Adding to an established meadow

pegleg2300(z5IN)August 23, 2003

I have about three acres that I planted about two years ago with wildflower seed. Although I have alot of areas that are doing well some areas are mostly weeds. I have been doing a lot of weed control but would like to add more seed to get a better result. I would also like to add annuals to the areas that are already doing well. My question is what is the best way to do that? The area is too big to work up by hand and I am afraid if I go over the area with anything to try to get better seed to soil contact that I will destroy already existing plants. I would appreciate any advice that you can provide.

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Bloomingthings(Z4 WI)

My question would be....why do you want to add annuals?

    Bookmark   August 23, 2003 at 6:30PM
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I just happen to like some annuals. I have a seed catalog that sells different kinds of sunflowers, zinnas, and cosmos that I thought would be pretty. Also there is some perennials that I would like to add. Any advice?

    Bookmark   August 23, 2003 at 7:49PM
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John_Blakeman(z5/6 OH)

Sorry to let this out, but you are surely headed for the biggest weed patch you could imagine. No meadow wildflower east of the western deserts grows by itself without supporting grasses. It's just a matter of time before Canada thistle and a bunch of other undesireables begin to take over. I suggest that you enjoy the patch as it is, but begin to take steps next year to grow a real native tallgrass prairie. That probably means planting the entire area to Roundup Ready soybeans next year, and seeding with a good prairie mix the following fall or spring.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2003 at 9:30PM
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macfairman(10 N. CA)

I agree with the concept John presented, but let me try another approach.

More annuals is ok (native annuals are IMHO best), but a prairie requires grass. You will get weeds, a lot of weeds, if you don't plant native prairie grasses. Eventually you have to start over with herbicide because the weeds outcompete even the annuals you mentioned!

I know a lot about CA native grasses, so I can't give you specific recommendations for which grasses to grow (big/little bluestem? Blue or sideoats grama?). I wish I could, so I could provide some positive information on how to followup on what I said though! I'm sure others have their favorite native grass sources with the grasses that would do best more in your area. The grasses will cover the ground but make space for wildflowers. They keep out weeds for you.

For the annuals you mentioned, can you plant those more towards your house, where you see them, and then use more native perennials (more bang for your buck because they come back :-) and native grasses in the rest of the meadow?


    Bookmark   August 26, 2003 at 4:34PM
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I agree with the above comments. An 'annual garden' needs to be maintained to prevent invasion by weedy species. Many annuals will re-seed, but the species you desire are probably not as good at this as the weeds -- re-seeding and invading available habitats is the basic mode of survival for weeds!

If you want an annual garden, why not designate an accessible and visible area and just plan on controlling weedy invaders and renewing it each year with new seed? Although some annuals may be able to maintain themselves in a 'true' meadow habitat, stable meadow habitats in the midwest and east are invariably dominated by perennials -- and by perennial grasses in particular.

Since you have invested some time into your meadow, and apparently have some desirable species, perhaps it is not too late to overseed with native grasses such as little bluestem, dropseed, and sideoats. If you keep the area mowed back for a couple years, to keep annual weeds from setting seed and to allow grass seedlings to become established, you may find that the resulting forb/grass mixture is attractive and stable. With periodic mowing and/or burning it may be able to resist invastions by weeds or woody plants. (On the other hand, if your meadow is already overtaken by weeds, you may need to start over with glyphosate and a new seed mixture.)

    Bookmark   August 27, 2003 at 10:51AM
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I do appreciate all the responses but I don't think I explained my question properly. I realize that having a meadow that consisted of only annuals would be a big mistake. I planted a number of perennials, including purple coneflower, tickseed coreopsis, blue flax, dames rocket, shasta daisys, and sweet williams. Although I am not adverse to adding grasses to my meadow to help with weed control, I would not consider getting rid of what I have already started. The tickseed coreopsis is quite aggressive and is doing a good job of controling weeds. Also I invested about $1500.00 in seeds when I did the original planting. Please keep in mind that I have spent 5 hours a day during the week and double that on weekends selectively killing weeds. Now that you have a better idea what kind of a meadow I have maybe you can help me with my original question. How do you add seeds to an established meadow, whether they are annuals, grass, or perennials and insure that you get good results without damaging the plants that you already have growing?

    Bookmark   August 27, 2003 at 8:50PM
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The reason people responded with comments about using herbicides is that most meadow seeds will need contact with bare soil for good germination, as well as lots of sunshine to become established. This means that overseeding areas with established plant cover (whether desirable plants or weeds) will not have a high rate of germination or successful establishment.

