Planting Edmonds: How to make a meadow

Pink poppies with yellow coreopsis in the background.

Planting Edmonds’ is a monthly column written by members of Edmonds Floretum Garden Club

For years, I dreamed of growing a meadow – an open space filled with a naturalistic, rambling bounty of grasses and flowers. In spring of last year, I took the plunge and can report that converting my lawn into a wildflower meadow is a very low-maintenance, gratifying garden adventure. I am now a Meadow Proselytizer.

In addition to months of riotous beauty, a meadow provides other benefits: no more lawn-mowing (!), a reduced water bill, and because almost every inch of your former lawn is covered in plants, mercifully fewer weeds to battle.

Below I’ve outlined my approach. Your soil, light conditions, microclimate and aesthetic goals may differ from mine, so consider these suggestions rather than prescriptions.

The future meadow before grass removal.

Step 1: Select your plot. Ideally, it should receive unobstructed direct sun for at least six to eight hours per day. A few trees here and there are fine. Second best: part-sun or four to six hours of direct sun per day. My site is ideal – entirely south-facing, it soaks up eight-plus hours.

Step 2: Remove your lawn. Easier said than done. I’m usually too proud to pay for help in my garden, but for this I very wisely made an exception. Two landscapers spent two days digging up my 700 sq. ft. lawn. Make sure you have them turn the strips of sod over, grass facing down, so that the soil’s nutrients are retained for the benefit of your future meadow. Then apply 3-6” of topsoil. No need to apply fertilizer or mulch as these quick-growing plants don’t typically need it. Demarcate pathways in advance of seed-sowing so you avoid scattering seeds there; you’ll need plant-free zones to walk through while picking blooms in the months ahead.

Immediately after lawn removal. Flags indicate pathways through future meadow.

Step 3: Sow seed according to the directions on the packet. I sowed mine in mid-April and by mid-June had a very happy riot of color and texture. It’s a bit late to get started for this summer, so buy seeds now to sow for next year’s meadow.

I’ve had excellent results with seed mixes from American Meadows; the species are annual, biennial and perennial, reliably healthy, prolific and long-blooming. If you want plants that are native to the Inland Pacific Northwest, check out Northwest Meadowscapes. Both sites offer excellent tips about getting started with meadow-making. (The definition of “native” is complex and slippery. If a seed package says something like “perfect for the PNW garden,” the mixture might contain a few species endemic to Western Washington, but the bulk of it will be “filler” species, which are from other areas but do well here.)

Keep the soil damp (not saturated or flooded) for the first month as the seeds begin to germinate and grow. Rainfall may take care of this task for you. Once the plants are about 6 inches high, you don’t need to water them as often as you would your roses and containers. A light to moderate sprinkle once or twice a week will suffice. When the forecast calls for high temperatures (remember last June’s heat dome?), water generously for two to three days in advance of and after the scorcher.

Step 4: Watch them bloom — over and over again, for months and months. See passers-by swoon in front of this exuberant display. Cars will stop, passengers will leap out and take pictures, which will appear on Instagram. (No exaggeration.) Offer cut flowers to these admirers. I keep some in water-filled buckets at my front door for easy sharing. Use your meadow to infect people with the gardening bug, especially young kids. Proselytize: rave about how easy and rewarding meadow-making is.

Step 5: If you relish your meadow’s moods and colors and want to repeat the process next summer with a minimum of effort, don’t bother pulling out the spent plants at summer’s end. Just let them dry, die and flop over on their own schedule through the winter months. (My 7-foot-tall sunflower stalks were still standing until I pulled them down in mid-April.)

The benefits are many: One, your meadow has re-seeded itself without an ounce of work or cost to you, guaranteeing another glorious meadow display the following summer. Two, you are reducing the amount of bare soil where weeds can take hold in winter. Three, you are providing overwintering habitat for beneficial insects and food for birds. Four, the decomposed plants help provide nutrients to the soil, which will in turn nourish next year’s meadow.

Meadows have become very popular recently so a Google search will provide a bounty of books, podcasts, articles, and blog posts about the process. Still hesitant? Do a trial mini-meadow in a small bed the first year. Once you experience the bounty, odds are that you’ll be ripping out your lawn by next spring.

Do I have any meadow regrets? Yup. I should have done it sooner.

— By Clare McLean

Clare McLean is a writer, birder and native plant-lover who gardens in Mountlake Terrace. She recently graduated with a degree in horticulture/sustainable landscape management from Edmonds College.

  1. Great article. Congratulations on your latest degree. I look forward to reading about your new adventures and pictures.

  2. Claire, What seed mix is recommended from the two you recommend. American. There are so many. We are already planting flower seeds on our side yard but it would be nice to have different colors that reseed well. And that would be good for birds and bees. I really don’t know what is best. Thank you, Sue

  3. Sue, I have had great success with the Pacific Northwest Wildflower Seed Mix and the Native Pacific Northwest Wildflower Seed Mix. It’s so fun and so easy!! I’m glad you are inspired to add more to your garden. Enjoy!!

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