How and when to sow wildflower seeds

Sowing wildflower seed

Planting wildflowers is an easy way to introduce reliable, colourful and wildlife-friendly plants to your plot. In the UK we have lost 97 per cent of our meadows since the Second World War, so planting garden meadows – a combination of wildflowers and wild grasses – can help to make up for these lost habitats and provide food and shelter for a huge range of species.

There are plenty of ways to grow wildflowers, including laying wildflower turf, planting plugs or simply sowing seed. You can create a mini meadow, sow wildflowers in gaps in your borders or even grow wildflowers in a pot.

More on growing wildflowers

Choosing a type of wildflower meadow

Red clover (Trifolium pratense) and ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)

Consider whether you want a perennial or annual wildflower meadow, and if you want to use native British wildflowers, replicating the grasslands and hay meadows we have lost in the countryside, or if you’d prefer a “pictorial meadow” which is planted with non-native, often annual flowers such as California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), common poppy (Papaver rhoeas) and Austrian chamomile (Cota austriaca), and no grass. Pictorial meadows tend to me more colourful than traditional meadows, but have less value for wildlife.

Bear in mind that, because pictorial meadows contain non-native seeds, it’s advisable to not grow them if you live in the countryside, as they can escape your garden and self-seed into wild areas.


Choosing wildflower seeds

If you’re opting for native wildflowers then the best wildflowers to buy are those of UK provenance, this means the flowers have been grown in the UK and will help to support local, native wildflower populations. If you opt for a pictorial meadow then you may want to consider a seed mix based on colour or length of display. If sowing seeds to fill gaps in the border or in pots, then consider height, colour and length of display. You could buy a ready made seed mix or individual packets of seed to create your own colourful display.

Advice on buying wildflower seeds

  • Decide whether you want a pictorial or native meadow mix
  • If opting for a pictorial mix, choose a colour scheme that will work with other colour schemes in the garden
  • If choosing native wildflowers, choose seeds of UK provenance to help support British wildflower populations

Where to buy wildflower seeds

Native wildflower seeds

Pictorial meadow mixes

When to sow wildflower seeds

Sowing wildflowers in a pot

The best time to sow wildflower seeds is in spring, typically from March to April. You can usually also sow seed in September, depending on soil conditions and the type of seed you’re sowing (check the packet for details). Regardless of whether the seed can be sown in autumn or not, avoid heavy, clay soils, as water-logging in winter could inhibit growth or kill seedlings.


Where to sow wildflower seeds

You can sow wildflower seed anywhere – on prepared soil, in a seedbed or in gaps in borders or in pots.


How to sow wildflower seeds

You can sow wildflower seeds in a number of ways: scattering seed, sowing into a prepared seed bed or sowing seed indoors in seed trays or plug modules. Scattering or throwing wildflower seeds on bare ground is the easiest way to sow wildflower seeds, but doesn’t always yield good results. For best results, aim to sow thinly over bare patches of moist, weed-free soil that’s been raked level, and keep the soil moist to ensure even germination. Bear in mind that throwing wildflower seed on bare soil can result in irregular germination and patches of wildflowers appearing, rather than an even distribution of blooms.

Sowing wildflowers in a seed tray or plug modules to plant out later is the most efficient way to sow wildflowers, as it results in a greater germination and overall success rate. If sowing in a this way, use peat-free, multi-purpose compost and cover the seeds with the lightest dusting of compost. Keep in a light spot out of direct sunlight and keep the compost moist. Transplant the seedlings outside after all risk of frost has passed.

Here, Monty Don creates his own wildflower seed mix to create a meadow on the mound at Longmeadow:

As an alternative to sowing seed, you can buy wildflower plug plants, which you simply plant into the ground where you want them to grow. You can also lay wildflower turf over raked and firmed but unfed bare soil.


Caring for wildflowers

Most wildflowers need little care. Most species thrive in poor soils, so avoid feeding them as this will result in the growth of grasses, which can out-compete the flowers.

Water young seedlings in dry weather.


Problem solving

Weeds and grass can be a problem with wildflower patches, as they can out-compete wildflowers and inhibit their growth. Grass growth can be suppressed by sowing yellow rattle, a hemiparasite that feeds on grasses and reduces their vigour, therefore helping wildflowers to thrive.

Weeds are also very vigorous and can quickly out-compete wildflowers. They should be dug out before they set seed.

Here, Monty Don explains how to remove perennial weeds such as sock and thistles, from a wildflower meadow.

 

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