So, the problem is how to improve conditions for germination (and subsequent establishment of grasses and forbs in an existing meadow. You could simply overseed the area, but this would probably give little success. A second option would be to physically remove existing vegetation (such as by mowing or weed whacking) from some portion of your meadow, use some sort of mild disturbance to scratch up the soil, and these overseed these areas. You would need to keep these areas mowed for a year or two to discourage weeds and to give the new seedlings a change to get established. (The third option would be to apply herbicide to weedy areas before reseeding. You would of course lose any desirable plants in these areas, but you would have better success with your new seed.)

    Bookmark   August 28, 2003 at 10:30AM
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Thanks John, that helps. I do already mow at the end of the season, weed wack all annual weeds and carry them out of there and use a mixture of round-up and two four d to kill as many weeds as possible. I already figured that in areas that I have more weeds than flowers I would have to go in and start over again. I just don't know how to approach the areas that I want to save. I have about three acres that I am working with so I don't think it would be possible to go in there with a rake and work up the ground a little before I seed. I also figured that just throwing the seeds on top of the ground would not yield very good results. So how would you work up the ground in those areas and do as little damage to existing plants as possible? Thanks again for the input. I can use all the help I can get. Peggy

    Bookmark   August 28, 2003 at 3:11PM
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rayallen(zone 4)

Hi Peggy: I have a similar situation with a wildflower meadow I have worked with for over 10 years. (2 acres) Like you, I enjoy the annuals, but want to keep making my meadow more permanent and better. Each year since we started, we have chosen our least-liked spots each spring and/or fall to revamp. In those areas (that have been invaded with plants we don't want..and few of the ones we do want), we remove all the growth (if there are any great plants, you can transplant them out of the area as you go) , and then replant the now-clear spot with a mix of annual and perennial seed (about 50/50), carefully spiking with the perennial species we want to end up with. This way, in your revamped "spots" your annuals "fill the ground" during the first year (and you get to enjoy them) while perennials are tiny and not blooming...then in the second season, the perennials begin to bloom and the revamped "spot" looks a lot like the rest of the meadow. We do 3 or 4 free-form areas each year, and this way our meadow gets better and better. Good luck!

    Bookmark   September 8, 2003 at 10:28PM
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Thank you. That sounds like a great way to work on areas that aren't doing so well. I also called the company that I bought my seeds from and the expert there suggested that I add some of my seeds in the fall, including poppies which are annuals. There are some like sunflowers and cosmos that would have to be added in the spring that would be a little more work. He says I would have to go out and rake off the thatch caused by mowing the previous fall and then reseed in areas that are bare enough that the seed can reach the ground then keep the areas wet so the seed can germinate. I am going try reseeding with perennials in the fall, with the exception of adding poppies at that time, and annuals in the spring with this method. I realize that when my meadow fills out I won't be able to add annuals to the mix and will have to have an area that is set aside just for my annuals but until then I am hoping to get results doing it this way. Has anybody else tried doing this? Peggy

    Bookmark   September 9, 2003 at 10:01AM
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It's worth pointing out that Peggy has NON-NATIVE, so-called 'wildflowers' and she is posting to the prairie & meadows NATIVE PLANT forum, so there's quite a bit of cross talk going on in these responses. The goal for most native plantings is a sustainable landscape with lots of interactions between the native plants and their pollinators (birds, butterflies, etc.) Non-native wildflowers seem to be about short term 'color', so this forum may not suit Peggy's needs. I checked the gardenweb forum list, and the 'wildflower' group includes all the native forums, but I don't see a forum for this type of short-term, non-native wildflower mix. Perhaps folks on the 'annuals' forum might have some suggestions? Perhaps a new forum is needed?

    Bookmark   September 9, 2003 at 12:40PM
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This is not the Native Plant forum (though a lot of us Native Nazis spend time here). Recommendations to avoid invasive species should be welcome in any gardening forum, as well as are recommendations that favor natives, but I see no reason that 'meadow gardeners' who use non-native species should not be welcome and comfortable in this forum.

I think pegleg's questions and the various responses have been helpful. These suggestions would seem to apply to either native prairie restorations or naturalistic meadow plantings that are not exclusively made up of native plants.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2003 at 5:06PM
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pondwelr(z5 WI)

Here are some dumb questions from a non-prairie gardener.
for Peg. What is wrong with having some patches of weeds?
I can imagine some type of wildlife who would appreciate the weed patch. I guess I dont understand why you would stress about weeds. I know that many of them are extremely beneficial in attracting larva, in feeding birds, in improving soil, etc.

