Wildflower Meadows

Produced by Dan Ori

This page will inform as to the benefits of low maintenance swards and provide an instructional guide to establishing and maintaining wildflower meadows.

Benefits of low maintenance swards

The word sward may or may not be known to you, the use of the word sward in this guide refers to the area of grass/ground/meadow you are deliberately cultivating with wildflowers and grasses.

It is extremely easy to establish a low maintenance sward it does not require any specialist labour with basic instruction anyone can do it.

A correctly established and maintained sward can be hugely important to encouraging wildlife, in particular, providing habitat for insects, small mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles.

Maintenance of a sward can be as low as cutting once a year (normally removing the cuttings a week later).

But there is one massive benefit not yet mentioned, and that is of course the sheer beauty of a meadow in spring and summer. 

Establishing a wildflower meadow

There are two distinct types of meadow planting/sowing: Perennial meadows thrive best on poor soils because the grasses compete less with the wildflowers. If you have rich soil, it is worth removing the top layer and sowing directly into dug or rotovated sub-soil. Annual meadows, usually of cornfield annuals, need rich soils. These are a good choice where you are converting an existing border. However, you can grow both annual and perennial meadow plants in the same meadow, you just need to be prepared that one type of planting might not thrive as you would have hoped.

Sow during March and April or in September, depending on soil conditions. On lighter soils, autumn-sown seeds generally germinate and establish quickly, although some will not come up until the following spring. This delay makes it advisable to wait until March or April on heavy soils, as waterlogging may cause the seed and seedlings to rot during winter. 

What plants to choose

When choosing a planting or seed mix pick one that suits your local conditions. Where possible, obtain seed of British origin. 

Plants for a Spring flowering Meadow

Bird's Foot Trefoil Lotus corniculatus

Salad Burnet Sanguisorba minor

Bulbous Buttercup Ranunculus bulbosus

Meadow Buttercup Ranunculus acris

Red Campion Silene dioica

Red Clover Trifolium pratense

Cowslip Primula veris

Greater Hawkbit Leontodon hispidus

Oxeye Daisy Leucanthemum vulgare

Hoary Plantain Plantago media

Ragged Robin Lychnis flos-cuculi

Selfheal Prunella vulgaris

Common Sorrel Rumex acetosa

Common Vetch Vicia sativa

Yellow Rattle Rhinanthus minor

Snake's Head Fritillary Fritillaria meleagris

Bugle Ajuga reptans

Plants for a Summer flowering Meadow

Teasel Dipsacus fullonum

Betony Stachys officinalis

Musk mallow Malva moschata

Foxglove Digitalis purpurea

Bird’s-foot trefoil Lotus corniculatis

Tufted vetch Vicia cracca

Bladder campion Silene vulgaris

Ox-eye-daisy Leucanthemum vulgare

Greater knapweed Centaurea scabiosa

Purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria

Red clover Trifolium pratense

Harebell Campanula rotundifolia

Yellow rattle Rhinanthus minor

Devil’s-bit scabious Succisa pratensis

Maintaining a wildflower meadow

The minimum maintenance is to mow the meadow in September/October. A cutting height of 30 – 70 mm should be observed during the first 2 – 3 years, then after a cut of 20 – 70 mm can be made. Ideally, cuttings should be left at the meadow for approximately 5 days to allow wildlife to move out of the cuttings, the cuttings should then be removed to help keep the soil nutrient-poor.


Weed control is the other concern, the best weed control is to encourage stressed conditions by mowing and removing cuttings. However, if you have a problem with certain species then removing by hand or spot weeding with an approved herbicide would be the best control.