Where can I sow my wildflowers?
Wildflowers are versatile and are suited to many different spaces. Plain old soil in your garden is great for growing wildflowers because they thrive in low nutrient soil. Alternatively you could sow the seeds on grass or lawn areas in your garden by removing the grass with a spade, raking over the ground to create patches of bare soil and then sowing the seeds there. However, if you haven’t got a garden, you can grow wildflowers in containers, just make sure there are drainage holes in them and the container is strong enough to hold the soil. One of the keys to success is to avoid small containers; wildflowers won’t survive in a cramped space. They need room for their roots to grow and absorb nutrients and water, so best to go big. The kind of things you could use are large wooden planters, oversized pots, old baths, or even boats.
How do I plant a patch of soil with wildflowers?
1. Choose a fine Spring or Autumn day when the soil is neither too wet nor too dry.
2. Dig over the soil with a fork or spade and break up or put aside large clumps. Remove weeds so the wildflowers don't have any competition, and any large stones. Make sure you dig out the roots of the weeds otherwise they will grow back vigorously.
3. Rake the soil so it's fine and crumbly - lumpy soil may bury seeds; if it's too hard, roots will be unable to penetrate the ground.
4. Ideally, leave your prepared soil for about two weeks so any dormant weeds or grasses that come to life can be removed before you sow your seeds and any weeds which have re-grown since you initially weeded can be removed.
5. Scatter your wildflower seeds over the soil by hand - a little at a time for an even spread. To make spreading easier, mix seeds with a small amount of dry play sand or flour so you can see where you've sown them.
6. Rake the soil again - gently - to just cover the seeds with a very thin layer (1mm) of fine crumbly soil. Seeds need sunlight, so be careful not to bury them or they won't grow.
7. Very gently, water the whole area using a watering can, taking care not to wash your seeds away.
8. Label the area with your plant markers and don’t forget to include the sowing date.
If you're sowing in Spring, it's critical to water wildflowers in the ground regularly after sowing and while the seedlings are establishing in the first six weeks. You should aim to water your freshly sown wildflower space twice a week and more frequently in hot weather. Gentle watering with a rose on a watering can, or gentle spray attachment to a hose, is important to avoid washing seeds away. Your seeds should germinate within a couple of weeks, depending on the weather. If you're sowing in Autumn, you only need to water your seeds once and then leave them over winter, when the seeds will be dormant. Come back to water them once the weather gets warmer and seedlings start showing. When it is dry weather, make sure the soil remains moist and water. Seedlings can be killed if the soil dries out completely.
How do I plant a container with wildflowers?
1. Check your container has a few holes in the base to let water gradually drain out. Otherwise, use a drill or sharp instrument to add holes.
2. Add a few stones or broken crockery to the bottom to help drainage.
3. Move your container to your chosen space before filling it; an empty container is much easier to move than a full one.
4. Fill the container with top soil if possible, or use multipurpose compost. The compost doesn’t need to be the most expensive, but for environmental reasons please avoid any that contain peat. As you fill the container, gently push down the soil or compost to break up any lumps and get rid of large air pockets. Stop filling 25mm from the top to allow room for watering.
5. Sprinkle seeds by hand evenly over the surface and cover with 1mm of soil or compost.
6. Water well.
7. Label the container with plant markers.
Make sure that the soil in your container remains moist and water it if dry. This is the most vulnerable time for seeds – seedlings can be killed if the soil dries out completely - and wildflowers in containers need regular watering throughout their lives. In Summer this can mean a good soak every day, even if it’s been raining. But be careful not to over-water. If the soil is too saturated, the seedlings could die from a lack of oxygen reaching their roots.
How do I care for my growing space or container?
Seeds sit on or very near the soil's surface, so can dry out in warm, dry or windy weather. Keep the ground moist, particularly after sowing and while the seedlings are establishing.
Protect your seeds by crafting your own bird scarers from CDs.
Watch for hungry snails and slugs on your wildflower space. Bare, open spaces away from damp, dark hiding places are less likely to be affected. Just after dark is a good time to catch them in the act or putting a bit of grit around the base of seedlings can help.
Check your space for weeds - if they emerge, gently trace the stems down and slowly remove them.
What different types of wildflowers are there?
Wildflowers come in one of three categories: annual, biennial or perennial.
If you sowed your seeds this year and you can already see flowers, then you are looking at an annual wildflower species. An annual wildflower lives and dies within one growing season. At the point of dying, it drops its seeds into the soil, ready to germinate and grow again next year (a process called 'self-seeding'). However, if you pick the flower before it drops its seeds, or cut it down, then you stop it from repeating that cycle and will not see any flowers again next year.