I have a friend who bought a 5 acre plot to retire to. They looked at planting a prairie but nixed the idea as too much work. So, they simply cut paths thru the pasture and let nature take its course. Its quite amazing to see the amount of pretty stuff that blew in and took root. Even more amazing is the variety of wildlife that lives and hunts in their pasture/turned/meadow.

After spending one hardworking week at their cottage, I know that they DO grub out and cut back any tree seedlings, and bag and burn many of the more agressive thistles and plants that sting and burn.

Also, Rob has selectively cut circles in the sod and planted
native wildflowers 'en mass'. Not all were successful, but the ones that are, are stunning.

Time is on your side you know.

I love annuals too, and think you should find a way to have them as a constant feature. Perhaps in strips next to a mown path.

My friends have planted several copses of evergreens and one bunch of aspen and white birch to encourage the birds and give hiding places and hunting places.

They gave some thought of what they wanted from their little mini farm, and decided it would be a wildlife haven, but never a place of feeding stations.

Having seen the success and beauty and relative ease of their little 'farm', I can recommend it highly.

Heres hoping you do what you want with your little piece of heaven Peggy.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2003 at 9:15PM
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A couple of thoughts (especially for pegleg and Pondwelr):

1) There are weeds (agressive, invasive species, mostly but not all non-native), and there are weeds (native, wild plants found in natural areas, but unrecognized as distinct from the first kind by most people). Wild critters like the latter, but make little use of the former, which is part of why they grow so out-of-control.

2) Annuals have little chance in a meadow or prairie, which is by definition dominated by perennials. In nature, annuals occupy recently disturbed sites, make the best of it for a short while, then are inexorably supplanted by perennial herbs or woody plants. A permanent show of annuals requires permanent soil disturbance. I plant annuals in a bed I turn every spring up near my house, and don't expect them to survive in my prairie planting farther away from the house. There, I never disturb the soil, except maybe to dig a hole for planting a perennial.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2003 at 11:14AM
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kelly_cassidy(z5 E. WA St.)

To Pondwelr,

Are "weeds" so bad? The answer is "It depends."

Most temperate birds and mammals are fairly nonselective about food species. Food resources from temperate plant species are usually transient. A bird or mammal that was too choosy wouldn't last too long. There are notable exceptions, such as Clark's Nutcrackers that have a mutualistic relationship with a couple of pine species in the west. There are probably more examples of insects that rely on specific plants.

Birds and mammals are more sensitive to vegetation structure than species composition. Many birds, for example, rely on grassy/shrubby/"weedy" patches of vegetation for shelter and as a places to forages. Dead plant material is an important habitat component for many animal species, as well. Detritus supports the invertebrates many vertebrates feed on. Dead leaves and branches provide shelter and insulation. Snags provide nesting spots. Again, the dead plant species that make up the dead material are usually not too critical.

Non-native plant species really become a serious problem to the native animals when: a) They are so successful they cover vast areas with a single species, reducing the diversity of food sources and habitat structure. Reed canary-grass and purple loosestrife can do this to wetlands. b) They alter the fire regime, as cheatgrass has done in the intermountain west. c) They significantly alter the structure so a different set of animal species is favored. Russian olive can turn formerly treeless areas in the arid west into wooded riparian areas.

A long way of saying that, in most meadows, a scattering of exotics is not usually a big deal. The ones of most concern are the ones that expand to form nearly monospecific stands, like Canada thistle or some of the knapweeds.

Re: annuals: As others have pointed out, most annuals have a "fugitive" life strategy. Their seeds can survive long periods of dormancy (think decades or even hundreds of years) waiting for a fire, blowdown, or other disturbance. They detect the increased light, sudden increase in nutrients (such as after a fire), or whatever their cue is, and decide it's time to germinate. Deserts are probably the only habitat where annuals are a major component without disturbance. In deserts, the annuals germinate after a rain, grow and set seed at a furious pace while water is available, then die. Annuals are a very small component of established prairies, where they spring up on ground squirrel mounds, edges of ant hills, and other small disturbances.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2003 at 12:53PM
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pondwelr(z5 WI)

Thank you for the informed and thoughtful responses Doc and Kelly. I have toured a few prairies. The huge one that a local insurance co has created, and a naturally occuring one at a formerly private nature preserve; now a county park. I frankly preferred the natural one with its weeds and even aliens.

