How to Plant and Grow a Native Wildflower Meadow

My bright and wild front yard meadow attracts wildlife as well as onlookers. (photos by Bob Farley)

Fall is the best time to plant a meadow ā€” all you have to do is take a cue from nature and mimic what you see along roadsides and in fields. Meadows are beautiful and guaranteed to attract butterflies, hummingbirds and other birds looking for seeds, nectar and insects. Plant a meadow and they will come ā€” just watch this video Bob made in our garden!

I would much rather pull weeds out of a beautiful wildflower and native grass meadow teaming with wildlife than mow turf grass any day! Hummingbirds slurping, bees buzzing, hover flies hovering, butterflies drinking and goldfinches picking are all wonders I encounter in my front yard meadow on a daily basis in the spring, summer and fall. On the host plants, I get to observe butterflies ovipositing (laying eggs) then caterpillars munching, metamorphosing and emerging from their chrysalises to start the whole process over again.

5 Steps to Creating a Native Wildflower Meadow

My meadow is full of native plants and is teaming with wildlife. I am visited by goldfinches, hummingbirds and many butterflies.

1. To create a meadow, start with a small area or you will quickly become overwhelmed with filling the space (plus it will be easier to sneak it into the neighborhood if you grow the space a little at a time).

2. Remove the top layer of grass with a flat-headed shovel or sod remover. Use the grass pieces to patch turf in other areas of the yard where you may have brown or thin spots. Remove any stubborn weed and grass roots by hand.

3. Add an organic layer to replace the topsoil you remove with the grass. I like to use a mixture of cheap topsoil and composted manure from the local garden supply store and composted leaves from my own compost pile.

4. Plant or patch native grasses and wildflowers, sprinkle wildflower and grass seeds over the area using seed shakers, and top off with a thin layer of raked leaves from your yard. Water to establish and weed to maintain.

5. Add more diversity in flowers and grasses in the spring and fall of each year as you learn new species. Observe and learn, and the meadow will give a sense of empowerment in righting some of the wrongs done to the environment.

Roadside meadows like this one in Shenandoah National Park are inspirational for the creation of a meadow. Mowed turf keeps the meadow from looking too untidy. Beautiful!

A meadow does not have to be a large plot nor does is have to be messy. Even the smallest grouping of prairie wildflowers in a planter or a neat bed bordered by clipped lawn can be beautiful and attract an amazing diversity in wildlife. Remember, native plants are the most important building block of the food chain. Plants native to your region are the key in attracting native wildlife, as the plants and wildlife have co-evolved. Ultimately, by providing plenty of seeds, nectar and insects, you’ll be inviting your winged friends over for a fine dining experience. If you want them to stick around, just add water, places to hide, and nesting boxes.

Use this photo gallery with tips and native plant suggestions to start planning your own wildflower meadow at home this season!

4 Responses

  1. Toni says:

    Hi Michelle, Any information about planting native is much appreciated. Yes, it takes time and patience… but the reward is priceless. To add to the time of creating a meadow or prairie, I usually smother the area to be planted months beforehand with layers of newspaper and compost or shredded leaves (it's normally turf grass I want to remove) . This kills the grass and leaves the soil. I've read that this method is best for planting plants and not seeding because it doesn't kill weed seeds. I'm happy you didn't suggest using glyphosate (Roundup) to kill your grass as this vegetation killer has been found to be toxic to living creatures.
    Keep up the good work!

    • Michelle Reynolds says:

      Good point, Toni! Every time I see piles of plastic bags full of leaves on curbs, it makes me crazy. That is throwing away perfectly good compost. It is so easy to minimize grass areas by expanding the planting beds. My grass areas shrink a little each year. I keep all of the leaves that fall on my property, rake them into beds to smother grass, invite micro-organisms into the soil and improve soil. It is time to be on the lookout for free plant digs in local landfills or land slated for development. Dig the plants, put them in pots to acclimate, and when the plants have strong root structures, plant them in the garden.

  2. Michelle Reynolds says:

    While I may have failed to specifically say that a meadow will not give one instant gratification, I did say that plantings will take a number of seasons…."Add more diversity in flowers and grasses in the spring and fall of each year as you learn new species." My intent here was to give advice on how to create a meadow with confidence by starting small, by using a combination of plants and seeds, and growing the garden over time and as you learn species that work for you and for wildlife. I do not subscribe to the notion that anything is instant when it comes to gardening and I assume my readers approach gardening with the same patience and understanding.

  3. montanagal2011 says:

    what this writer doesn't tell you is that these 'meadows' take one to two years to 'grow'. coneflowers do NOT come up the next year after you planted them in the fall. to create a 'meadow' takes numerous years of waiting for the plants to spread, most people don't want to wait five years, especially since this writer wants to make you believe that this 'meadow' is an instant-grow result.

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About Michelle Reynolds 

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Iā€™m a slipcover maker who refuses to fill the trash with the cutaway bits of designer fabrics, so I strive to make use of every scrap. I live with my ...

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