Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
September, 2011
Regional Report

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This lovely meadow is fully established.

Plant a Meadow Garden

A meadow garden, once established, will reflect the rhythm of the seasons. It starts with bulbs and tiny spring wildflowers, moves through summer with larger, blowsy sunflowers, gaillardia and ironweed, and then ends the season with the beautiful grasses, goldenrod, and asters. All of these will be accompanied by a plethora of butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, and songbirds.

What is a Meadow
The definition of a meadow is an area with a combination of grasses and wildflowers. Natural Midwestern meadows are mostly grasslands, so by introducing so many flowers, we are actually imitating the meadows of high altitudes of other parts of the country.

Meadow Garden vs. Prairie
A prairie garden is a bit more involved to plan, and actual prairie establishment takes years because you must build soil and recreate an entire ecosystem with interdependent relationships. So a meadow garden may be a good place to start. It's a chance to enjoy the natural succession of the seasons and the cycles of plants, from bloom to seed.

The most important thing to understand when starting meadow garden is that it will take a considerable amount of maintenance for the first three years. After that it will be established and a fairly low-maintenance garden. It is a garden, however, so will take regular intervention from you to be maintained.

Meadows vs. Traditional Lawns
Once established, a meadow garden takes much less maintenance time than a traditional lawn and is an attractive alternative to the inherent high costs to environment of keeping turf healthy. After establishment, it will usually only need mowing once a year.

Be Ready for Informality
Before plunging in, be aware that a wildflower meadow will take a different mindset than a traditional landscape. It is more relaxed in appearance and can be frustrating to some due to unrealistic expectations. The beauty is seasonal and often determined by temperature and rains. It looks spectacular in bloom, but the plants can look a bit ragged when they've gone to seed.

Small Plot or Full-Scale Meadow
As plan your meadow, you need to think about whether you want only a few spots of wildflowers or a full-scale meadow. It may be enough to start with a small meadow garden as part of your landscape. Do remember that before you begin, check with local ordinances about weed control, especially if your garden will be in the front yard. Neighbors may not be as tolerant of the seasonal changes.

With the traditional installation, in the first year you will use mostly annuals to provide spectacular display while perennials grow. In the second year some annuals will reseed if you don't mow, your perennials will bloom for the first time, and weeds will take off. In the third year your meadow will begin to take on a mature look. The perennials will now be well-established and you may need to add some annual flowers for more color. In this third year, you will begin to see relationships and interdependence, and from this point on you will need to evaluate annually and make changes as needed.

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