FAQs – Habitats

Grasslands

How can I create flowering grasslands?

berwick coombe meadow

The techniques for creating flowering grasslands have been evolved over the last thirty years. The seed mixes have become more sophisticated with cocktails specially designed for different soil types and the management techniques are far better understood now. Flowering grasslands can be created with seed, often combined with the planting of some of the more attractive but difficult species, or by enriching an existing grassland with wild flower plants.

On construction sites starting from bare soil where the ground is level and erosion is not a problem, a seed mix is the cheapest and usually the best method of establishing a naturalistic wild flower meadow. Plug plants are used in high visibility locations and for introducing species such as Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) and Meadow Cranesbill (Geranium pratense) which are difficult to establish from seed or slow to flower. For more technical detail click on Grassland Wildflowers and for species listing click on Wildflower Specifications in the Downloads section.

On sloping sites the slow development from seed results in risk of erosion. Wild flower plugs are therefore often planted and then oversown with grass/wild flower seed mix to accelerate establishment.

Where there is already a vegetation cover, whether unwanted scrub, course tussock grasses or gang-mown park land, plug plants offer the cheaper and more effective means of creating a wild flower meadow. Here, ploughing to produce a seed bed is expensive; it may destroy valuable fragments of the ecology and it will usually expose a seed bank of vigorous and undesirable species.

Woodlands

I want to create an ecologically interesting woodland.  How should I set about doing it?

Woodland Wakely

The details of tree planting are easily available. Below are some short notes that will help in planning your wood. The rest of this section focuses on enriching existing woodlands with the field layer of plants and flowers. This advice is targeted on introducing wild flowers to planted woods, never for ancient woodlands. Even when a new plantation is planted alongside there is very little natural movement of woodland wildflowers (about 1 m in 15 years) so introduction is necessary to create the field layer of wild flowers. If at all possible try to plant a mix of native tree species which reflect the natural woodland that would be found in your neighbourhood if nature had been left to evolve naturally. Advice on the native ‘wild’ wood types is generally available from county ecologists and the local Wildlife Trusts. Often they can specify the type as a code number (e.g. W8 is an Ash Woodland). This information can be used to draw up a list of species found in such woodlands and the ratio of one to another (see Publications). The planting should include trees, which will ultimately form the canopy, and smaller trees and shrubs which will form the understorey. The field layer can only be introduced later when sufficient shade is developed that grasses start to die out. Planting of trees and shrubs should be at variable densities to increase diversity. Much of the ecological interest of a wood occurs at the edges and especially on the south facing edge. Create rides running East-West some 10 m wide, to maximise the length of the South facing edge and to ensure that sunlight will reach the bottom of the woodland edge. Rides should be curved to prevent wind funnelling.

When can I introduce field layer species such as bluebells?

Short Wood, Northants.

Short Wood, Northants.

Woodland wild flowers are poor competitors against grass and normally aim to achieve most of their growth, photosynthesis and flowering in the spring, before the leaf canopy has opened. Woodland wild flowers can be introduced when there are established trees, which are at least five years old. Under medium to high shade levels, where there is sparse or no existing site vegetation, conditions are ideal for wild flower introduction. If there is some existing vegetation then the introductions should be targeted into the shadier, weed-free areas of the site.

Should I introduce wild flowers as seed or as plants/bulbs?

Seed can be highly effective in establishing woodland flora, provided that the seed is available, viable and reasonably priced. Plants are essential for species that mainly propagate vegetatively or when more rapid results are required.

How can I decide what species to introduce?

Kings WoodAs with wild flowers useful references are local woods, local floras and ecologists. Soil samples and especially measurement of the soil pH are extremely valuable (see Soil Analysis service). Bluebells are rarely found in woods where the pH is above 7.5. The Wildflower Specification Manual will help guide you as will the publication on Woodland species.

What woodland seed mixes are available, what do they contain and when should I sow them?

We at Really Wild Flowers have created three seed mixes, one for acid soils, one for neutral soils and a third for calcareous sites. No special soil preparation is required. Seeding can take place any time between September and March.

What species should I plant?

Plants are used when quick results are needed (e.g. bluebells from seed can take 5 years to reach the flowering stage), when the seed is very expensive (e.g. Primroses) or when the plants principally propagate vegetatively (e.g. Wood Anemones). It is better to plant small areas densely (e.g. 4 to 10 plants/m2) than to lightly plant a large area (greater seeds are produced – promoting second generation propagation).

nettle leaved bellflowerPlanting can be carried out any time from late August through to December – with the exception of wild daffodils and snowdrops which should be planted before the end of November.

In addition to the above species, other species typically planted (rather than sown as seed) are Yellow Archangel, Wood Sorrel, Ramson, Bugle, Ground Ivy , Nettle Leaved Bellflower and ferns.

How should I manage a woodland to encourage wild flowers?

Management involves managing light and weeds.

Woodland herbaceous species need light for continued survival and spread. They respond to receiving light periodically so that flowering is encouraged and seeds are set. When plantations reach the thicket stage shrubs may be coppiced or standard trees thinned to allow in more light.

In areas with moderate to high light levels it is necessary to control the growth of invasive weed species. The growth of some competitive weed species e.g. Common Nettle (Urtica dioica), Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris), Cleavers (Galium aparine), Brambles (Rubus fruticosus agg.), Docks (Rumex spp.) and grasses, such as Couch (Elymus repens), may need to be checked by cutting in early and late Summer in the first two growing seasons after introductions have been made. Only if the weed problem becomes very bad will selective herbicides be necessary.

Other habitats

How can I introduce British Orchids?

Cowslips Early PurpleOrchids generally thrive in nutrient-poor conditions , such as in unimproved chalk grasslands and species-rich meadows. A few species, e.g. the Green-winged Orchid Anacamptis morio can be found in moderately fertile conditions, but in general if the fertility of the soil is raised, the orchids will decrease.

The orchid will have growing in association with its roots the specific symbiotic fungus which are vital for its healthy future. Assistance on species selection is found in the page on Native Orchids.

The grass cutting regime needs to take into account the plants life cycle and cutting should not start until the orchid has set seed.

I want to re-create those splashes of colour you used to see at the side of the road with poppies:

Cornfield annuals

Field of cornfield annuals sown by one of our customers.

The ground needs to be cultivated and sown at 2 grams per m² with a mix of annual cornfield flowers, in the autumn through to the early spring. The flowering of poppies, cornflower, corn marigolds will peak in June. The mixture can be re-established each year by rotavating in the dead plants in the winter.

 How do I establish heath land?

Holt HeathThe soil needs to be in the pH range of 3 to 6.5, infertile and either a peat or a sandy texture. Heather plants are planted at about 4 plants per m², ideally in the autumn. A grass nurse crop can be sown.