Pollinator Meadows are expansive areas full of a diversity of native plants, much like the original prairie that covered the Great Plains. These can be started from seed, all at once. You may find, though, that establishing one is easiest “bite by bite” by starting a smaller garden and then converting more turf to native plants in subsequent years.
Choose and prepare your site
Most native wildflowers need sunny conditions, but there are a number of woodland species adapted to shadier sites. Larger projects are more difficult to maintain, so taking care to situate the garden, rid the area of weeds, and prepare a welcoming seeding or planting bed is important.
- Hand digging using a sod cutter or spade is a quick but strenuous way to reach bare soil that’s ready to plant. The sod and soil you remove can even be composted, shared with neighbors, or used to help regrade around a settling foundation.
- Solarization works best with a mostly-sunny site and three months or more, but can kill the toughest of weeds and could be the easiest on larger scales.
- Sheet mulching is an option to cover most turf or plants (though you should dig out invasive weeds like quack grass, creeping bell flower, and tree seedlings), but it is easier with smaller areas.
Install your garden
- Plant with seeds, plugs, larger plants, or a mix of all three. “Local ecotype” plants and seeds are sourced within 150 miles, and will be best suited for your site conditions.
- Use a mixture of grasses and flowers. We recommend planting 80% flowers and 20% grasses. Through native grasses don’t provide nectar for pollinators, they offer a host of other benefits: garden structure, ground cover, nesting sites, and foliage for beneficial larvae.
- Choose a diversity of native plants that bloom throughout the year. The rusty patched bumble bee and many other pollinators need blooming flowers from April to October. Flowers also add visual interest to a garden.
- Think about plant massing or “drifts”. Grouping the same species of plant together has many benefits: it helps you recognize what’s a weed and what’s not, has a higher visual impact, and makes it easier for pollinators to find the flowers in bloom. (Which is easier: locating a tray of freshly-baked cookies, or tracking down individual crumbs?)
- Know that the plants will move around. You may have given every thought to where each plant will be most happy, but it may have a different idea. Ideally, you can find a balance between crafting and maintaining your vision, and allowing the plants to express their own needs and preferences. If you do find a few species are crowding out others, it may be a great opportunity to reduce their numbers and share them with others.
- Water your plants or seeds immediately.
- Install borders to reduce weed infiltration and display “intent”. Some people think native plants can look messy. A border made from mulch, stone, edging, or a low ground cover frames your garden and helps others to see the beauty you’re growing.
Keep it up
- Give it time. Native plant seeds may take months or years to germinate. Small plugs usually take 3 years to grow to maturity. Even larger plants can spend the first growing season establishing a strong root system before they fill out above the ground.
- Give it water. All plantings should receive at least 1″ of water a week in their first year.
- Give it love. Pulling weeds when they’re small helps keep your planting in tip-top shape. At the very least, we recommend weeding your garden three times a year, around Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. Depending on the size of the planting, mowing may be the best option to keep weeds down. Find more information in the Planting for Pollinators Design Guide.