Preparing Your Site

Proper site preparation is the single most important factor in the success of any wildflower meadow planting. The seed bed must be smooth and weed free.

Existing weeds will compete with the wildflower seedlings for nutrients, water and sunlight. Dormant seeds lurking within the soil also need to be eradicated or they will grow and pose problems. If weeds and weed seeds are not controlled, they will considerably delay the growth and maturation of your meadow.

A smooth, clump-free seed bed will provide firm contact between the seed and the soil, effectively enhancing germination.

This is the most important phase of your meadow's creation so be sure to read and understand each step.

Mowing the site in spring.

Step 1: Removing Existing Vegetation

Start this process in the spring by mowing the current vegetation as short as possible. On small areas remove the debris and rototill the site. On larger areas where it is not practical to remove the debris, wait until the mowed vegetation is quite dry and then either plow or rototill the area depending on what equipment you are using.

Step 2: Preventing Regeneration

All plants need to experience the process of photosynthesis in order to live. By absorbing sunlight, plants turn that energy into food. In order to effectively kill the vegetation growing on your site you have to prevent the vegetation from experiencing photosynthesis. By denying these plants from the opportunity to create new food, the plants will use the energy they have stored in their roots and eventually, over the course of the growing season, this stored energy will be depleted and the plants will die. There are a few methods available for use to accomplish this. Here are some options:

Option 1: Smothering

If you have a small area of a few thousand square feet or less, a good option for preventing weed regeneration is to smother the area. This is a simple technique that works by preventing light and moisture from reaching the soil. You can use black plastic, old rugs, plywood, or a thick layer of leaves. Leave the covering in place for a full growing season in order to kill the existing vegetation.

Option 2: Cultivation

For larger areas, it is not as efficient to smother the area. You may choose to implement a tilling schedule to which you must follow for the entire growing season. A walk-behind rototiller, a tractor-mounted rototiller, or farm implements such as a plow, disk, or harrow may be used. Your choice of equipment will depend on the size of your projected meadow area and what you have access to.

Tractor tilling.

Begin your cultivation program in the mid to late spring and continue through until fall. Cultivate every 2-3 weeks at a depth of 4-5 inches (10-13cm). Do not miss a scheduled tilling! If you are fighting rhizomatous perennial weeds, waiting that extra week will allow the weeds to recover and you will be back to square one. For some species, such as Quackgrass, cultivating in intervals greater than 2 weeks may actually increase the weed’s density.

Option 3: Herbicides

If you choose to go this route, be sure it is legal in your area. Note that non-organic herbicides are now illegal in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, and Maryland. Always read and follow the manufacturer's instructions or hire a professional.

If you are going to use herbicides, we recommend using a broad spectrum, non-persistent one. The only organic choices are vinegar based herbicides, a number of which are available under different brand names at most garden centres and hardware stores. Alternatively, there is the non-organic glyphosate based herbicide (ie. Round Up).

To begin, mow the area as stated in Step 1 above. This will encourage new spring growth. The number of herbicide applications will depend on the product you have chosen. An organic, vinegar-based product will need to be used more frequently than a glyphosate-based product as they are weaker. Generally, you will need to spray an organic, vinegar-based product once every two weeks throughout the growing season; you will need to spray a non-organic glyphosate-based product three times throughout the season: mid-spring, mid-summer and early fall. This schedule allows you to attack different weeds which have peak activities at different times. When the existing vegetation is clearly all dead, you can start to prepare the seedbed for planting.

Option 4: A Combination of Cultivation and Herbicides

In our experience, especially when dealing with old fields that have been infested with a wide variety of noxious perennial weeds, using a combination of cultivation and herbicides works best. Start by spraying the area with the herbicide after it has been mowed in the spring. Three weeks after spraying, cultivate the area. This cultivation will encourage weed seeds lurking in the soil to germinate. When this new "crop" of weeds is about an inch or two (2.5-5 cm) tall, typically about two to three weeks after this tilling, spray the site again with the herbicide.

You'll need to repeat this tilling/spraying combination three more times throughout the season with the final application in late fall.

Step 3: Preparing the Seed Bed

At the end of the season, once all the weeds have been eradicated, lightly till the area. This final tilling should be done at a very shallow depth - 2 inches (5 cm) at most. If the area is small, level it with a steel rake. If you have a large area, it is more efficient to use a land-leveler. If you've been using a rototiller, the machine will have levelled the land for you.

Some Extra information:

Working on Erosion Prone Sites

If the proposed meadow area is located on a slope steep enough to experience erosion, you will need to take precautions to avoid runoff and soil loss during the preparation stages. What has worked for us in the past is:

a) On slopes that are not very big in size, in spring mow the existing vegetation as short as possible with a weed eater (string trimmer) and rake off the debris. Then smother the slope as described above. In the late fall, remove the covering and sow the seed directly into the stubble of the dead vegetation.

b) For larger slopes, in spring mow the existing vegetation as short as possible and rake off the debris. Throughout the summer use repeated applications of herbicide (also described above). Do not cultivate the slope at all and in late fall, sow the the seed directly into the stubble of the dead vegetation.


If you wish to convert an area that is now a lawn into a meadow the quickest way is to remove the top three inches of grass and soil using a sod-cutter. This usually creates a nearly weed-free planting site ready for a seed installation. After removing the sod, hard rake the area with a steel rake or shallow till the area to a depth of no more than 2 inches (5 cm). Please note that the area will be lower than the surrounding lawn after sod removal. Sod cutters can be rented for this procedure.

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