How to Start a Wildflower Meadow

, written by us flag

A honeybee visits anise hyssop (Agastache). Photo used by permission of Spikenard Farm Honeybee Sanctuary.

Soon after my friend, Fred, assumed ownership of a lovely home with a multi-acre lawn, he announced his plan to rewild a large area into a wildflower meadow. Great idea! In addition to being a destination for bees and butterflies, a wildflower meadow is among the most serene of landscapes, whether it covers a slope, fills a streetside corridor, or shrinks a too-big lawn.

Fred’s plan was to cultivate the pasture grass and then sow wildflower seeds, a straightforward method that works with most types of gardening.

Unfortunately, this not the best way to start a wildflower meadow.

When you cultivate any spot to bare ground, you are resetting Nature to zero. Pioneer plants known as weeds flourish, because weeds are Nature’s salve for open wounds. Only a few meadow plants will outcompete vigorous weeds. This is why it is generally best to start a wildflower meadow by smothering or removing existing vegetation, and then plugging in plants and overseeding with wildflower seeds. More plants can be added (or subtracted) in subsequent seasons. Here are the seven basic steps for starting a new wildflower meadow…

Left: Wildflower meadow preparation trials at the University of New Hampshire. Right: Mature meadow two years after planting.

1. Prepare the Site

Sun is needed for a meadow, which is comprised of grasses, flowers and legumes. If you have a large space, you can start small by working in strips with mowed edges. Mow the site as closely as possible, and then cover it with a double thickness of damp cardboard. Research at the University of New Hampshire found that smothering with cardboard or black plastic created a good planting site for wildflowers and native grasses.

Smothering vegetation with cardboard takes six months to a year, but there is one shortcut. According to the University of Maryland, removing existing sod and the topsoil beneath it also removes latent weed seeds, and most meadow plants will grow in poor subsoil. They also recommend working in small “meadow modules” so you can keep a close watch on weeds.

2. Start Seedlings in Flats

As the site nears readiness, start a number of seedlings for your meadow in flats so they can be plugged in as soon as the soil warms. Starting clovers, native grasses and flowers from seed saves money and greatly expands your choice of plants.

You can save money by starting clovers and other meadow plants in flats.

3. Plug in Perennials

Meanwhile, seek out some site-specific perennials for your meadow. Natives are preferred, but any flower that looks and acts like a wildflower in your area is fair game. Maintain a welcoming attitude toward perennials known to prosper where you live, regardless of their origins. In my area, non-native feverfew and valerian make great meadow plants, and happily share space with later-blooming native purple coneflowers and gaillardia.

In addition to shopping at local nurseries, you can find adoptable plants by networking with local flower enthusiasts via online groups. Should you be invited to dig what you want of something, the proper etiquette is to bring your own tools and carrying bins, along with a bag of topsoil or mulch for refilling holes. If there is any left, leave it behind.

A hummingbird moth approaches monarda, a common meadow wildflower

4. Plant in Good Weather

Look for ideal planting conditions for setting out plants – warm, moist soil and a bit of cloud cover. Use a small spade or hand trowel to make openings for plants about 12 inches (30cm) apart. When you’re done planting, scatter wildflower seeds over the surface between plants and very lightly rake them in.

5. Pull out Weeds

As the season progresses, check the plot for thuggish weeds and pull them out if they are young. Use clippers to nip out older weeds close to the ground, which causes less disturbance to nearby plants.

Allow wildflowers to bloom and set seed before mowing

6. Let Plants Shed Seeds

In autumn, wait until the plants dry to brown to trim or mow the meadow. The plants will shed millions of seeds, some of which will sprout in subsequent seasons. Mowing or weed trimming is not always necessary, but it’s the best way to keep brambles and woody seedlings from crowding out wildflowers. In harsh winter climates, you can delay mowing until spring to provide better surface cover for plants.

7. Keep Planting!

Now comes the fun part. As you learn which plants excel in your meadow, you will get new ideas for plants to add to the mix. With each season, you will discover species you never knew existed and be eager to try more in your magical wildflower meadow.

Top of page: A honeybee visits anise hyssop (Agastache). Photo used by permission of Spikenard Farm Honeybee Sanctuary.

< All Guides

Garden Planning Apps

If you need help designing your vegetable garden, try our Vegetable Garden Planner.
Garden Planning Apps and Software

Vegetable Garden Pest Warnings

Want to Receive Alerts When Pests are Heading Your Way?

If you've seen any pests or beneficial insects in your garden in the past few days please report them to The Big Bug Hunt and help create a warning system to alert you when bugs are heading your way.

Show Comments


"I have just moved to a very wet site in West Devon, on acidic clay soil. I have south, west and north facing areas, that currently consist of overgrown grass, sedge, nettles and tons of bindweed. Which wild flowers will grow in this acidic, wet clay?. By wet, I mean the water table is just a couple of feet below the surface. There are a few old, wet mudbanks also. I’m assuming they may dry out in the summer. There are some banks which lead down to a small stream which runs in winter. This could do with some planting that would help to prevent erosion of the soil."
Jackie Chakravarti on Friday 4 February 2022
"A good article...there is a lot of good and bad info online about how to go about this. After a lot of research I've just sown 2 x 1 acre paddocks with a meadow mix. I think it's important to stress that as well as wild flowers, which benefit bees, the meadow should also contain lot of grasses such as "yellow oat" and "sweet vernal" as these ensure that as well as bees you have an environment where flies, moths and other invertebrates will thrive. As well as improving the general biodiversity of these are important for birds to feed their young etc. The paddocks had been grazed to almost non-existence in the past and after testing the soil it came back quite poor :) I must confess that after cutting close and removing in Autumn, I killed off large sections (using Roundup) as to cover such an area in card or plastic would have been impractical. I left some un treated "island arks" so that what little invertebrate fauna that was there could hopefully expand out in the spring. I then tilled the soil and sowed a 70/30% grass/flower meadow mix at the end of October. In addition I currently have what seems like thousands of plugs germinating as a top-up to plant out in the spring. Any comments advice would be much appreciated as I have other areas I am planning to work on later this year. PS - is fantastic! So a big thanks not only to Ben who is the "face" of it but all the others involved too :)"
Bob on Monday 14 February 2022
"Jackie, your site is very distinctive, so I would look to native plants that naturally colonize damp areas and stream banks. Because you are new there, I suggest taking a season to see what naturally prospers while taking out bindweed and other invasive plants, which can take a while. Also, take time to visit woodland parks in your area to see how they have handled sites similar to yours. "
Barbara Pleasant on Saturday 19 February 2022
"Bob, it sounds like you are off to a fantastic start. From now on you will be adding and subtracting, experimenting with many plants to see which ones work best. "
Barbara Pleasant on Saturday 19 February 2022

Add a Comment

Add your own thoughts on the subject of this article:
(If you have difficulty using this form, please use our Contact Form to send us your comment, along with the title of this article.)

(We won't display this on the website or use it for marketing)


(Please enter the code above to help prevent spam on this article)

By clicking 'Add Comment' you agree to our Terms and Conditions