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Wildflowers - to dig over soil before planting or not?

Hi! Recently moved into a new house on the North Downs with an unloved upward sloping garden. The second half of the garden is steeper than that nearest to the house and although looks like lawn is really a mixture if grasses, primula and such like. I want to turn this area into a bug friendly wildflower plot but have read that ideally the soil should be turned fully to allow for the seeds to be planted in. However, it feels as if I've got a decent base to work with here so wondered if I should try and preserve what I've got and if so how best to introduce the seeds? The area is around 10m x 30m so a reasonable plot to try and turn by hand. I know this is a popular topic but I couldn't find any other posts specifically relating to this. Thanks!


  • Gary HobsonGary Hobson Posts: 1,892

    Personally, I can't see the point of destroying a habitat that exists, in order to create an artificial 'wild' habitat. On TV, a few months ago we did see a wildflower meadow, that was rotovated every year. To me, that makes for a lot of work, and little sense.

    Seeds sown directly into grass will go nowhere. So you would need to germinate them in modules, and raise some little plants. You could then plant them in the grass. But wild flowers will struggle to survive against vigourous grasses. It might be feasible to pull grass away from around the plants, periodically.

    You could dig over a very small area, and sow some seeds into soil. But germination will not be as good as with seed sown in modules, and you'll still have to deal with the grass when that grows.

    A long term solution is to weaken grass, which you can do by cutting it yearly, and removing all the clippings. That's what haymaking does, and that produces a wildflower meadow, quite naturally.

  • BobTheGardenerBobTheGardener Leicestershire, UKPosts: 11,391

    According to a TV programme I watched recently, Yellow Rattle, a wildflower which is parasitic on grass roots, can be included in the seed mix to weaken the existing grass.  It needs a period of cold to germinate, so you would have to create bare patches in the lawn to sow it in and sow in autumn or early winter.  Cut the grass short just before you sow and rake bare patches, then cut again in February to let light in so the Rattle  seeds can germinate.  Then don't cut until the Rattle has set seed and self-sown (about early August)

    Alternatively, how about spraying areas of only grass (ie avoidng primulas etc as far as you can) with glyphosate, then scarifying those when the grass is dead and sowing your wild mixture (which should include Yellow Rattle to prevent strong grasses taking hold again)?

    A trowel in the hand is worth a thousand lost under a bush.
  • Many thanks Gary / Bob ... that's very useful.

  • Reading the above is very useful. I have a small patch of land the other side of my garden fence which is full of couch grass, golden rod and some shrubs. I would particularly like to encourage wild flowers here. What would be the best way of dealing with it, and if I bought young plants is it best to sow nowish or in the spring
  • ObelixxObelixx Vendée, Western FrancePosts: 28,549

    The trouble with a native wildflower meadow is that it's all over by July and looks dull and is, more importantly, of no use to pollinators for teh rest of teh summer and autumn.

    I would echo the advice to raise plants form seed and plant them as plugs to give them a head start.  I would also include yellow rattle in the mix to weaken the grasses.  For late season interest and food for insects I would include echinaceas, heleniums, achilleas and other so called prairie plants.  These are perennial so you'd have to plan not to mow.   If you sow and plant annual wildflower seeds each season for a few years the flowers will eventually out compete the grasses and you'll have an insect haven.


    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • Gary HobsonGary Hobson Posts: 1,892
    Hopeless Gardner wrote (see)
    .. full of couch grass, golden rod and some shrubs...

    I have no experience in trying to grow wildflowers in couch grass. It doesn't sound promising, though some wildflowers are more robust than others.

    You may already have one - the goldenrod. It's not an English wildflower, but it is a wildflower in North America. You could lift and divide some clumps of that, and spread them around. I can remember the 'old-fashioned' goldenrod. My parents had a lot of it. It was a magnificent wildlife plant, about 4' tall, and always full of bees. Today, it's almost impossible to get hold of. The only ones for sale in garden centres are weedy little things.

    It's a matter of experience, you'll need to discover what will grow in your situation, and what won't.

  • At our community woodland and meadows, we have a hay rake every year and are also introducing cattle to graze in the autumn. It's quite a battle to encourage the flowers as the grasses seem to get the upper hand these days. I cant see any harm in adding some seed or young plants in a garden especially to encourage more insects.
  • Can anyone tell me where to get cows in Central Manchester?

  • Gracie5Gracie5 Posts: 125
    Gary Hobson wrote (see)
    It's a matter of experience, you'll need to discover what will grow in your situation, and what won't.

    Totally agree. Our wildlife meadow was created on an established lawn with wildflower plug plants and plants I germinated myself. Three years on the meadow is producing and looking well but the grass is just too dominant. This Autumn we are going to start again by killing off the grass, replacing the rich soil and scattering a mixture of wildflower seeds, not all native as I want to create a longer lasting flowering period.

  • higgy50higgy50 Posts: 184

    I can tell you that I have done this several ways, sowing in existing lawn and letting it all grow up and planting plugs in this existing area. Both worked to some degree but you definitely need to grow plugs for it to be really successful in my experience. If you have a small patch then this may be ok but is extremely labour intensive on a large patch.

    After two seasons of 'ok' but not brilliant results I de-turfed & dug over the area sowing perennial and annual wild flowers. I have to say that this has proved so much more successful than trying to improve on what was already there for me.

    I do however think that it depends on what is already in situ? Here the area that I have developed was previously a mowed lawn, by just letting the tough & vigorous Rye grass grow prevented many of the wild flowers that I wanted to grow compete with it! If you are trying to enhance an already wild country area with less aggressive grasses then you might just get away with sowing some seed into it??... If this isn't the case I would start from scratch myself...

    My latest post on my blog (link below) does actually feature my new wild flower lawn so you can see my first year results from a complete de-turf for yourself?...



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