Sowing Times and Conditions
When: Perennial seeds can be sown between September and May. The best time to sow our perennial seeds is Autumn, anytime from early September through to November as the ground is workable and the seeds benefit from a colder spell that aids spring germination. They can however, also be sown throughout the winter and throughout spring as long as the soil remains workable. Avoid summer sowing unless you can provide plentiful regular irrigation.
Autumn sowings can achieve very successful schemes, and this favours many of the slower-growing species. Autumn sown schemes are much less likely to need spring irrigation but may have a reduced first-year flowering as some species have seed or seedlings that don't all survive in cold, wet winter soils.
Early spring sowing usually gives reliable results, as there is sufficient moisture for everything to germinate without irrigation, and a balance between fast and slow-growing species is achieved. Early spring sowing also guarantees a great first year flowering display.
Late spring and early summer sowings will require irrigation. If natural rainfall is sufficient, germination can be rapid, but rainfall is often insufficient, and many seeds will fail to flourish without additional watering.
Where: Most of the Pictorial Meadows™ perennials do best if sown in full sun and free-draining soils, with the exceptions of Woodland Edge and Water's Edge, which will cope with semi-shade and waterlogged conditions, respectively.
All of our perennials are designed to adapt to quite a wide range of soil types, but soils and location make a difference in how each meadow will evolve and change over time. Do check out the mix descriptors so that you can best match a mix to your location.
Weeds: Getting a spotless seedbed before sowing is essential. This means removing all visible weeds, including all grass. Do not sow into existing grass or other vegetation, as this will lead to failure.
Soil preparation: Once weed and vegetation-free, then the ground needs cultivating so that a seedbed can be achieved. Keep this cultivation as shallow as you can, just enough to be able to rake the soil and get a surface texture that is level and looks a bit like breadcrumbs.
Sowing Your Seed
You are now ready to sow the seed. The sooner you sow seed after getting your ground prepared, the better. Bare, cultivated soil is a magnet for weed seeds to make their home, so make sure you get your pictorial perennials in first.
Sowing Rate: Pictorial Meadows™ perennials should be sown at a rate of 2g per square metre. Most sites can be sown quite successfully and quickly by hand, but you can also contact us for our machine meadow sowing services for larger areas or wherever you feel you need some specialist help.
For Hand Sowing: whatever the scale, it is always best to mix your seed really thoroughly with an inert bulking material such as sawdust, coir or even builders sand, and then divide the whole amount into two or three separate containers. One portion of the mixed seed and bulking material is then hand scattered over the entire area. Then take the next portion and repeat but walking in a different direction. This allows you to put a little more or a little less on areas that need it. If this is the first time you have ever done this, then the last portion allows you to make good any obvious gaps.
For Pictorial Meadows™ perennials, we consider the first whole growing season as the establishment period. From sowing the seed right through to the end of the year first cut and collect. The more you invest in the establishment year, the more you will enjoy a long term impact. It takes skill, attention to detail, and some very timely interventions to establish a great perennial meadow from seed.
Raking and Watering: Autumn-sown perennials should not be raked or rolled into the ground. Natural rainfall will help to settle the seeds into place without burying them. Spring-sown meadows should be very lightly raked in or firmly pressed into the soil, so there is really good contact with moisture. For firming, use a roller, the back of a rake or even the bottom of your shoes to firm the seeds into the soil.
If you experience warm, dry weather between the end of April to late June, then irrigation will make a considerable difference to the long term success of your meadow. This may not be necessary in most years as there is enough rainfall, but the small seedlings are sensitive to lack of moisture. The best irrigation technique is to provide a thorough soaking every four days if there is no natural rainfall.
Establishment and Management
Growth: Germination will only take place when there is sufficient moisture and warmth in the soil. Germination is much slower than with annuals, and many species emerge at different times, although in a regular British year, most seedlings will appear in late spring to early summer onwards.
Weeding: Pictorial Meadows™ perennials also really benefit from very active weed control in the establishment year. The less weed contamination there is, the more the desirable species will thrive, eventually forming a strong root, leaf and flower canopy that helps deter weeds in future years. Weed control shouldn't be much of an issue if preparation has been thorough, but even with the best preparation, weeds will always invade bare soil.
