Biodiversity- Tips and Tricks for Creating a Wildflower Meadow

Environment - Apr 26, 2017

 

On Tuesday 26th of April, BITC Ireland held the first Learning Network meeting for this year with the theme:Biodiversity, Wellbeing and Employee Engagement.

The meeting featured:

  • A presentation on the health and wellbeing benefits of biodiversity from BITCI’s Business & Biodiversity Consultant Hannah Hamilton,
  • A practical Train the Trainer session on wildflower seed planting (so prepare to get your hands dirty!),
  • A presentation on how businesses can engage with Birdwatch Ireland from Brian Caffrey, and
  • A group discussion on the opportunities, challenges and potential solutions for taking action on biodiversity.

Below you can read about tips and tricks presented by our consultant Hannah Hamilton:

Companies in Ireland are taking it upon themselves to sow wildflowers in meadows, planters and pots. It’s a great idea – wildflowers can provide food and habitats that benefit pollinators and other wildlife, as well as beautiful floral displays on-site that encourage staff to go outside and de-stress.

Experiencing nature has been found to improve productivity, focus, workplace attitude and the ability to perform tasks, while also reducing heart rate, blood pressure, anxiety and depression, so these initiatives are good for people too.

Wildflowers require less management than the average lawn, but choosing the right site, the right species and the right seed source is less straightforward. Here are our top tips to ensure you know what you’re doing when it comes to wildflowers:

1) Choose the right soil to plant in

In the competition for light and space, wildflowers tend to lose out to grasses and other vigorous plants, which is why they often thrive on poor quality soil (i.e. areas with lots of rubble and sand, disturbed areas, and planting beds that haven’t been enriched with compost or fertiliser or overrun by grasses). These kinds of spaces are usually a good choice for establishing a wildflower meadow.

In areas with rich soil, where grasses and other plants grow quickly and easily, it will be necessary to spray the area with a chemical herbicide in order to kill off the existing grass before sowing the wildflower meadow and/or include species in your mix that will out-compete the grasses (but note, these can be invasive). Instead of establishing a new wildflower meadow, you could manage these areas as a traditional hay meadow by simply leaving it to grow long and cutting it twice a year.

If you don’t have outdoor space, or you’re trying to encourage employees to grow wildflowers at home, another option is to sow seeds in pots, planters, hanging baskets and windowboxes: you can determine the right mix of sand/rubble/soil that you use in them, and they usually haven’t been taken over by grasses, so the wildflowers can get the space and light they need to grow.

Lastly, when filling up pots and planters or enriching topsoil, always use peat-free compost. Regular compost that we buy in the average garden centre contains peat that has been extracted from Irish bogs, which are important habitats for vulnerable species. Be sure that you’re not indirectly supporting biodiversity loss by buying peat-free compost only.

2) Choose the right management regime

Both wildflower meadows and traditional hay meadows need to be properly managed if they’re going to work. This means they need to be cut at the right time of year – generally once a year after they’ve released their seeds, but the specifics depend on the seed mix you’re using. The cuttings should always be removed and disposed of elsewhere, to avoid over enriching the soil. Depending on the location, you might need to protect the site from deer or other animals. Pots, planters and windowboxes will also need to be cut back in September after seeding, unless you’re using annuals (seeds that grow, flower and die off completely in one year).

3) Choose the right seed source

It’s extremely important to choose native Irish seeds that are sourced in Ireland. Non-Irish seeds – even of native species – can interfere with the genetics of wild plants in Ireland. This is a bad thing and can do more harm than good! Only buy seeds from sources that can guarantee their seeds were harvested from plants grown in Ireland. “Bee Friendly” or “Butterfly Friendly” seed mixes from supermarkets and garden centres typically aren’t, so always source from specialists.

 4) Choose the right plant species

When choosing species of wildflower to sow in your meadow or planters, there are many things to consider. Here are some of the important questions:

  • Colourful blooms from spring to autumn? This will require a specialised seed mix with species that come into flower at different times of the year.
  • Perennials or annuals, or both? Perennials flower in the second year and then every year after that on their own. A perennial meadow’s species mix can take a few years to settle down. Annuals make an immediate impact by flowering in the first year, but (usually) only once. A mix contains species of both types.
  • Native to Ireland? Native species are best, but it’s difficult to get seeds that flower in the first year (i.e. annuals) that are good for pollinators.
  • Good for pollinators? These won’t necessarily be native, especially not if you want flowers in the first year. Pollinators tend to be prefer perennials, as they have more pollen and nectar.
  • Appropriate for my soil type, aspect and elevation? The pH of your soil, whether it’s shady or sunny, wet or dry, high up or low down, will all determine the species that are most appropriate for your site.

Making the wrong choice can mean that your wildflower meadow or pot will not grow at all, cause harm by introducing invasive non-native species, or not provide the biodiversity benefits you’d hoped for (to pollinators, for instance – Cheerios found this out the hard way…). When in doubt, it’s best to ask the experts!

  • The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan is releasing a How-To-Guide to wildflower meadows in the coming weeks. See biodiversityireland.ie for more info. They also have a handy Pollinator-Friendly Planting Code that you can share with landscapers, gardeners and facilities managers (http://www.biodiversityireland.ie/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/Pollinator-Council-Guide-Planting-Code-FINAL.pdf).
  • ie sell a wide variety mixes of native wildflowers that have been collected in Ireland and can match the mix to your requirements in terms of soil type, etc. Not all will be good for pollinators, so it’s important to ask for pollinator-friendly species to be included if you want them. Ecoseed.ie in Co. Down is another.
  • In our , we used a combination of non-native, non-invasive, bee-friendly Phacelia and a mix of native, Irish-sourced, non-bee-friendly wildflower annuals, including Corn Marigold, Corn Poppy, Corncockle, Cornflower, Scented Mayweed and Scentless Mayweed.

We held a Biodiversity Learning Network meeting in April where we planted wildflower seeds. Here is where we sourced our materials:

  • Peat-free compost from mulch.ie
  • Mixture of annual native Irish-sourced wildflower seeds from wildflowers.ie
  • Pollinator-friendly non-native and non-invasive Phacelia seeds from quickcrop.ie

 

Want some advice from a business that’s been there?

Contact your account manager and/or Elise McCarthy and ask them to put you in touch with Intel, who planted a large wildflower meadow last year.

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