Seeding Small Meadows
Once the area to be planted has been properly prepared, seeding can begin. As most wildflowers are programmed by nature to require the freeze/thaw action of winter to soften their seed shells which, in turn, facilitates germination in the spring, the ideal time to sow your meadow is in late fall, once the area has had a hard frost but before the ground is frozen. Typically, this this is mid-October to late November depending on your location. That said, spring sowings are also successful but please note that spring sowings will require regular watering for the first few months after the seed is sown whereas fall sowings do not need to be watered at all.
Do not plant when your soil is wet, especially in heavy clay soils. Instead wait until the soil is dry before planting. Broadcast seeding a wildflower meadow is very similar to planting a lawn but instead of using a seeder, the seed is mixed in a larger volume of a lightweight, inert material such as sawdust, peat moss, clean sand (playground or builders sand) or vermiculite. It does not matter what carrier you use; whatever is most readily available to you.
Follow the steps below to ensure a successful meadow planting.
Step 1: Mixing the Seed
When you are ready to plant, start by thoroughly mixing the seed into a lightweight, inert material such as sawdust, peat moss, or vermiculite that has been dampened only slightly so the seed will stick to it. The seed will literally disappear into the inert material. This will serve as a carrier for your seeding and it will help you to see where you've sown the seed. For a 100 square foot (9.29 m2) plantings fill a 2-gallon (7.57 litre) pail to within 4 inches (10 cm) from the top with of any one of the “carriers” described above. For every 1,000 square foot (90.29 m2) planting fill a bin with 9 gallons (35 litres) of any one of the “carriers” described above.
Dampen the carrier with water, just until it is slightly damp to the touch. The water is necessary so the wildflower seeds stick to the carrier which aids in even seed distribution.
Step 2: Broadcasting the Seed
When your seed is thoroughly mixed, divide the mixture into two equal sized portions. Then, hand broadcast one half of the seed/carrier mixture over the entire site (i.e. in a north to south direction). Then hand broadcast the second half of the mixture over the site; walking perpendicular to the direction you seeded the first half. This “cross pattern” seeding ensures even seed distribution.
Step 3: Raking
Gently rake the area so that the seed is lightly covered with soil (about 1/8 to 1/4 inches deep).
Step 4: Rolling
Roll the site with a lawn roller to firm the seed into the soil and ensure good seed to soil contact. If your site is wet, wait until it is dry to avoid soil compaction. If you do not have access to a lawn roller, it is just as effective to walk over the area, making sure to cover the entire space. Wildflower seeds require firm seed to soil contact for good germination.
Step 5: Mulching
Next, mulch the site with approximately one inch (2.5 cm) of clean, weed-free straw or peat moss. This will help to hold in soil moisture and increase germination. This is particularly helpful on dry, sandy soils and heavy, clay soils. The mulch should just cover the soil surface, not bury it and some soil should be visible through the mulch. If you are seeding a steep slope, hold the mulch in place by staking straw erosion control blankets that are made up of two layers of a photodegradable plastic with straw placed in between the layers. Erosion control blankets have one half to one inch openings which allows for unimpeded wildflower seedling development. Secure theses blankets with landscape staples placed at one to two foot intervals.
Never use field hay as it contains innumerable weed seeds!
Step 6: Watering
If you have installed your seed in the fall, you will not need to water at all. Spring seedings will require regular watering to stimulate germination. Use sprinklers on larger areas. Watering daily for the first six to eight weeks after planting encourages greater germination and seedling survival. After eight weeks, water only if it does not rain for a full week.
Water in the morning for 15-30 minutes or just enough to keep the soil moist. Try not to water in the late afternoon or in the evenings as this can encourage fungal diseases. Also be cautious of over-watering, especially on heavy clay soils that retain moisture.