Create a wildlife-friendly meadow in small gardens


Look at your client’s landscape with a meadow in mind. Where would they like to see the grasses flapping in the breeze? Where could butterflies and hummingbirds fly and soar undisturbed? Do they have an unused corner or something a meadow might be hiding?

Formal. Grasslands also fit into more formal landscaping schemes. The meadow in this photo, for example, offers a charming strip of blue in spring to a Montana slope between the formal gardens. The blue comes from Lewis’s native linen (Linum lewisii), supported by two species of native cluster grasses: the blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) and half-height Indian rice (Achnatherum hymenoides). One way to achieve a more formal meadow look is to use fewer species and a narrower color palette, as shown here. You can also use a selection of sedges, all roughly the same height and texture, with some variation in color throughout the seasons.

Or you can deliberately place the plants in a more formal arrangement. For example, a formal Colorado prairie-style border might include a strip of short grasses like buffalo (Buchloe dactyloïdes) front, supported by a strip of mauve poppy mauve (Callirhoe involucrata), a strip of half-height sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), then milkweed (Tuberous Asclepias) and a high “thorn” of Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani).

Mini. If your client’s garden is a terrace, balcony or patio, you can still plant a small meadow. Group as many medium to large sized pots as space can accommodate and plant them with grassland species. Place the pots where the mini meadow will have the most impact, whether it acts as a screen or a focal point, then enjoy.

The little meadow in this photo lives on a south-facing entrance patio in Wyoming. It includes a small barbon halfway up (Schizachyrium scoparium); Idaho shorter fescue (Festuca idahoensis), with filiform and bluish leaves; Sunset Crater Tongue (Penstemon clutei); gaura (Gaura Lindheimeri); and non-native annual sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima), which nourishes early pollinators before native wildflowers begin to bloom.

If your client has room for six pots in their outdoor space, for example, plant half of them with grasses or grass-like plants, and group them together for maximum meadow effect – grasses. waving in the wind. One pot can hold one tall grass and two can hold half-height grass or a grass-like plant (choose species that will provide different colors and textures). Next, plant a small shrub or sub-shrub in a pot with a taller wildflower, plus two containers with flowers, preferably those that appeal to pollinators and bloom at different times of the season.


Grasslands can be created either by arranging potted plants in a naturalistic way or by sowing. Whichever method you use, if the meadow site needs to replace the existing lawn, either smother the sod by covering it with layers of cardboard (weighted with stones or planks) for several months, or cut the sod and plant it. pre.

Of pots. Starting with potted plants works well in very small places and gives you more control over the design, as you can place each plant for maximum effect. For a natural look, avoid putting the plants in a straight line; instead, group them in threes or fives and stagger the groupings for a random appearance.

From the seed. For larger spaces or a more random look, seeding your meadow is the way to go. It is also much cheaper. You can always plug in the potted plants later for more colors, flowers, or additional species or varieties.

Prepare for seeding in the same way as for planting, especially if the meadow is replacing the existing sod. It is imperative that any existing sod be killed, otherwise you will have to constantly weed the lawn grasses in the meadow to keep them from taking over.

Meadow mixes are widely available in nurseries and online; however, many include species that are not native or that are aggressive. A plant labeled “wild flower” is not necessarily neither native nor desirable. For example, many grassland mixes contain bachelorette’s bud, a European native that can be a nuisance, and the Shasta daisy, also native to Europe, which is now considered a noxious weed in parts of the world. Where is.

Before purchasing a grassland mix, read the label carefully and look for invasive or unwanted species. Local cooperative extension offices can help you find out which species are invasive; most states also maintain invasive species lists online.

Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Choose plants

Seasonal interest. When choosing plants or a mixture of seeds, consider how your client’s meadow will look with the seasons. In a small space, it is especially important to include plants that are of interest and provide year round habitat. Look for plants that turn green and flower early; which even liven up the “scorching days” of late summer, when many plants seem tired from the heat; and which give color in the fall.

Don’t forget the architecturally shaped plants for the winter. Using shrubs, taller grasses, and sturdier flowers results in a prairie presence, even when snow can flatten finer-textured grasses and more delicate wildflowers. Winter hardy plants also provide habitat for wildlife, both food and shelter, which is one reason not to tidy up a meadow until spring begins and regrowth. Leaving the dried stems intact over the winter creates good prairie habitat, especially for native bees and songbirds.

In this garden, the plants that stand out – and stand up – under the snow are mid-height and tall grasses, including barbon (Schizachyrium scoparium), the tuft of orange grass; rubber rabbit brush (Ericameria nauseosa); and the Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani), the latter two retaining their dried flower heads for winter interest.

Photo: Susan J. TweitPhoto: Susan J. Tweit

Pollinators and other useful wildlife. Don’t forget about pollinators and other wildlife when selecting plants or a seed mix for your client’s small meadow. Be sure to choose plants that will provide food and shelter for the “little guys who really run the world,” as biologist EO Wilson puts it.

Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella) in this photo is an example of a perfect super habitat plant for small prairies because it offers beauty and multiple benefits. It is attractive to a wide variety of pollinators, including beetles and native bees. Its seeds also nourish goldfinches, siskins, domestic finches and other small songbirds. And it’s a long-blooming native wildflower that thrives in prairie plantings and doesn’t attract deer or rabbits.

Even if the meadow is made up of grasses and herbaceous plants, for example, they will provide seeds for songbirds. And you can promote butterflies by selecting native grasses that feed the butterfly caterpillars. Caterpillars are quintessential picky eaters, as illustrated by the precipitous decline of monarch butterflies.

Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed plants, specifically milkweeds native to North America. Plowing the prairies for agricultural fields and spraying roadside herbicides nearly wiped out milkweed populations, and therefore monarch butterflies. As milkweeds are replaced, monarchs are returning.

Good sources of information on what pollinators use which plants include field guides for butterflies, like this by Robert Michael Pyle The Audubon Company Field Guide to Butterflies, with an index of pollinating plants, and the Xerces Society’s Attract native pollinators.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is from Houzz and was written by Susan Tweit. Tweit is an award-winning plant biologist, writer and speaker, and landscape / garden consultant specializing in nature and habitat restoration for songbirds and pollinators.


Chris B. Hall

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