How Can Wildflowers Benefit Shoots?

How Can Wildflowers Benefit Shoots?

Over the past few years, we have seen wildflowers become a feature of more and more shoots due to their ability to brighten a landscape, attract insects and help sustain partridge and pheasant chicks. And the good news is – whether sowing a bumblebee mix or something more elaborate – there is a something for all requirements. 

As well as reflecting the type of insects shoots may wish to attract, the mixtures available also say a lot about the type of site a shoot wishes to create, from meadowlands to hedgerows and just about everything in between. 

With land in short supply for many shoots, the appeal of wildflowers to grow where traditional cover crops do not is substantial - namely in semi-shaded areas, giving the gamekeeper additional habitat for chicks while utilising otherwise dormant land. They can even be used as a deterrent against trespassers – seldom do people walk over a wildflower area. 

Planting wildflowers underneath pylons has shown to be a particularly good example of transforming an unsightly scrub into a pleasing visual amenity; this can be achieved by spraying-off the vegetation, clearing the dead foliage, raking the surface into a light tilth and broadcasting the seed before treading it in. This relatively low-labour procedure is essentially the same for all situations, the main variable being the choice of mixture used – as matching the mixture to site and soil type is crucial. 

Generally, we advise shoots that it is good practise to test the soil against high fertility to avoid grass species overwhelming the mixture – something that is all too common. If a knapsack is not available it is acceptable to clear with a strimmer and then scrape remaining vegetation and rubbish away. 

Regardless of the mixture – whether perennials or annuals – wildflowers need to be cut in the autumn and the cuttings taken away. Perennials also need to be cut in spring. Though not severely and only to the height of the wildflower heads – overcutting will kill the crop. 

It is important not to think of wildflowers as cover crops, though they are complementary. The seeds and insects provide a rich supply of early feed with the insect activity engaging the invertebrates. Another benefit of wildflower mixtures how they can benefit soil structure. For example, a mixture containing 20-plus species including deep-rooted trefoils, field poppies, sainfoins and clovers can thrive in drought-prone areas and stabilise the banks and verges on which they grow.


THE DOS AND DON’TS OF GROWING WILDFLOWERS

DO -

  • Clean seedbed as thoroughly as possible
  • Select the right mixture for soil type (this will help with future management)
  • Control the grass by cutting back
  • Remove the cuttings in autumn 

DON’T -

  • Apply fertiliser
  • Cut too short (this will kill some of the species)
  • Cut mid-summer (this will kill the crop)
  • Drill (too deep)
  • Graze (as some species poisonous)

Commonly asked questions...

 

1)    How do I avoid dominant species such as rattle, ox-eye daisies or poppies taking over the mixture? 

Species that tend to dominate can partly be controlled by limiting inclusion rates to, say, 5% of total mixture; while such species will retain a propensity for ‘conquest’, proper management; i.e. cutting back in autumn (removing the cuttings) and sometimes in spring (if grass too abundant) will help contain the species balance. 

 

2)    Can you grow wildflowers on fertile soil?

Yes. Some wildflowers will actually grow bigger. The problem is that grass will grow bigger still and overwhelm; this can be ameliorated by starving the soil of nutrients and clearing as much plant growth as possible pre-sowing.

 

3)    Is there a different approach to managing annuals as opposed to perennials? 

Yes. Annuals should not be cut in spring unless subject to excessive grass growth. Ideally annuals should be cut only in October (or once seeds have fallen out of the heads) and the cuttings removed. Perennials should be cut in spring and autumn; in spring cutting the grass only to the height of the wildflower head; in autumn cutting back more sternly, and the cuttings removed.

 

4)    To what extend can a wildflower mix be tailored to attract certain types of insects, and therefore certain types of bird? 

It would be foolhardy to suggest that a wildflower mix will determine the exact ensemble of insects and birds to follow; but in the same way as Borage, Birdsfoot trefoil, Clovers and Echium are a safe bet to attract bumblebees; so too it is a safe bet that hedgerow-species such as Hedge Bedstraw, Musk mallow and knapweed will attract caterpillars and fly-lavvy – a favourite of partridge chicks. 

It should also be remembered that the height to which the wildflowers grow is important as well. For example, a wildflower plant that grows 6in and above is out of reach of pheasant and partridge chicks; yet for the Yellowhammer it is ideal because it likes to jump along the ground for its feed. Also, some wildflower species produce only pollen while others produce only nectar - both are important. In all respects, the overriding message is that diversity. The larger the diversity, the more insects attracted, the greater the biomass achieved. 

 

5)     Which mixtures suit which soils? 

Please note: the wildflower species highlighted in the brackets are a small representative sample of the total species present in a mixture. A typical wildflower mixture would have between 20 and 30 wildflower species  

Answer:

  • Most soils: Standard Wildflower Mixture (includes cornfield annuals, Oxeye daisy, field poppy, Yellow Rattle) 

The Cornfield Annuals will give good colour in the first year – and the other species will come into their own in the second and subsequent years. 

  • Bank/Steep Sides: Legume Strong Mixture (includes Black Medic, Birdsfoot Trefoil,  salad Burnet, Lady’s Bedstraw, Creeping Buttercup, Lucerne) 

Takes a few years to establish but once there has a really good show of species. Also good for light loamy ground and can help soil structure in ditches and verges. 

  • Shaded Areas/Woodland: Woodland Clearing Mixture (includes wood sage, ramsons, bluebell, upright hedge parsley)

Ideal for shaded areas on edge of woodland or clearing; takes a couple of years to establish but well worth it. 

  • Dry soil: Sandy Soils Mixture (includesBlack medick, Bulbous Buttercup, Ribwort Plantain, Common Vetch)

`       Tailored for free draining areas, prone to drying out over the summer;  deep rooted varieties able to stabilise soil and thrive on very little nutrients. 

  • Semi Shade Areas: Hedgerows, Margins and Shaded Areas Mixtures (includes Hedge Bedstraw, Musk mallow, Garlic mustard, Teasel)

Also suitable for woodland edges and shaded banks 

  • Heavy Soil: Heavy Clay Mixture (Contains Ladys Bedstraw, Tufted Vetch, Yarrow, Black Knapweed)

This mixture is suitable for areas of modern acidity, i.e. below pH6 or where soil is heavy, compacted and difficult to breakup. Also, with an inclusion of yellow rattle for grass growth suspension. 

  • Peaty Soils:  Acid Soils Mixture (Contains Bethony, Common Catear, Ragged Robin, Sneezewort)

Good for peaty high organic matter soils commonly found on moors, heath lands, reclaimed land or woodland clearing.


To find out more about Bright Seeds full range of wildflower mixtures, or to discover what might work best on your shoot – head over to our website or call the office on 01722 744494.


4th April 2021

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