I thought Peg wanted suggestions for ways to incorporate annuals into her prairie while eradicating weed patches.
Sounds doable to me. Maybe she should ask at a different forum for advice.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2003 at 5:37PM
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I plant up the seeds inside and then dig biggish holes in empty spots on the meadow, plant and mulch so at least they have a head start. I've also had good luck with small plants from Prarie Moon: a liatris corm or an echinacea lollipop are so small they can be planted with the spade-in-and-pull-pop-in-plant-step method. I love the poppies and cosmos too, but we only enjoyed them one or two seasons until there wasn't enough exposed dirt for them. However, there is still hope - our sewer lateral broke last winter and a front end loader was used to dig up a big trench in my meadow - lots of overseed room so the cosmos looked great this year! Good luck

    Bookmark   October 7, 2003 at 8:01PM
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scc_ms(zone 6 RI)

Hi, I know this thread has been around for a long time, but I hope some of the posters are still around.

I have a 1200 sq ft "meadow" in RI that is 5 years old. I started it by tilling out lawn grass that hadn't been watered for the previous 5 years - i.e. dead, weedy grass.
I now know that tilling was a bad idea, but it was suggested by a local landscape architect. What is done is done.

The first couple years were spectacular with both annuals and perrenials started from a "new england" meadow mix (no grasses). The next year I was pregnant, and the next I was chasing the baby around, so the meadow got neglected. It is now more weeds than flowers. Last year I added a few dozen Little Bluestem and Sideoats Grama transplants. I have no idea if they are still there, because I couldn't find them among the weeds!

I know I can start over, but would rather not. The survivors are sweet william, blue lupine, tickseed coreopsis, rudbeckia, purple coneflower, and shasta daisy. I like all of these but the daisies - they really pushed a lot of other plants out last year. All of these plants have done well, creating more and/or bigger clumps, so I'd rather not just throw them away. The meadow is also in the front yard in a suburban setting. Black plastic or roundup for a year isn't going to go over well with the neighbors, especially after the great display of the last few years.

rayallen mentioned "repairing" a few sections each year, but I have some questions about that.

My meadow is much smaller than yours, so my section(s) would also be smaller. How can I keep the weeds and other desired plants from invading the "repair" section which has now been cleared? Won't that section just get reseeded with weeds at the end of the season? I would like to plant a mix of grass and flowers in these sections. I'm willing to spend a moderate amount on plants or seed and am also set up to start seeds in flats overwintering-style or under lights. I will be contacting the New England wildflower society for some advice on what to plant.

The idea of working on a section at a time is appealing. I'm a serious gardener, but also a working mom (and I also have a cottage garden, rose garden and vegetable garden). I spend most of my free time in the summer in the garden, but it is max 15-18 hrs/week, often less than 10. I'm willing to spend the time, but want more assurance that it won't be wasted. If the section ends up just the same as the rest the next year, it obviously isn't worth it.

Any advice or ideas most welcome! Thanks.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2004 at 11:29PM
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oakfolk(S.W. Wisconsin)

I've spent many hours trying to rehab a meadow that was planted with what I now know as a "weedy" meadow-in-a-can type of mix. There can be a few good natives but many are like the Shasta Daisy which is very invasive. (I automatically disregard any company that sells it as a "wildflower")
I think you will have more success if you just start over. You probably have 2 choices:
1-Either smother the area with a black tarp or plastic for the growing season or use a short duration herbacide like Round-Up (yes, I know it's NOT non-toxic) throughout the summer. Purchase a good quality native seed mix and spread it on the soil surface in late November. The freeze-thaw action will work the seed into the soil. Be prepared to keep the entire area mowed or use a weed-whip to keep the annual weeds under control the first year. By the middle of the 2nd growing season you will have some flowers and by the 4th year it will really look nice.
2-Go back and re-till the area and then bring in a truck-load of mulch like shredded bark. Spread enough mulch that you have a 4" layer covering everything. Purchase some good quality potted or bare-root natives(grasses and flowers) that are appropriate for the sun, soil, and moisture conditons of your site. Plant them about every 12 inches leaving a small opening in the mulch. Lots of flowers the first year and fills in by the end of year two. Any weeds that do push through the mulch will be very easy to pull.
There are a number of what I would call high quality native plant nurseries. The two I have delt with are Praire Nursery and Prairie Moon Nursery. Both have web sites and very informative catalogs.
Good-luck with your project.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2004 at 10:19PM
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