Having a lush and uniformly green lawn is the ultimate goal for many folks. After all, having a gorgeous lawn has often been associated with being a status symbol, particularly in North America. A perfectly manicured lawn was historically something that only people with time and resources could achieve. While it is much more attainable now with modern products, some people are still more interested in keeping their property low maintenance. Others are aiming for a more environmentally friendly alternative. Wildflower lawns are the perfect solution for if either describes you.
A wildflower lawn often does not require any fertilizer. And, once established, it will require significantly less irrigation than a traditional grass lawn – often only needing supplemental watering during very hot summers and periods of drought. For many homeowners, the only maintenance is an annual mowing of your wildflower lawn.
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Sustainability & the Wildflower Lawn
Manicured lawns don’t do the environment much good for a number of reasons:
- The fumes created by mowing (if you aren’t using an electric mower),
- the chemical runoff from fertilizers, and
- the harm that pesticides can do to bugs and animals that are important parts of our ecosystem.
Maintaining a lawn can often require a lot of water, which is another precious resource that could be better used elsewhere.
A wildflower lawn made up of local species will be able to thrive with virtually no intervention. The only work involved will be laying seed, and mowing once a year.
Wildflower lawns do not require lots of watering or toxic chemicals of any kind.
Not only do they not need much in the way of resources, but they actually act as a resource that improves the environment. Wildflower lawns remove pollution, supporting wildlife, biodiversity, pollinators, and more.
Let’s dive in to some of the value wildflower lawns create.
Protect Our Pollinators
In addition to pesticides often being harmful to pollinators, manicured lawns also lack the ability to support our pollinators.
Of course when I say pollinators most people will instantly think of the honeybee, but you have to remember the life cycle of butterflies as well.
Many pollinators hibernate in piles of leaves through the cold winter months and require the appropriate plants (and cover) to thrive.
That neat and tidy lawn and leaf-free garden bed disrupts the vital life cycle of pollinators and other beneficial insects.
Pollinators are more crucial than one might initially think; our entire ecosystem depends on them to pollinate our plants, including our fruits and veggies, so that they can bloom! Without bees, crops would suffer immeasurably.
Wildflowers also attract other beneficial insects that support agriculture. These insects provide a natural form of pest control for the harmful or invasive insects.
Having wildflowers that attract honey bees and ladybugs is a huge bonus! If you have a vegetable garden or fruit trees, you’ll love it.
Wildflower Lawn Biodiversity
Choosing the appropriate species of wildflowers, specific to your region, creates biodiversity that has often been eliminated in developed suburbs.
Most wildflower meadows can contain upwards of a hundred different plant species, including a variety of native grasses and perennial flowers.
As I mentioned above, they attract pollinators and other important insects that are beneficial to plants and people.
They also often end up drawing in other critters looking for refuge and food, such as rabbits and birds. In fact, a wildflower lawn can be an excellent addition for an avid bird watcher as birds often feast on insects that are drawn to the wildflowers.
Location, location, location
Wildflowers are hearty species that can thrive just about anywhere. They actually tend to do better in poor soil! It is best to stop using any fertilizers or soil enhancers long before starting a wildflower lawn. There are even species that can thrive in shady areas if you happen to have an area to cover that doesn’t get much sun at all.
Certain species of grasses and flowering perennials can do better with different soil types such as acid clay, sand, or chalk, loam, or saturated. A soil test can be helpful to determine what species to plant, but is not entirely necessary. That being said, it is important to make sure that the seeds you obtain are native species and are free from any invasive species.
If you have areas of your property that are difficult to mow, such as a slope or hillside, those make particularly excellent spaces for wildflower growth due to how low maintenance they are.
Preparing Your Lawn for Wildflowers
While wildflower lawns are certainly low maintenance, if you are making the decision to pursue establishing one from scratch then there is some startup work to be done.
Wildflowers can’t compete with invasive weed species such as dandelions (these plants take up all of the nutrients and resources such as water and sunlight – they’ll crowd out your wildflowers).
It is not necessary to completely kill off a grass lawn before establishing a wildflower lawn, but the better you set up your lawn ahead of seeding, the better your chances of establishing a beautiful mini meadow.
This could mean solarizing the area of the lawn that you are planning to convert by covering it with plastic sheeting when the weather gets sunny and hot.
This process can take anywhere between two and six weeks. Even following that it is best to allow a couple of weeks to any surviving seeds to germinate, manage those, and then proceed with spreading your wildflower seed.
There is so much to choose from when it comes to wildflower seeds. You could choose to have all grass species, or a mix of grasses and flowering perennials, or even mixes that cater to butterflies or pollinators specifically.
Prepared seed mixes might seem like the most convenient option, but some companies don’t properly list all of the species so you risk accidentally introducing an invasive species in your area.
Doing your research will be another part of preparing for your mini meadow.
My Recommendation for a Wildflower Lawn Seed Blend
I have a small corner of my yard planted as a wildflower lawn. The blend I used was a combination of native annuals and perennials.
I specifically looked for a blend of seeds that had some annuals for that rewarding first-season flush of color. Native perennials can take a year or two to establish themselves, and I’m impatient.
And the blend I chose had a mix of over 100 different species of wildflowers.
One of the advantages of choosing a packet of seeds with a mix of many different wildflowers is that these often ensure you’ll enjoy constant blooms year round, starting in late spring and continuing right through the fall. This way pollinators and wildlife always have something to enjoy (and you’ll enjoy the constant flowers too!).
One of the drawbacks to wildflower lawns is that they are… well… wild.
This might seem unsightly to neighbors or visitors who don’t quite understand the rationale behind choosing to plant a wildflower lawn. You’ll find that this is particularly true during the time while a wildflower lawn is just starting to establish itself. At first your lawn will simply look weedy and unkempt.
For this reason, it might not be the most ideal option for every space. Especially if you are held to certain standards by a Homeowners Association or a landlord.
Build Bridges with the Neighbors
And you do want to be a good neighbor, so if you have the option – consider starting by planting wildflowers in your backyard, and then invite your neighbors over once established and show them how beautiful it is and explain why you plan to do the same in the front yard.
Wildflowers can also grow quite tall, which should be accounted for when planning your new lawn. Tall grasses and flowers will make it difficult to use lawn furniture. They could also create a hazard around a fire pit or a barbeque. So it may not be ideal for certain properties where space is limited. Most wildflower lawns will encroach on live-able space in small yards. We all love pollinators, but you’re the one paying the mortgage after all!
At the same time, wildflower lawns do require space. So if you have a small lawn, consider planting pollinator-friendly perennial garden beds instead. Wildflower gardens expand naturally as they grow. They will end up outside of a smaller space in no time at all, resulting in extra weeding or maintenance.
The other thing to note about wildflowers is that non-native or invasive species can truly grow wild. Thus, it is important to do your due diligence to ensure that you are only bringing in seed mixes that contain native species.
Even native species of wildflowers can infiltrate lawns under certain circumstances. For example, when you mow the wildflower lawn for hay towards the end of summer, it is important to carefully transport the hay without crossing lawns where you don’t want wildflowers. It contains dry seeds which could fall from the hay and end up growing in the lawn. As mentioned, they really don’t need much at all to thrive.
While wildflowers can be quite easy to establish, they actually do best in poor soil.
If you happen to have soil that is quite fertile or recently fertilized, then it may be best used for other purposes like a vegetable patch this year, and tapped as a wildflower lawn or garden bed next year.
The alternative would be digging up the top few inches of soil and moving it elsewhere; perhaps an adjacent vegetable patch.
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