Frequent hand pulling of any visible weeds is strongly recommended. This is best done just before the meadow is about to flower and where there is a scattering of visible weeds. Quite large areas can be treated by hand pulling, and the benefits are that the flowers go onto have maximum impact, and the ground remains uncontaminated with weed seed for years to come. Where soils have not been well prepared in advance and/or a large weed seed bank becomes evident after sowing, the best approach is to cut the tops off the carpet of weeds with some form of mower. The native weeds typically appear before the pictorial meadow seedlings, so the ideal timing for this will be when there is a canopy of weed leaves standing 3-4 cm high. By cutting on a high setting, it significantly checks the growth of weed seedlings but allows the sown meadow to emerge largely undamaged.
Apart from this activity, you can just sit back and start to enjoy successive waves of colour, sometimes right through until September or the first frosts. For this first establishment year, this is the time to undertake the first cut and collect operation. It would help if you did this now, regardless of how lovely your flowers might look, so that the slower-growing species can thicken up before the winter. All arising material should be collected or rake off and removed from the site.
That's it for the establishment year.
Impact of Time Investment: Exactly how your perennial meadow will look over time will depend on location and how much effort and expertise you put into establishing and managing it. Every seed sown perennial meadow will be unique! Where you want to do very little or no weed control at all, then expect wild grasses and plants to invade year on year, and the look will become increasingly more like a flower-rich countryside verge.
Weed-free Maintenance: Where you want to take on a more direct approach and keep weeds to a minimum by pulling, or cutting, your meadow will develop over the years to be remarkably maintenance-free. In style, it will look more like an informal herbaceous border.
Second Year Onwards: Expect to start seeing the more robust long-lived flowering plants emerging, but at the same time, you will also see the happy self-seeders spontaneously reappear in gaps, edges and disturbed ground to add seasonal magic to your ever-evolving landscape.
Cut and Collect: The one task common to all perennial meadow schemes is an end of season cut and collect. This controls weed invasion, including woody plants. It also promotes fresh basal shooting of desirable plant species as well as helping to continually lower soil fertility. The cut and collect can occur anytime after flowering has finished and the meadow has become visually unacceptable. This means typically from November through to early February.
Encourage Biodiversity: Leaving seed heads and stalks throughout the winter provides a better wildlife habitat for winter birds, small mammals and insects. The dead stems can also look attractive, especially with a frost. All the flower stalks have dried out by early February, making removal and disposal much more straightforward. One other significant benefit is that by keeping a canopy of old flower stalks over the meadow, bare soil is less open to weed invasion. Late January/ February is the latest the meadow should be cut through to make way for new growth in early spring.
Check your measurements: When ordering your seed, and then check again. You don't want to waste any seed by having far too much or finding you have underestimated and can't finish the sowing. If you have done this right, but you worry that your seed packet looks tiny, don't panic! Our mixes are very carefully formulated to cover the area you've measured. Trust us, and don't be tempted to sow a larger amount.
Keep Weeds Controlled: Seed-sown perennials don't do well if there is a lot of weed competition in the first year. If you suspect your soil is not clean of both visible weeds and the less visible weed seed bank, then it makes a substantial difference to the long term meadow success if you sow the seed onto a sterile mulch. The function of a mulch is to help suppress the germination of the thousands of annual seeds that can be in the underlying soils. It will need to be spread evenly over the prepared seedbed to an average depth of 100 mm, just before sowing. Different compost-based materials can be used, but we also recommend clean sand for this purpose as it's readily available, sterile, and cost-effective.
Repeat Flowering: Looking to create different effects and repeat-flowering? Don't be afraid to introduce mid-season mowing along the edges or even right through the middle of your meadow. Both late April and early June 'differential' cuts (also known as the Chelsea chop) work well. The cut rejuvenates the meadow resulting in lovely fresh, neat foliage and usually prompts a second flush of later flowering. Introducing different heights also encourages certain species to find just the perfect spot to thrive.
Let the Experts Help You
Meadows Consultancy: Our specialist meadows team install many Pictorial Meadows™ across the country for local authorities, public and private clients, together with landowners requiring a guaranteed and dramatic display. If you would like to take advantage of our meadow consultancy, establishment and maintenance service, simply contact us for an appointment to visit and discuss your requirements.