Establishing a wildflower patch
June 18, 2022 12:51 PM   Subscribe

I have a weird area in my yard that I'm thinking about turning into a native wildflower patch. I'm looking for advice about how to go about it.

Right now, it's mostly undesirable brush and undesirable weeds - no grass. Earlier this spring, I cleared the brush and pulled the weeds, but then ended up not being able to decide what to do with the spot, and all the weeds are back. The area hasn't been maintained for many years, so there is probably an impressive seed bank in the soil. The area was absolutely re-carpeted with weeds within a couple of weeks.

It's a perfect spot for a wildflower patch, I think. There are people in my neighborhood who have done this, but I'm not really sure how to go about it given the weed situation. To be clear, I'm not looking for suggestions to let the weeds be - these are not all native, desirable weeds that are good for pollinators. How do I get this under control, so that when my wildflowers come up, they're not full of undesirable weeds?

Most of the guides I'm finding online don't address this. I plan to probably buy a seed mix of plants native to my area, and many say that you can sow in both fall and spring for better results. So I'm trying to plan ahead for fall.
posted by Kutsuwamushi to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Of course immediately after posting it, I found this site, which goes into exactly the detail I want:

It's not for my area (I'm in the Midwest) but I can't imagine why the site preparation instructions should be different. So I guess I'll update my question to: Any tips or tricks that you can offer, in addition to what's said here about smothering with black plastic?
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:57 PM on June 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

Instead of plastic, you could do a "lasagna garden."

Good luck! I have a wildflower patch that's in year 2 and I love it.
posted by omnie at 1:05 PM on June 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Prairie Moon Nursery is always my go-to resource for wildflower stuff:
- How to prep a site for planting (note the smothering/solarizing schedule - this could be great for your patch)
- How to start a meadow from seed for all other instructions

It’s great timing now to prep for fall seeding. I’ve been transforming my yard over the past 4 years, and it’s totally worth it. I mostly used a sod cutter, which is different than your situation, but I started everything from seed.
posted by Maarika at 1:42 PM on June 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You might try this: Midwest Native Plant Society
posted by SageTrail at 7:39 PM on June 18, 2022

Best answer: Transforming Lawn to Pollinator Garden. Surprisingly (to me), this video runs down the options like rototilling and solarizing and concludes that spraying weed killer is their preferred option for effective weed control.
posted by spamandkimchi at 7:43 PM on June 18, 2022

Best answer: Early in the pandemic, Bloomington Indiana Parks and Rec posted Total Yard Makeover: From Lawn to Micro-prairie
recommends mulching/smothering (cardboard barrier) but you need months for this to work.
posted by spamandkimchi at 7:47 PM on June 18, 2022

Best answer: I recently came across this article that has some good ideas.

Particularly, what struck me as relevant to your situation:
Mr. Wilder is going native at the home that he and his wife recently moved into, where they inherited “a giant hill of Vinca.” He weed-whacked and then smothered a big section with Ram Board, wood chips and compost, plugging in wild strawberry and self-heal plants, and thickly sowing partridge pea seed and other nurse crops for good measure.
You don't need to use the exact plants he mentions, but the steps are what makes it work:
  • Weedwhack/cut down all existing vegetation to the ground
  • Smother with Ram Board, cardboard, or 3-4 layers of newspaper
  • Cover that with wood chips & compost
  • Plant your wildflowers in the wood chips/compost (he suggests plugs) but ALSO fill in the gaps between your plugs or planted wildflowers with some kind of native cover crop that will out-compete the weeds, grass, and whatever else is prone to come up in that location that you don't want
FYI I outlined how we established a nice wildflower garden on a steep hill in our yard here.
posted by flug at 2:14 PM on June 19, 2022

Response by poster: These are all great. Due to the particular layout of the spot and what I have on hand, I'm smothering it with black plastic and will probably end up following the schedule maarika linked to.

I'm still investigating what/how I'll plant. One issue is that I'm worried about the city being finicky that it looks intentional; the other is that just for personal preference, the more flowers the better. If I can catch one of the neighbors that has a beautiful established patch, I'll ask them what they did.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:35 PM on June 22, 2022

If you’re worried about the city wondering if it’s intentional, register your patch as a monarch waystation, get yourself a metal sign, and make it official! People love butterflies. All the skeptical neighbor comments stopped after I put up a sign.
posted by Maarika at 8:45 PM on June 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

Midwest, you say?
posted by koucha at 7:20 AM on June 24, 2022

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