You’d think, wouldn’t you, that wildflowers would be easy to grow. After all, they’ve been enhancing our green and pleasant land for centuries with very little human intervention. In fact, they can be devilishly difficult to establish. Here’s why they’re tricky and how you can overcome the challenge.
What makes wildflowers so hard to grow?
The UK’s native wildflowers are very different to the cultivated plants we buy from garden centres or grow from seed. Cultivated plants have been developed to thrive in cultivated soils. We know what conditions they like to grow in and we know what to feed them and when.
Wildflowers on the other hand have evolved to grow and survive in harsh conditions. Feed them too much and they keel over.
The best analogy I can think of comes from the equine world. And if you’re not into horses I apologise and hope you can bear with me. Even if you’re not a horse lover, I’m sure you’re familiar with our native ponies. The fuzzy fellas that live on the moors all year round with minimal human intervention. You will also have come across racehorses. Fine bred thoroughbreds that are nurtured to the nth degree.
Now, if you asked a racehorse to live outdoors all year round just eating whatever it could find it would struggle. On paper it has the same physiology as a native pony but it’s been bred for speed. The racehorse has a finely tuned system and for generations it has only eaten the best quality balanced diet, been wrapped up in blankets and lived indoors.
If you caught a native pony, put it in a stable and fed it fine food it would have less chance of survival than the racehorse would have on the moors. The native pony has a super-efficient digestive system. It extracts every single nutrient from every single morsel. When faced with a nutrient-rich diet, its poor body is overwhelmed and it becomes very ill indeed. In fact many a small pony falls foul of a disease called laminitis due simply to eating too much spring grass. Laminitis is so painful and so difficult to cure that its victims are often put to sleep. Killed with kindness.
Wildflowers are similar to native ponies. They simply cannot cope with overly rich soils. And so they don’t survive very long.
Nearly every garden in the UK has, in its history been used to grow crops. Maybe agricultural crops, maybe fruit, vegetables, flowers or lawns. That means, that the soil has been enriched. And yes, you guessed it, it’s not friendly for wildflowers.
Wildflowers from seed don’t behave the way we expect them to
The seedhouses have spoilt us gardeners rotten. When we buy a packet of runner bean seeds or marigold seeds, we’re pretty confident that all of the seeds will germinate within a couple of weeks of being sown. That’s because they’ve been bred to do that. Wildflowers haven’t. They germinate as and when they think the conditions are right to sustain a plant until it’s mature enough to set seed. It makes sense and it’s a good survival too. However, we gardeners are not used to this behaviour and we tend to be impatient. It puts us off growing these amazing plants.
Getting past problems with soils and seeds
There is an easy way to establish a wildflower area. It doesn’t need you to be patient and it won’t frustrate you. You’ll be delighted with the results and more importantly, you’ll create much needed wildlife habitat.
Meadowmat wildflower turf has been partly grown for you. The seeds have been germinated and they’ve formed healthy plants. All you need to do is unroll the mats onto pre-prepared soil and keep them watered until the roots are really well established. Here’s the thing though – it needs to be low nutrient soil. So that’s either subsoil, green roof growing medium or imported low fertility topsoil.
To learn more, visit the Meadowmat website or watch this video.