Plant a Meadow Garden
Posted: November 22, 2011
By: Connie Schmotzer, Consumer Horticulture Extension Educator
Now is a great time to plan and prepare a meadow garden. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Prepare the site
Choose a site that gets at least 6 hours of sun. Kill all existing vegetation so that you start out weed free. Use sheet mulching to minimize preparation. Mow the area as short as possible. Water, then cover with cardboard or newspaper ten sheets thick. Make sure no light gets through this barrier. Water well. Cover with mulch. Leaves and grass clippings from the last fall mowing make an excellent mulch. The garden will be ready to plant in spring. Meanwhile, start thinking about which plants you will use.
Choose your plants
The plants you choose will depend on the site: Wet or dry? Well drained or soggy? Fertile soil or poor? (A Penn State soil test will give you information on fertility.) Most meadow plants do not do well in soil that is fertilized.
Decide how tall you would like your meadow to be. If you want to use it as a screen you will choose plants that are 6 ft or more tall. If you are using it to replace lawn you may prefer shorter plants.
50% or more of a natural meadow is made up of native grasses. The remaining are flowering perennials; but you can increase the percentage of flowers to create more of a garden effect.
Some grasses to consider for a short meadow include Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), Sideoats grama (Bouteloua gracilis),or Little Bluestem (Schizachryium scoparius). There are many native flowering perennials to choose. For a dry site, Butterfly weed (Aslcepias tuberosa) is a must. Add some Nodding onion (Allium cernuum), Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohioensis), Penstemon (Penstemon digitalis), Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida) and some asters, and you will have a meadow that will be in bloom from spring to fall. If your site is constantly moist, try Bee Balm (Monarda didyma), White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra), or Helen’s Flower (Helenium autumnale). Your local Penn State Extension office can provide more options and a list of places where you can purchase plants.
For a small meadow of 50 to 100 square feet, purchase plants in quart pots and space them 12” to 18” apart depending on the mature size of the plant. Plant directly through the mulch bed you prepared in the fall. Remember to free the roots on each plant and water well. You may need to water several more times before the plants are established. The mulch will help hold in moisture and keep down weeds for the first growing season.
Maintaining your meadow garden
Until the plants are mature (typically eighteen months) you will need to pull weeds, particularly at the edges. Yearly maintenance involves cutting the plants down at the end of March. Plants debris can be shredded and used in other beds, on paths, or can be composted.
You will be surprised how quickly your meadow garden grows and becomes a haven for butterflies, birds and other pollinators. Next summer you can sit back and enjoy the parade of colorful visitors!