By Erin Cork, Georgia DNR Wildlife Biologist
To create good habitat for native wildlife, including pollinators and other insects, it is important to select flowers and grasses for your meadow that will provide nectar and seed nearly year-round. No single plant will meet this requirement, so seed mixes are carefully selected to include plants that flower at different times of year. The diversity in flowering time promotes a diversity of wildlife via the different seed and nectar sources that may be seasonally available, but also through the varied plant structure that serves as vegetative cover or, in many cases, as a food resource to caterpillars.
Suitable seed mixes to restore native plant communities, support wildlife, or provide host and nectar plants for specific pollinators can be pricy, so you want to make sure that you are giving these seeds the very best chance to successfully germinate and persist on the planted site. Site prep is the most important step to establishing a wildflower meadow and taking shortcuts at this stage can haunt you for years to come. Depending on the weed species present, it often requires multiple applications of herbicide to eliminate competition from the seed bed before planting. I would recommend that you commit your resources to planting a small site or sites < 3 acres to begin establishing your plants and developing a native seed source on your property. Eventually these plants will provide seed that will spread on their own or that can be harvested and planted on other nearby sites.
Trust the Process
Get comfortable with the idea of this wildflower meadow site being mostly dirt for at least a year – this is another good reason to start out small! I recommend downloading the Roundstone Seed Company’s free guide to establishing native grasses and forbs (wildflowers). It has some great information about the process. The guide will discuss seed drills (which can sometimes be rented from your local conservation district or Resource Conservation and Development), but many folks have had success simply broadcasting seed and driving over it.
For more information, consult a private lands wildlife biologist at the Georgia DNR Private Lands Program office by calling 229-420-1183. Our staff of professional wildlife biologists can provide technical assistance and help you develop a plan to improve your property based on your resources and objectives.