How to grow a wildflower garden has relevance for fruit trees. A wildflower meadow can provide food, in the form of pollen and nectar, for many insects that can help ensure good pollination of fruit trees. If space is limited, a wild flower bed will help in any case, as well as constituting an interesting addition to a garden. Watch a video about a wild flower meadow
Without the help of pollinating insects, regular crop production is a frequently-occurring problem. The problem is that most fruit crops flower early in the growing season, when it still can be very cold and wet. These are not the climatic conditions favourable or liked by many pollinating insects.
Cherries, plums, greengages and pears, to name just a few, all flower from the middle of April onwards. But when conditions are warm early on in the season, in February/March, these fruit trees begin to flower by the end of March/early April. Where are the pollinating insects such as bumble bees, hover flies and such like at that time of year?
Honey bees are often only around in low numbers early in the season. This is due to the fact that the honey bee is not likely to come out of the hive when the temperature is below 16 degrees Celsius. The bumble bee however is fully active from 10 degree Celsius. For good cross pollination we therefore have to rely on insects such as the bumble bee, when the weather is too cold for the honey bee. If nothing is done to encourage these wild pollinating insects to do their vital cross pollination work during their quest for food in the form of nectar and pollen, the fruit trees in question are unable to produce enough fruit. Both yield and quality will be reduced.
Tips for growing a wildflower meadow
- Soil should not be fertilized, and it should be of poor vigour. Otherwise, grasses will grow too strongly.
- Sow grass and a perennial wild flower mix.
- it is a large area, create a pathway and keep just this narrow path mown, so that you can leave the rest of the wild flower meadow undisturbed.
- Mow the entire meadow in mid-late August; leave the grass there for a few days to allow flower seeds to drop. Then remove the hay.
- Repeat every year, sowing new varieties as desired.
The plant species for a wild flower meadow
Choose the various flowering species to ensure a regular food supply for insects, in the form of flowering plants, from March to September. This way, lots of pollinating insects are attracted to build their permanent homes exactly where we can make use of their pollination activities. A combination of annual single blooms and regularly flowering shrubs is possibly the best method of providing adequate food for the pollinating insects.
It is better to have lots of flowers of a few species such as Dog daisies, primroses, lavender and clover, than a much extended range of species with just a few flowers on each shrub or annually flowering plant.
To provide some specific examples, good shrubs for attracting bees and butterflies are Buddleia, Lavender, Honeysuckle, Rosemary herb, Ivy, Lilac, Privet, Elderberry, and Buckthorn. Most herbs are very attractive to bees.
Permanent wild meadow flowers liked by pollinating insects are Clovers, Vetches, Cowslips, Primroses, Dog daisies, Yarrow, Yellow rattle, Knapweed, Red campion, Meadowsweet, Plantain, Angelica and Red clover.
Hedges with Blackthorn, Hawthorn, Bramble and Dogrose are very good for hover flies.
It is a good idea to keep a diary of your meadow, recording what you have sown and what has grown. Often what is planted or sown doesn’t appear the next season, but only after a couple of years. Sometimes it appears, but in a different place with respect to where it was sown. The balance of grasses and flowers varies from year to year, affected by climate and presumably by various other factors.
By way of example, here are the species that we have observed over the years in our wildflower meadow in Suffolk.
Lots of grasses, red clover, pink clover, white clover, dog daisies, thistles, docks, field buttercups, creeping buttercups, white campion, weld, chicory, yarrow, knapweed, common vetch, tiny field vetch, black medick, birds foot trefoil, geranium (small flowers), scarlet pimpernel, hedge woundwort, common broomrape, plantain (several species), scentless mayweed, pineapple weed, ragwort, common catsear, bristly oxtongue, toadflax, corncockle, ragged robin, sorrell, cowslips, yellow bedstraw, white bedstraw, dandelions, broomrape, tassel, scabious, bugle, agrimony, yellow rattle, white bee orchid, pyramid orchid.