Sowing Times and Conditions
When to sow
Perennial seeds are best sown between the months of September and May. Early spring sowings usually give the most reliable results. At this time there is enough moisture for everything to germinate without irrigation and a great balance between fast and slow growing species is achieved.
Early spring sowing also guarantees a great first year flowering display. Very successful schemes can also be achieved by autumn sowings and this really 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 doesn’t all survive in cold wet winter soils.
Late spring and early summer sowings are always best if irrigation is available. If rainfall is sufficient then germination can be rapid but all too often rainfall is insufficient, and many seeds will fail to flourish.
Where to sow
Most of the Pictorial Perennials do best if sown in full sun and in free draining soils, with the exceptions of Woodland Edge and Water’s Edge, which will cope with semi-shade and waterlogged conditions respectively.
All our Pictorial Perennials are designed to be adaptable to quite a wide range of soil types, but soils and location do make a difference to how each of the meadows will evolve and change over time. Do check out the mix descriptors so that you can best match a mix to your own location.
Whatever scale you are working on, it is important to get a very clean seed bed before sowing. This means removing all visible weeds, especially grass. It is a complete waste of time scattering seed into existing grass or other vegetation.
Preparing the soil
Once weed and vegetation - free then the ground needs cultivating so that a seed bed can be achieved. Keep this cultivation as shallow as possible, just enough to be able to rake the soil and get a surface texture that is level and looks a bit like breadcrumbs. Bare, cultivated soil is a magnet for weed seeds to make their home in so make sure you get your Pictorial Perennials in first.
For Pictorial Perennials we consider the first whole growing season as the establishment period. From sowing the seed right through to the end of year first cut and collect. The more you invest in the establishment year the more you will enjoy long term impact. Remember that it takes skill, attention to detail and some very timely interventions to establish a really great perennial meadow from seed.
Pictorial Perennials should be sown at a rate of 2 g 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 sites or wherever you feel you need some specialist help. For hand sowing whatever the scale it is always best to mix your seed thoroughly with a dry bulking material such as clean dry sand and then divide the whole amount into two or three separate containers such as plastic buckets. One portion of the mixed seed and spreader is then hand scattered over the whole 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 which need it. If this is the first time you have ever done this then the last portion allows you to finally make good any obvious gaps.
Autumn sown Pictorial 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 through should be very lightly raked in or firmly pressed into the soil so there is 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.
Germination will only take place when there is enough 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 of the seedlings will appear in late spring to early summer onwards.
If you experience warm dry weather between the end of April through to late June, then irrigation will make a considerable difference to the long-term success of your meadow. In many years this may not be necessary 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 4 days if there is no rainfall.
Pictorial Perennials also really benefit from very active weed control in the establishment year. The less weed contamination there is then the more the desirable species will thrive - eventually forming a strong root, leaf and flower canopy that really helps to prevent invading weeds in future years. If preparation has been thorough, then this shouldn’t be much of an issue but even with the best preparation, weeds will always invade where there is 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 normally 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, most of the time you can just sit back and start to enjoy successive waves of colour, sometimes right through until September. For this first establishment year this is the time to undertake the first cut and collect operation. You should do this now regardless of how lovely your flowers might look so that the slower growing species can really thicken up before the winter. All arising material should be collected or raked off and removed from site.
That’s it for the establishment year.
Management and maintenance
Exactly how your 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 native grasses and plants to invade year on year and the look will become increasingly more like a flower rich country verge side.
Where you want to take on a more direct approach though and really keep weeds to a minimum by pulling, cutting or very careful use of selective herbicides - your meadow will develop over the years to be remarkably maintenance free and in style look more like an informal herbaceous border.
From the 2nd year on expect to start seeing the more robust long lived flowering plants really 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.
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 take place any time after flowering has finished and the meadow has become visually unacceptable.
This normally means from November through to early February. 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. By early February all the flower stalks have also dried out making removal and disposal a much easier task. 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 winter is the latest the meadow should be cut though to make way for new growth to appear in early spring.
Perennial Meadow Top Tips
Really 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 of course 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.
Seed sown perennials really don’t do well if there is a lot of weed competition in year one. 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 supress 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 seed bed to an average depth of around 100 mm just before sowing. Different compost-based materials can be used, but we also recommend clean sand for this purpose as it is readily available, sterile, and is relatively cheap.
Want 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 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.