Growing wildlife-friendly flowers

A wildflower meadow will create a lively feeding and nesting ground for insects, birds and small animals.

A wildflower meadow filled with a bright array of Poppies.
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Growing wildlife-friendly flowers is a great way to give yourself and nature a boost, no matter how much space you’re working with. 

If you have a balcony or windowsill, you could sow some seeds in a pot or window box. If you’ve got more room, planting a patch in your garden or even a whole wildflower meadow will do wonders for local wildlife.  

Fast-growing annual plants like poppies, corn marigold and cornflowers grow from seed to a mass of flowers in a few months, providing a buffet for bees and butterflies, food for birds, and cover for other creatures. So why not have a go? Read on to find out how.  

What you'll need

  • Outdoor space; garden, balcony, window box or pot
  • Wildlife-friendly seeds
  • Peat-free compost (if sowing in pots)
  • Dry silver sand (if sowing a large patch or meadow)
  • Trowel (optional)
  • Rake
  • Cardboard or weed membrane (optional)
  • Watering can
Wildflower meadow with a bee perched on a purple flower

What are the best wildflower seeds to sow?

There are so many flowers, grasses and plants that are loved by bees, butterflies and other wildlife. With their rich colours and soft foliage, these wildlife-attracting flowers are a joy. Look for at least a few of the following plants in your wildflower seed mix.

  • Birds-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) (important for Common Blue butterfly caterpillars)
  • Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) (important for Small Copper butterfly caterpillars)
  • Cowslip (Primula veris)
  • Field Scabious Hoary (Knautia arvensis)
  • Hoary Plantain (Plantago media)
  • Greater Knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa)
  • Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra)
  • Lady's Bedstraw (Galium verum)
  • Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus acris)
  • Ox-eye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)
  • Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)
  • Wild Carrot (Daucus carota)
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
  • A range of wild grasses, such as bents (Agrostis spp.), fescues (Festuca spp.) and Crested Dogstail (Cynosurus cristatus) (not lawn grasses)

Where to sow wildflower seeds

You’ll need to find somewhere in your garden or outside space that gets plenty of sun. The larger the area, the more wildlife value – and visual spectacle – you will get. Don’t worry too much about your soil type. Wildflowers tend to prefer nutrient-poor soil, so wherever you plant them, they won’t need feeding.

A mix of wildflowers in a meadow

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When to sow wildlife-friendly seeds

You can sow annual flower and wildflower seeds in early spring, from March to April, or in autumn, around September to October. Sowing in early spring will provide a subtle tapestry of colour over the summer, while a late autumn sowing will bring gorgeous spring flowers and early food for wildlife.

Wildlife to look out for

The wildlife that comes to enjoy your flowers will depend on where you live, but you should see lots of bees on your poppies and on any blue flowers, such as cornflowers. Butterflies enjoy the likes of Bird’s-foot-trefoil, while smaller pollinating insects such as hoverflies love Phacelia and Borage. Take a closer look and you should see beetles and maybe even birds foraging among the stems.

A lone Peacock Butterfly perched on a yellow flower.

Growing wildlife-friendly flowers in pots step by step

If you don’t have a lot of outdoor space – or even none at all – don’t panic. You can still grow flowers for nature. Try sowing your flower seeds in pots or window boxes.

Step one: Picking your pot

You can choose one big pot, or perhaps a series of smaller pots to add height difference to your display. Why not get creative with your containers and upcycle colourful metal tins or a Belfast sink? If you’re sowing into containers on a balcony, do check your building rules and ensure it can support the weight of the filled pots. And you can even grow annual flower mixes and wildflowers in window boxes or pots on your outside windowsill.

Step two: Creating the right conditions

If you’re sowing in containers, make sure your pot has drainage holes in the bottom. Pop a few pebbles or shards from an old broken pot into the bottom to aid drainage. Then simply fill your pot with peat-free compost, breaking up any clumps with your fingers. Gently smooth the surface without compacting the soil.

Step three: Sowing your seeds

Spread seeds thinly on the surface of the soil, before adding a sprinkling of compost, then pressing down gently with your hands and watering.

Step four: Looking after your pots

Keep watering your pots regularly, especially in dry weather when they can easily dry out.

A single hand dropping seeds into soil with green plants in the background.

Growing a wildflower patch or meadow step-by-step

Step one: Choosing a spot

Your meadow or patch needs to be somewhere open that’s sunny for most of the day. It can be flat or sloping. A relatively large area is best, where you have space for growing a mix of wildflower species. You can create a wildflower meadow from existing lawn.

Step two: Getting your soil into a state

Yes, you read that right. To start with, your soil is likely to be too rich for wildflowers, which need poor soil, especially if it’s had fertiliser added over the years. You can reduce fertility by removing the top three to six inches of topsoil, using a turf cutter or a spade and muscle-power. If you don’t want to strip the soil, you can reduce fertility by growing mustard plants from seed in the first year. Part of the brassica family, they’re very hungry plants and will remove some of the nutrients from the soil as they grow.

A small pile of compost, with a trowel on top. Terracotta flower pots in the background, five of them are planted with green plants.

Step three: Weeding

Your patch or meadow needs to be free from weeds and raked to a fine tilth (like crumbs) before sowing. You can dig weeds out by hand or cover the soil with a few sheets of old cardboard or weed membrane for a few weeks – the lack of sunlight should kill most of them off. Once you’ve weeded, lightly dig the soil surface and rake it. Then, ideally leave it for a few more weeks in case the raking encourages more weed germination. Weed any seedlings out, and then you’re ready to sow.

Step four: Seeding

This is the fun bit. For best results, start in early spring or wait until autumn. You need about five grams of seed per square metre of meadow. You’ll be sowing wildflower seeds very thinly, so it's best to mix your seed with dry silver sand (the type used for block paving). Don’t use builders' sand as it’s not fine enough and is usually too damp. Pale-coloured sand helps you see where you've already sown and if you've missed anywhere. A good ratio is usually three-five parts sand to one part seed. Scatter the seeds as you walk across the ground. There's no need to rake the seed in or cover it with soil, but gently walk across it so that the seeds are in contact with the soil. You may need to cover it with netting to protect it from birds. Water the seeds and keep them well-watered in the first year, especially during dry spells.

Step five: Mowing

You’ll need to mow your patch or meadow every now and then to keep it thriving. After your meadow has flowered, seedheads should form (usually from midsummer through to autumn.) Once they have formed, wait until dry weather is forecast for a few days and cut the growth back. Leave cuttings to dry on the ground for two days to allow seeds to fall into the soil. After a few days, remove the dried material. By varying the time you mow each year, you can help stop certain plants dominating. If you're cutting early (e.g. in July), leave an area uncut as a grasshopper refuge as this is when their young (called nymphs) are most vulnerable.

Step six: Enjoy!

Your meadow will evolve year by year, attracting more and more creatures. You should see bees, butterflies and grasshoppers, if you’re lucky. Birds should feed there, too, and bats may fly over the top.

Bumblebee on a purple scabious flower against a green backdrop

This activity is part of Nature On Your Doorstep – our call-to-arms to transform your outdoor space (window boxes welcome!) into a wildlife haven.