Beginning of Season Meadow Maintenance
Before the start of the spring growing season, there are some chores that can increase the health and beauty of your meadow. For the most part, these tasks are limited to mowing, raking and seeding.
If you did not mow your planting in fall: you still can! Many wildflower enthusiasts and nature lovers prefer to leave their plants standing throughout the winter as habitat for insects. This population forms the bottom of the food chain, feeding birds and other wildlife. If you left your meadow up over the winter, spring is a fine time to mow. Directly after mowing, follow the same instuctions as though you'd mowed in fall (below).
If you mowed your planting the previous fall: we recommend combing through your planting site with a rake to remove excess plant materials. Raking away the clippings will open things up at ground level, which allows sunlight to penetrate young perennial plants. You'll likely be amazed by the young wildflower seedlings that you find ready to grow down there! Further, removing the debris after mowing makes it easier for the ground to receive new wildflower seeds. Many wildflower gardeners like to scatter extra seeds, especially single-season annuals, to add more color to young meadows.
Add More Wildflowers to an Existing Meadows in Spring
The easiest and most effective way to add more seed if you have not recently mowed, is to take a steel rake and rough up small areas, or "pockets," throughout the planting site. You can then sprinkle the seed directly over these roughed-up areas, giving it a quick compression with your foot to ensure good seed-to-soil contact.
In-Season Meadow Maintenance
During the growing season itself, your meadow will actually be quite self sufficient (especially beginning in its second year). The work you do during this time can help to reduce the growth of aggressive weeds and can also encourage your flowers to bloom more frequently.
Controlling Weeds That Are Growing Among Your Wildflowers
Part of the attraction of wildflowers is their ease of care; however, when weeds begin to take over your planting (usually an outcome of skimping on site prep work, or overseeding) it can be difficult to pull the weeds without damaging flower roots and disturbing the overall feel of your planting. The easiest way we've come up with to restore balance to your meadow is to cut your weeds with scissors. Just lean in and snip - as low down on the weed plant as you can. A few passes with your scissors every other week will greatly reduce the threat of weeds and put your wildflowers back on top as the dominant species in your meadow. This is especially effective in smaller spaces.
Seed Man's Planting Tip: A quick and simple 'snipping' every other week will greatly reduce the amount of unwanted plants in your meadow, and will put your wildflowers way ahead of the game. Have fun with this! Bring a friend and a glass of wine so you can Snip n' Sip your way through the wildflowers.
We don't recommend using chemical sprays, as you'll risk accidentally spraying the plants you'd like to see growing. Further, many important pollinators and other beneficial insects are likely to get caught in the crossfire.
Deadheading Wildflowers to Encourage Blooms
'Deadheading' is the practice of cutting back spent flower blooms. This helps to keep your plants looking fresh and healthy throughout the season. Addtionally, when you cut back dead and dying flowers, you're sending a signal to the plant that it should focus its energy on producing even more blooms.
End of Season Meadow Maintenance
A hard frost signals the end of the season for many flowers, but there is not one perfect time to mow your wildflower meadow. You can determine a mowing schedule that works for you.
Many gardeners will mow once a year. Wait until late fall, until all your flowers have ripened and dropped their seeds. Then with a weed trimmer, or your mower set on a high setting, mow the whole area. (This can be accomplished with a mower, brush hog or even a weed wacker. It can be cut to 3” or 8” and both accomplish the same end result.) Be sure to leave the clippings in place to break down and feed the soil. This way, it will be primed to come up green and new the following spring. In spring, rake the clippings and debris away then to open up the ground to some much-needed sunlight.
You may prefer to leave your meadow standing as important habitat for local wildlife and pollinators. In this case, you can adopt a looser mowing schedule. Some mow every other year, alternating which half of the meadow they leave standing as undisturbed habitat. Others mow 1/3 of their meadows every third year, so that each section is only trimmed back every nine years.
The important bit to remember is that not mowing at all will lead to natural succession. Eventually, tree and brush seedlings will creep into any open field over time, and could take over, so we recommend a mowing routine of your choosing to help maintain your wildlflower meadow.