Dramatic difference in wildflower meadow growth

I am in the process of trying to grow a wildflower meadow patch on what used to be an area of lawn. I prepped the area by physically removing the turf, digging over to a reasonable tilth and sowing seeds comprised mostly of cornfield annuals and a mixture of meadow grass. Seeds were sown at the beginning of March.
One area is now doing very well, whilst other areas seem to be lagging very badly. I am at a bit of a loss to explain the difference; all areas get equivalent sunlight, and I have been watering the seeds/seedlings fairly regularly. The only thing I can think of is soil quality and it is true that the area that is doing well seemed easier to get to a tilth and was perhaps slightly less "clay-ey" than the rest. The patches doing the worst seem to be made of finer clay particles and, since planting, have gone to an almost smooth, quite hard earth surface. I also learned that these cornfield annuals actually prefer rich soil, so my question is do you think the growth differential is a lack of nutrients or more related to soil structure? If the former, I can fertilise but is there much I can do now about the latter? I think the grass varieties in particular are supposed to be OK on clay, so perhaps they will all catch up in any case and I shouldn't do anything now?


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  • ForTheBeesForTheBees Posts: 156
    The challenge with creating wildflower meadows is normally the area being too fertile promoting grass over flowers. I'd just be patient; you might fine it takes longer to take hold but that you get a better balance on the 'slow' area.
  • matt_fendermatt_fender Posts: 123
    Thanks - so you think this is more likely to be richness of the soil vs soil structure? I have also heard about low fertility being desirable for meadows, which was why I was surprised when I re-read the instructions for the cornfield annuals preferring a rich soil, and that they may be stunted otherwise.
  • JellyfireJellyfire SuffolkPosts: 739
    I think its likely to be the fertitlity, but as @ForTheBees said I think the side that is slower to start will likely have a better balance of species in the long run. The more fertile the soil the more that grass and the more thuggish weeds such as nettles and thistles will take control. Depending what you have sown I imagine they will both fill out fully in the next few weeks.
    Lots of cornfield annuals such as poppies germinate more readily in disturbed soil, so if thats what you have sown you may have to cultivate and sow it again next year, whereas a perennial mix tends to get better and more varied year on year, as the nutrients leave the soil with the only maintenance being 1 or 2 cuts a year
  • matt_fendermatt_fender Posts: 123
    Thanks. I actually sowed seeds from three different mixes; cornfield annuals, a mix of wildflowers including mostly perennials, and meadow grass - all 100% UK native, and all from meadowmania (am I allowed to mention that?) which seems like a very reputable (and helpful) place. On close inspection I can see plenty of young poppy, corn cockle and cornflower in both areas (as well as other stuff that isn't as easy to recognise), and the grass is coming in the poor area too but is just much thinner and shorter, so looks much sparser. It is actually possible that there is the same number of individual plants per area in both sections, with the plants way further along in one section. I shall just leave it for now and watch with interest.
  • FireFire LondonPosts: 5,276
    I would say it depends what seeds you have planted. I don't think that it's fertility that wild flowers dislike, so much that grass and unwanted like docks feed too much off richness and end up outcompeting your sown seeds.

    I would celebrate loudly the areas that are working well and learn what you can. There's still time to improve your patches.
  • matt_fendermatt_fender Posts: 123
    Thanks Fire, that is kind of my understanding as well. Just to be clear, I don't mind the meadow grass doing well either - this is supposed to be a nature area of the garden and the grass is supposed to be great for wildlife. I did read on the meadowmania page that the cornfield annuals actually do prefer a more fertile soil, so I am tempted to give a liquid feed especially since this is a small area (~15m2) and I can attend to any unwanted weeds by hand if required.
    Our garden soil structure is a bit weird generally since major renovations a few years ago involved digging up large parts of it (soakaway, drainage, cables etc) and the whole thing was then graded before turf relaid. I think any idea of "layers" of top-soil over subsoil etc don't really apply any more and some areas are still quite fertile whilst others have what is effectively clay sub-soil at the surface - and this might be what we are seeing here. It is quite a dramatic effect though.
  • JellyfireJellyfire SuffolkPosts: 739
    Agree with fire, the fertility is more to stop the weeds and grass taking over, but it also stands to reason everything will get going more quickly if it is more fertile at that side. To be honest, regardless of their preference, poppies and cornflowers etc will probably come up much the same regardless of the fertility in the first year I would think. A poppy will happily grow a big plant in a crack in a stone with practically no soil whatsoever in my experience.

    Our meadow seeds were from meadowmania and they have been fantastic for us. Probably the 5th year or since sowing a perennial mix, this is a photo Ive just taken of the current growth. The diversity seems to get a little broader each year, and though nothing is in flower yet, it looks like that applies this year too.
    I used to have a fair amount of nettles and thistles to pull out at this time of year, but barely any this year so far, I presume that is down to the lack of fertility and the strength of the meadow plants rootstock now as there is certainly no shortage of them elsewhere else in the garden!

    What I would say is your soil and conditions will probably suit some species more than others, and they may domiante to start. The campion and oxeye daisises love ours, but lots of other stuff crops up and it seems to find a good balance after a year or two.

    Rather than feeding it, Id personally just leave it be for a few weeks and see what happens. I imagine the slower side will get going soon enough 
  • matt_fendermatt_fender Posts: 123
    That looks fabulous Jellyfire, well done! It doesn't look like you've gone for any grass in the mix? I think the reasoning behind the mixes we are using is that we will get colour in the first year from the annuals, but the perennials should come through from Y2 onwards. Whether or not they push the annuals out or not we will see. As you say, eventually things should balance out and no doubt some varieties will like our position more than others - it should be interesting to observe.
  • JellyfireJellyfire SuffolkPosts: 739
    Yep went for a no grass mix, although quite a few have worked their way in over the years. We did annual mixes for the first couple of years but was too much like hard work having to start from scratch each year. Think you’ve gone the right route getting a blend. You’ll get a great show from the annuals this year, and the perennials will probably take over next year. 
    Hope you like buzzing, the garden positively hums with insects since we did ours 
  • matt_fendermatt_fender Posts: 123
    I do like buzzing, and the area is right outside my garden office french doors so hopefully I will have something to watch this summer!
    Interesting that your annuals didn't self seed. I had poppies and cornflowers in a front bed last year and currently have several hundred self-seeded of both which I am thinning. Some of the poppies in particular must have got going very early because they are already huge with well formed flower buds.
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