April showers bring May flowers
April can be a month of changeable and often deceiving weather. You may know the saying, ‘March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers’. The sea temperature around the British Isles is at its lowest around now, but the brighter and longer days cause a big increase in daytime heating on land. This disparity causes the formation of shower clouds. So even though April is overall fairly dry, we see short sharp bursts, rather than days of drizzle. The warming soil, brighter days and heavy downpours, make April one of the best months for sowing seeds of hardy plants directly onto bare soil. This could be hardy vegetables or cut flowers sown in rows, or meadow seed mixes broadcast over bare ground.
While sowing over open ground removes the need for seed trays, compost, pots, and greenhouses, it’s not as care-free as many beginners mistakenly believe. Natural soils and homemade composts typically contain an abundance of dormant seeds, waiting for light and warmth to bring them into growth. While plenty of ‘weeds’ will look great in a meadow, there is a line to be drawn between a big load of weeds and a swathe of wildflowers, but only you can draw that line. It’s totally subjective.
One option is the ‘stale seedbed’ method. This means creating good conditions for germination by raking the soil to a tilth, and then watering the area if needed until it’s covered with a green haze of weed seedlings that can be easily hoed off on a dry day. Doing this once or twice before sowing your chosen seed can hugely reduce competition from weeds, and really help if you know you’ll struggle to tell the difference between weed seedlings and those of the seeds you sowed. If you’re sowing a large area of meadow, another good idea is to lay down around 7-8 cm depth of weed-free mulch, into which your seeds can be sown. At this depth, very seeds in the soil beneath will push through. Municipal compost can be a good choice, generally composted at high enough temperatures to kill all weed seeds. Ask if it is PAS100 standard, which means it should be weed-free.
Although April showers certainly help germination and establishment, rainfall alone can rarely be depended on. If they are struggling to germinate, keep them watered during a warm spell, but don’t flood them every day or they may all rot off. Once germinated, a really thorough and deep soak once a week for a few weeks will get their roots down and ready to find their own water for the rest of the year. A combination of thorough watering and weeding early on, will help get your desired plants to fill the space quickly, cutting the need for weeding and creating a magical low maintenance display as soon as possible.
A little thought and energy during the creation of a meadow goes a long way, get it right and you’ll be thanking yourself for years to come.