Gardening Help FAQs

Here are answers to some of the most common questions we receive about garden plants. You will find concise information on general gardening techniques as well as plant selection and care. For detailed information on specific plant pests and problems refer to our Common Garden Pests and Problems page.

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Horticulture Questions and Answers

How do I create a meadow garden?

With a trend towards establishing more naturalized landscapes, planting a meadow garden is becoming popular amongst gardeners who have learned to appreciate the array of colors, textures and simple beauty. In Nature, wildflower meadows are not created overnight. Much hard work and patience is needed to grow a meadow garden in your yard which will flower year after year. Here's how to do it.

To begin, you must select the proper site; initially, think small! Frequently, meadow gardening is discussed in terms of acres, but for most home gardeners, this is impractical. An area ranging from 100 to 2000 square feet is a good, manageable size. The site should have full sun, be well drained and have good soil structure. Soil structure, is very important for the formation of deep roots, which help plants survive the long dry summers.

When you begin the process of selecting plants for the meadow, acquire a good list of Missouri native wildflowers and grasses. The Missouri Department of Conservation's list also includes Midwest seed sources. Consider height, bloom period and color of each selection. In nature, meadows are comprised mostly of grasses which function to prevent soil erosion, invasion of weeds and stabilize the wildflower population from blowing over in the wind. They also provide a nice contrasting background for the wildflower's color.

Up to 2000 square feet, limit your choices to a total of six to eight different kinds of wildflower and grass plants. Approximately 60% of the mix should be grasses and 40% wildflowers. You will need a little less than a quarter of a pound of seed per 1000 square feet.

Prepare the site for seeding, by clearing existing vegetation. The best time to start the process is in the fall. Till over the entire area to a depth of four-to-six inches. In early spring, newly emerging weeds should be tilled-in approximately every two weeks up until planting time, late March or early April. You can use a broad spectrum herbicide to clear out the weeds. However, a well-tilled soil is extremely important for good seed germination and plant establishment. Do not skip this step!

Once the site is prepared and smoothed over, you are ready to plant. Planting time is very important. The ideal time is: after the ground has thawed and before the spring rains, when the weather is cool. Seed can be broadcast by hand. Because the seeds are very small, it is a good idea to mix seed with sawdust or sand so the seed can be spread evenly. Cover the seed with a light layer of soil by shallow raking with the back of the rake. Place a board over seed, and step on it to firm the soil, ensuring good soil to seed contact.

Weeds can be a problem in the first year because wildflower plants initially spend more time growing roots than leaves. Uncontrolled weeds can choke-out the wildflowers. Old fashion hand pulling is one remedy. This means hard work to stay ahead. If you prefer this method, be sure that you recognize which is a weed and which is a wildflower. Grow some of your selections in pots so you recognize the seedlings. If the weeds do get out of control, you can mow the area at a height of 6 to 8 inches, two-to-three times during the summer.

The site should begin to resemble a meadow by the second year. After the second year, and every three-to-four years after the flowers have set seed, the meadow should be mowed to 6 to 8 inches high and the loose vegetation composted. Natural meadows are renewed by burning; which will either require a permit or may be prohibited altogether, depending upon where you live. Burning kills woody plants, weakens weed seeds and breaks down the organic material, preventing self sown seeds from reaching the soil surface to germinate.

As a last note, use fertilizer cautiously. Use of a fertilizer high in nitrogen can result in abundant foliage growth at the expense of flowers.