible or you will miss out on a lot of the flowering. In more shaded areas you may have not have enough bulk of vegetation to warrant cutting it every year, but try to ensure a mat of dead vegetation does not build up within a wild flower area over a few years. If it does you need to cut it lower and remove the cuttings.
Most of the wild flower species in this mix are perennial and do not rely on their seed to survive, but continue year after year from their vegetative growth and so cutting any of these when still in flower will not damage the plant or the future of your wild flower area. So cutting paths through them is fine.
If you follow these simple management instructions your wild flower area 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.