Planting Native Gardens, Meadows & Fields!
Why Plant Native Wildflowers or Grasses? Native plants and grasses require less watering, fertilizer and pesticides. They can prevent water run-off and improve air quality. They preserve biodiversity, repair the earth by restoring native habitats, and increase pollination by providing nectar for pollinators like bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, moths and bats. They also provide protection and shelter for many mammals. The native seeds, fruits, nuts that these plants produce offer essential food for all forms of wildlife. We can't think of one reason you wouldn't want to provide a big or small native meadow or field on your slice of earth!
So, how hard is to do! Whether you have room for a 200 - 500 sq. foot area or acres to create a small or large meadow, it is relatively simple to create a native area, it might just take some initial preparation which will be the most labor-intensive part but is the most important part.
Choose Your Site The next step is to assess the area you wish to plant by seeing exactly what is growing there now. Is it grass, weeds, aggressive or invasive species? Do you have any wildflowers growing there now? Once you have assessed the area, you will have to take steps to remove all existing growth just as you would for any wildflower garden, meadow or field. When choosing a site for native wildflowers, make sure that pollinators have good, clear access to these areas where they will be undisturbed. For example, don't plant next to a noisy area or where you might spray household chemicals, near patios or barbecues etc. Native wildflowers are informal by nature so if you are looking for a more manicured look but want natives, choose upright natives such as Black-eyed Susan, Lupine, Coneflowers, Hyssop, Butterfly Weed and more. You can see a list of native species on our Native Species pages.
I have assessed my area, what now? Check out the soil! Do you have clay, loam, sandy? Is it full of rocks, uneven, or varied? Most native wildflowers will adapt. A smooth area will help but is not absolutely necessary. You don't see roadside fields of native wildflowers being smooth or unvaried terrains. If you have a small area in your backyard, then this area can be smoothed out but for larger meadows or fields, removing the existing growth, leveling as best you can, and soil type will be the most important part. If something is growing there now, wildflowers will grow there as well but a simple soil test that you can purchase from us, or your local hardware store can tell you the pH and organic matter content. Also, while checking your soil, assess whether the soil tends to be wet or dry, is the drainage good or a combination of both and how much light does it get? Native meadows, fields and gardens do best in full sun or partial sun but there are mixes for partial shade and mostly shade too! If you do not have good drainage or you have wet/moist areas, there are suggested mixes below for those type of areas.
Site Preparation You will need to kill off the perennial grasses and weeds first. You can do this by removing the sod or mowing as short as possible and rototilling anything growing beneath the soil. If you have tough rooted plants, tree seedlings, bushes you should remove those first. Ideally, you will want to try to till as shallowly as possible, just enough to turn over the soil and top growth beneath. Till 2-4 inches usually does the trick. Now, you will need to wait until growth pops up. You will need to remove this growth again by rototilling again and again waiting to see what pops up and remove it, do not rototill again, just pull by hand. You can also cover the area if small enough with clear plastic sheeting. This is called solarization which diminishes the viability of any dormant weed seeds.
Once you have determined the area is weed free, you are ready to seed.
Seeding in Spring? Choose your native wildflower seed mix and native grasses if you wish to add them! Since native wildflowers or grasses can take a season or two to establish if you are planting in spring, we suggest a companion crop of annuals. You can see our suggested mixes below.
Seeding in Fall? If you are seeding a native mix in fall, you can just seed the native mix and you do not necessarily need a companion mix of annual wildflowers. For spring planting, wait until after all chance of frost has passed and if you are seeding in fall, wait until you have had a couple of hard frosts, when you are fairly sure cold weather has set in. For both times of seeding, once your soil is prepared and free of previous growth, it's important to sow immediately. (If you let time go by between preparation and spreading your seed, you're giving possible weeds an advantage over your wildflower seed). You can use a hand crank seeder, an over the shoulder seeder etc., but most folks simply scatter the seed by hand. If you want to be sure to get good, even coverage, divide your seed into two roughly equal parts, in two buckets or cans. Then add clean sandbox sand to both halves, roughly 4-5 parts of sand to 1 part of seed. The sand does two things: It dilutes" the seed, making it easier to sow evenly, and since it's light-colored, it shows you "where you've been" on the dark soil as you go. Next, sow one bucket's mix over your whole area. Then go back in the opposite direction and do the same with the second bucket. This way, you should have even spread and no bare spots. Once the seed is sown, do not rake or cover it in any way. If you can, use a lawn roller or lay down a large board and walk on it to compress (squash down) the seed into the bare soil. Remember, some of the seed you're sowing is tiny; even the lightest covering of soil can stop it from germinating. Keep your new seedbed moist until seedlings are about 6-8" tall. After that, they should be self- sufficient; however, watering during droughts will keep your flowers blooming. If you have used an annual companion mix, those should be up the first year! If sowing in fall, you will have some growth and bloom the following spring with the full potential of the native meadow, garden or field the following year. Natives, like most perennials, need a period of cold.
Maintenance of your Native Meadow, Garden or Field Most native fields or meadows do not need much maintenance. You can take some or all of the following steps if you wish. The amount of work you want to put into your meadow area is up to you. A once-a-year mowing in the fall after killing frosts may be beneficial; to disperse seed and to keep down brushy growth. Another good practice is to identify areas that have become weak or weed-filled, and to reseed those spots, the same way you repair bare spots in a lawn. Once you are able to identify weeds, hand pulling is a viable method of control for the small to medium garden. Any weed that you can pull will constitute the success of your garden for years. One weed can disperse thousands of seeds, so get 'em out of there if you can. If you have a large planting and you notice an area of weeds, then the above method of re-tilling and re-seeding that area is your way to obtain maximum success. If you choose not to mow down your native area leaving the seed heads for wildlife, it is still beneficial to assess any area of weeds.
Have fun, be patient and know you are doing a great thing by 'repairing the earth' by planting Native American gardens, meadows or fields for all the reasons mentioned above.
Suggested Mixes - All Native Mixes
Native Grass Seed Mixes: Native Grass Mix.