Successful Creation of a Wildflower Meadow


In early March, 2013, I sent out a nature note describing the efforts of a large number of volunteers at Wildflower Preserve (owned by the Lemon Bay Conservancy; to create a naturalized meadow of flowers to attract pollinating insects and to provide an eye-pleasing display (project funded by a small grant from the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program). At that time, aside from the notable success of Drummond’s phlox, there was little tangible evidence of the more than a dozen species of seeds that had been planted. However I am excited to report that now after two additional months of growth in a spring-time pattern of warmth and rain, increasing numbers of flowers are now blooming or showing signs of future flower production.

The creation of wildflower meadows in fields overgrown with grasses and weeds involves a tested but somewhat unpredictable series of steps. The field was mowed, allowed to partially re-grow and then sprayed with herbicide to kill all vegetation. The field was raked to remove dead material and expose soil prior to seeds being broadcast (in this case in late fall) and packed into the soil by rolling. In the absence of sufficient winter rain, watering was necessary to elicit germination and provide for seedling growth and this entailed a huge effort by some volunteers since there is no electricity or piped water at the site. In this small plot, re-growth from the soil seed bank of undesirable plants such as ragweed, sandspur, dog fennel, etc required a lot of weeding by hand.

The original seed broadcasting included 12 species of wildflowers: spotted beebalm, lemon mint (both species of Monarda ), goldenbane tickseed ( Coreopsis ), Maximillian sunflower ( Helianthus ), starry rosinweed ( Silphium ), scarlet gilia ( Ipomopsis ), Drummond’s phlox, partridge pea ( Chamaecrista ), blanket flower ( Gaillardia ), black eyed Susan ( Rudbeckia ), crimson clover ( Trifolium ), and scarlet sage ( Salvia ). Half of these are now in bloom and several more seem likely to bloom, in particular some large plants of Maximillian sunflower which are in bud. Drummond’s phlox has continued to thrive and now has produced large clumps of flowers; we hope for a considerable seed production. Some examples are shown of the beautiful blooms of other species that have thrived: tickseed, lemon mint, black-eyed Susan and blanket flower. To supplement flowers produced from seed, some other species such as beach sunflower, pennyroyal and verbena have been planted as seedlings and have done well.

A number of native flowers have germinated from seeds present naturally in the soil; some of these such as gaura, bush clover, Spanish needles, frogfruit/matchhead, and evening primrose are valued members of this meadow flower community. Continued maintenance by hand pulling of less desirable or crowded species will be necessary to maintain a balance.

Those involved as volunteers at Wildflower Preserve in creation of this amazing meadow of flowers have learned several valuable lessons: nothing in the wildflower garden is accomplished without considerable planning and effort, and experimentation and learning from experience are crucial for success, as well as patience. These types of planted meadows typically change a lot over time, so the volunteers will have to continue to try various strategies to maintain and continue this initial and hard won success.

Bill Dunson, Englewood, FL & Galax, VA

Bill Dunson

About Bill Dunson

Bill Dunson, born in rural Georgia, skipped 12th grade and went directly to Yale. Bill subsequent-ly received a PhD in Zoology from the University of Michigan, studying softshell turtles. Bill is Professor Emeritus of Pennsylvania State University thanks to a career spent entirely at that institution, teaching and doing research on the physio-logical ecology and ecotoxiciology of reptiles, amphibians and fish. Always curious about nature, Bill has dedicated his life to learning and sharing his knowledge with others. He has served on many advisory boards here in Southwest Florida to preserve the water that gives life to our region.

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