If you sowed your seeds this year and you have patches of green foliage that haven't flowered, then you are looking at either a biennial or perennial wildflower species. Both of these wildflower species spend their first Summer getting comfy, ready to flower the next year or even the year after that. For biennials, once they have flowered they will also die and drop their seeds into the soil (like annuals), keeping the cycle of life going for a new plant to grow. However perennials keep going, even after they flower. As long as you look after these plants, you should enjoy their flowers year after year.
How will my seeds develop?
Your wildflowers should bloom within 14 to 16 weeks but be patient; if this is your first year of sowing wildflower seeds, please bear in mind that any perennials won't flower until next year.
Here’s what to expect over the next 20 weeks.
Week 1: Sow seeds, label your site and wait.
Weeks 2 - 4: See the first shoots of life emerge. Don’t forget to water the soil if it looks dry.
Weeks 4 - 12: Watch seedlings transform into adult plants.
Weeks 12 - 14: Flower buds are formed.
Weeks 14 - 16: The first blooms appear.
Week 16 onwards: Have all the plants in the mix appeared? Are there any strangers present? Pull out any common weeds as they appear.
Weeks 16 - 20: Enjoy your display at its peak and spot some of the insects and bugs that are also making the most of your wild flower space.
Week 20 onwards: The flowers fade and produce seed that will be scattered by the wind and grow into plants for next year – this is the start of a magical, never-ending life cycle.
When is the best time to sow wildflower seeds?
The best time to sow your seeds is in March and April, or September and October, when your soil temperature should be ideal. However, our UK weather isn’t always that reliable and we seem to be having periods of extreme hot and cold which can affect your seeds germinating. Before sowing, keep an eye on the weather, if it is very cold and wet it may cause your seeds to rot in the ground, so it’s best to wait until the weather improves and your soil is warmer before sowing. We recommend a fine Spring day, when your soil is neither too wet nor dry - preferably before mid-May as the very best time to plant the seeds.
What soil type and moisture is best for wildflower seeds?
Moisture is an important factor in getting your seeds to grow. Seeds need moisture to germinate, but too much water will cause your seeds to rot. Have you considered whether your soil was too dry or too wet? Ideally, you should sow your seeds on a dry day and then water them in. If the weather continues to be dry you will need to keep watering your patch to ensure your seeds have the moisture they need to germinate. If your soil is naturally dry and free draining, you will have to water your seeds more often. The best way to check if your soil is moist enough is to use the hands-on approach, and push your finger a cm or two below the surface of the soil to feel if it is dry or not. If you are concerned that your soil is too heavy (lots of clay) or too light (very sandy), a good way to improve these soils is by adding organic matter like compost. Organic matter can help improve both soil drainage and its ability to hold onto water. With the right amount of moisture, your seeds will thrive. You can test your soil to see if it is too heavy or light by taking some of it in your hand and squeezing it between your fingers to see what type of soil you have. Sandy soil feels gritty, clay is sticky, and silt is smooth. If your soil has too much clay content it may be prone to becoming water-logged,. You can improve the drainage by digging in some sharp sand and/or grit. If your soil is too sandy it may lack sufficient organic content to give your wildflowers the start in life they need. You can improve this by digging in some soil conditioner such as leaf-mould. You can try to reduce the level of nutrients in the soil in order to make the site more suitable for wildflowers by removing a layer of nutrient-rich topsoil (around 6 inches or 150 mm) to get down to the low-nutrient soil underneath.
How do I prepare my area for sowing?
Before sowing your seeds, it’s very important to remove all plants from your patch so that you are sowing into bare soil. Weeds are very good at growing, so given half a chance they will dominate the space where you want your wildflowers to grow. A good idea is to clear your patch, wait two weeks, and then weed it again before you sow your seeds. This will give them a real head start against the competition!
How deep do I sow the seeds?
Some seeds need a bit of light to help them germinate, so as tempting as it is don’t bury your seeds too deeply. When sowing your seeds outside, gently rake them in. If sowing into a container, just cover your seeds with a light sprinkling of compost. Make sure you’ve picked a patch or place for your pot, that is in full sunshine and not shaded out by any trees.
How can I protect my seeds from bird damage?
Sometimes our feathered friends can scupper the germination of our seeds by nibbling them when we aren’t looking! Be sure to rake your seeds in well, and if you know birds are hanging around, consider netting your sown area until your seeds have germinated.