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Mr. Smarty Plants - Creating a wildflower meadow

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Saturday - May 18, 2013

From: Indianapolis, IN
Region: Midwest
Topic: Meadow Gardens, Grasses or Grass-like, Wildflowers
Title: Creating a wildflower meadow
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I have an area 1-6 acres worth that is currently grass that I would like to overseed with wildflower seed. The local native plant nursery says that would be a waste. I don't really want to kill grass with herbicide. What is your opinion on the viability of overseeding? The area is sunny with clayey soils. I have more money than time to throw at this project. i.e. I'd rather waste some seed than put a lot of time into it.

ANSWER:

The first thing you should do is to read our How to Article, Meadow Gardening, since it is a description of what it sounds like you want to create and our Guide to Native Plant Gardening has information on preparing the soil for native plants.  For your wildflower seeds to successfully germinate they must be in contact with the soil. Unless you can produce at least some bare soil for the seeds then I agree it would pretty much be a waste of your time and money.  However, there are two methods suggested in our article that don't involve the use of herbicides to create bare soil for the seeds:

  • Till the soil.  This method may also result in dormant weed seeds germinating, but the wildflower seeds will have an opportunity to compete.
  • Mow the grasses and then remove the resulting thatch.   This should create some bare ground for the seeds to contact.

You could also consider plant plugs to intersperse among the grasses rather than or in addtion to seeds.  Grasses are an important part of a meadow garden so you do want some native grasses in your meadow.

Spence Restoration Nursery in Muncie has both native seeds and native plant plugs to establish prairie meadows.  You can also look for other native plant nurseries in your area in our National Suppliers Directory.

Under Spence Restoration Nursery's Prairie Seed Installation you can see more information.  In their "AIA-USA construction document formatted specifications" they have minimal instructions for herbicide use to kill unwanted vegetation, in case you change your mind about that method to clear the area. They offer a list of native plants to use for seeding a prairie meadow.  Here are a few of those wildflowers and grasses that are recommended:

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (New england aster)

Coreopsis tripteris (Tall tickseed)

Echinacea purpurea (Eastern purple coneflower)

Helianthus occidentalis (Fewleaf sunflower)

Schizachyrium scoparium (Little bluestem)

Elymus canadensis (Canada wild rye)

Panicum virgatum (Switchgrass)

They recommend the seed be sown between April 20 and July 20 or in late fall and winter in your area for best results.

You can also see recommended native species commercially available as plants and/or seeds in our Indiana Recommended list.   Use the NARROW YOUR SEARCH option to specify the characteristics you want.

 

From the Image Gallery


New england aster
Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

Tall tickseed
Coreopsis tripteris

Eastern purple coneflower
Echinacea purpurea

Fewleaf sunflower
Helianthus occidentalis

Little bluestem
Schizachyrium scoparium

Canada wild rye
Elymus canadensis

Switchgrass
Panicum virgatum

Indiangrass
Sorghastrum nutans

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