American Wildflower Meadow

How to create an American wildflower meadow

When my gardening pal, my late husband Hank, and I decided to buy 20 acres in the country we envisioned an English style cottage surrounded by a wild flower meadow. I

t’s been a decade since and the cottage is now my permanent home, and the little meadow at the side of the house is filled with ox eyed daisies, Queen Ann’s lace and a smattering of flowers that sprouted from left over seed I periodically toss into the field.

A mowing strip of ‘country grass’ – a green frame that defines the space, indicating it’s part of the landscape rather than an area I’m too lazy to mow, surrounds this wild planting.

My little meadow provides a place for wild animals to forage and I think this has helped to keep them out of my flowerbeds.

In winter, hoar frosts and snows coat the dried flower heads and seedpods with sparkling crystals turning the space into a stunning sight.

But the last couple of years my little meadow has been plagued by an infestation of Canadian thistle and after many attempts at digging, we finally zapped deep-rooted thugs with RoundUp herbicide.  So when we gave the meadow its annual haircut this spring large bare spots stuck out like sore thumbs.


Native American Wildlfowers

Did you ever wonder what plants were considered true Michigan natives, species that grew here before the European settlement?  Foxglove beard-tongue Penstemon digitalis, monkey-flower Mimulus rigens and wild lupine Lupinus perennis are among the mix, as are cardinal flower Lobelia cardinalis and Great Blue Lobelia Lobelia siphilitic.

Custom mixes can be ordered for sandy or clay soil as well as, woodland, wetland and dryland planting sites.

Wetland natives would be a perfect choice to plant in low-lying areas that flood and then dry out during the summer.

Also available is an Eco-Turf low maintenance grass seed mix of seven fine textured fescues that provide low growing turf that can establish itself in deep shade, full sun and most neglected areas.

Site analysis and soil testing are the first steps. Determining the type of soil, it’s pH and organic content along with available sun and drainage conditions allows the selection of the right plants for the right place.

Whether planting a colorful mix of flowering annuals or opting for a perennial mix of Michigan natives, site preparation is the key to success. Just as weeds choke out plants in our landscapes and gardens, they do the same to wildflowers in fields and meadows.

“Seed is best planted in spring (May through early June) or in late fall after the growing season has ended,” says Esther Durnwald. “Although you can seed any time during the growing season, frost and drought can kill the seedlings before they become established.”

When planting on an erosive site such as a steep grade or a hill the Durnwalds suggest planting a cover crop such Canada wild rye or a collection of non-native non-hardy annual wild flowers.

Weeds will become a problem the first year so plan on 25% of your efforts or budget for aftercare councils Esther Durnwald.  Options include pulling weeds, spot spraying with Round-up® or mowing them off at 4-6 inches high.

A string trimmer works well on rough terrain or if a mower deck cannot be set high enough. If annuals have been planted as a cover crop, mowing is not an option.

Mowing the area to a height of 4 to 6 –inches in October or very early the following spring will keep things tidy.  If the site allows, burning every three years in March or early April will help maintain a meadow planting. Check with city hall to obtain a permit before executing a burn.

But don’t burn the first two years, as tender seedling will be damaged.

‘Once established, in 3 to 5 years wildflowers provide a relatively low maintenance area with high aesthetic and environmental quality,” says the Durnwalds.

Esther and Bill Durnwald offer consulting services for the installation for those who need an on site inspection. They also do installations including site preparation, planting and one year of maintenance.

After chatting with Esther I’ve decided to spot seed my bare patches with annuals this spring and seed in Michigan natives in fall. I promised my partner I would not start any new projects this season, so if the project gets away from me he will be none the wiser.