6 Steps for Installing a Native Wildflower Meadow

Native wildflower meadow

Native wildflower meadow

Wildflower Meadow – Holcombe Hill, Newtown, CT. We’ve been talking about meadows for many years. And yes, we’re passionate about planting them here at HFG. Why? There are many benefits to you, the homeowner, and even more to Mother Earth.

By planting natives, the foundation plant of a meadow, you become part of the ever-important link between native plant species and native wildlife, including birds, insects, bees, and more. And, you get to say goodbye to mowing that section of your lawn, which saves you time and money – and has additional sustainable benefits to our environment. 

Native meadow as yard

Mow time is cut in half and beauty exudes.

This statistic really hits home. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), one hour of operating a new gasoline lawn mower emits the same amount of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxide as driving a new car 45 miles. Garden equipment engines produce up to 5% of the nation’s air pollution. Sobering.

Summer blooms in native meadow

Early summer blooms in this local, native meadow.Now, let’s get back to what it takes to install a meadow on your property – large or small.

Proper meadow installation will only be successful if you use the correct preparation methods to avoid pitfalls. We typically start by making sure enough time is spent ridding your area of aggressive plants and mowing the meadow down the first year when the height of the growth reaches 12”. These are general best practices. There are many other exceptions and nuances to consider when installing a meadow, but don’t let it overwhelm you – we are always here to help!


6 Steps for Meadow Success: 


1. Selecting a location: Find a suitable, open location that receives approximately 6 hours of sunlight each day.

2. Assessment of site: Assess the existing vegetation. What plants are currently growing at this point in time? This step will determine what happens next.

3. Prepping the site: This step can be the most labor-intensive step based on what vegetation is in place. If the area is comprised of many woody, shrubby, or large thorny plants and/or aggressive non-natives, these will have to be removed first. Methods for ridding the area of these tough plants might include mechanical removal, burning, or selective herbicide treatment. 


If the area contains mostly existing lawn and other cool season grasses, we rid this area of vegetation by:


Mechanical removal: We prefer a sod cutter in areas where minimal stone and a good stand of existing grass are present.

Solarizing & Mowing: First, we start by mowing the grassy vegetation as low as possible (scalp mow) and then we often solarize the area by placing a plastic sheet over the top of the vegetation. Depending on the type of vegetation present (and if it’s an aggressive species), we would leave the sheeting in place for a minimum of 3 months. 

Solarizing the site and prepping it for planting

The solarization process is underway.

Once the vegetation is removed, we prefer to let the area grow out again, especially if there are a lot of aggressive annual weeds such as crabgrass that have seeds lying dormant in the soil, just waiting for the chance to germinate. Once these begin to grow again, we revisit mowing, spraying, and solarizing, or even all three! If we opt to spray, we will use a non-selective herbicide at this point, or even a natural mix of vinegar, salt, lemon juice, and soap to kill the shoot growth. Unfortunately, these organic sprays do not translocate to the root zone and will only kill off the shoots, so several repeat applications may be needed. 

4. Seeding…the fun part! After the site is generally weed free, it’s time to seed the area. We would collaborate with you on choosing a native seed mix suited to the area and growing conditions: dry, wet, or average soils.

How do we plant all of these seeds you ask? If the area is a manageable size, we lightly fracture the top surface of the soil using a stiff metal garden rake. For larger meadows, we like to use a rake towed behind a tractor or we may opt for a drill seeder. This method is used to evenly and efficiently fracture the soil and distribute the seed. Once the soil is ready and the seeding rates have been established, we prefer to mix the seed in a carrier such as a clay kitty litter container (yes, I said kitty litter!) to aid in distribution – it works well.

After seeding, a light covering of hay is laid down to protect the seed from birds and from washing away in potentially heavy rainfall.

Hay is laid for protection

Hay is laid for protection.

5. A daily rain dance: This important method may be needed and is dependent on what type of weather pattern we’re having. Praying for rain can also help.

6. The final critical step: Once your meadow reaches 12-18” the first season, we will need to mow the area down (even if there are flowers…yes, tough…we know!). We do this at a minimum until late July – it allows the young developing flowers to become strong enough to stand up against the more aggressive grasses in the seed mix.

fall native meadow

This homeowner is now reaping the reward – seasonal beauty.

Sit back and enjoy your, new, ever-changing landscape – complete with all of its seasonal offerings while knowing you’ve given a special gift back to our friend Mother Nature.

The Importance of Rewilding Our Landscapes

a rewilded landcape in fall
a rewilded landcape in fall
A young, rewilded property – Newtown, CT

As a landscape designer, I’m constantly taking in elements of the surrounding landscape, both in my many travels throughout the U.S. and at properties, I visit locally. I often slow my car down to a crawl, sometimes parking on the shoulder with hazards blinking, just to get a better view of a visually appealing landscape (peering behind fences if needed) or at times… an appalling one. After snapping a few photos, I drive away and contemplate how we can pass along the positive attributes from sites that hold appeal and apply these ideas and solutions to the less appealing ones. I find myself constantly attempting to bring forward creative ways to fix these neglected eyesores or improve upon a simple, unfinished garden. These neglected areas have always bothered me – how and why did they get this way? It seems that in the many spaces where humans lay hands in the form of progress, we tend to mess it up.

By providing food, housing, roadways, and other basic human needs to society, natural spaces have become lost, leaving only the remains of scarred landscapes in far too many instances. The responsibility is then left to the property owners, developers, landscape designers, engineers, architects, and landscape professionals to make good land-use decisions that will enhance these areas. If left as is, these sites tend to become a dumping ground for additional debris, turning natural spaces into permanent, unwelcoming eyesores. Once these areas become overrun with invasive plants, debris, or are neglected, a door opens for even more degradation, including dumping and trash pile up, noxious weeds galore, and more. Like a teenager’s room – the messier it becomes, the more it’s inclined to move down a path of further disarray.

Not all development is unpleasant and imbalanced. Here in the Northeast, we’re fortunate to be surrounded by many examples of beauty in both the natural landscape, from the coastal areas, rolling hills, woodlands, and wetland areas – to pleasantly planted areas in which property owners have spent considerable time and resources on development and maintenance.

land development
Landscape development in action

However, it’s nearly impossible to go anywhere and not see where the heavy hand of development has left a landscape in crisis. Take a look around and you’ll see evidence of these changes in many forms including erosion, invasive plants that take over our tree canopies and their understory (thus depleting wildlife habitats), hot sediment, and pollutant-infused water from roadways entering our streams, aquifers, and ultimately our drinking water, along with the effects of climate change. This development taking place all around us is in the form of roadways, parking lots, buildings and even playing fields to name a few.

newly planted natives taking root
A rewilded landscape in Newtown, CT

Luckily, landscape designers and gardeners are uniquely positioned to make a difference by rethinking how we approach our land practices. This gives me hope – there are ways to make enhancements, even on a small plot of land. The practice of rewilding our landscape has gained global attention and has proven to be an effective and valuable approach to healing the land on a parcel by parcel basis.

native meadow
A native meadow installed at a property in Newtown, CT; an easy way to achieve a naturalized setting

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a democratic Union that brings together the world’s most influential organizations and top experts in a combined effort to conserve nature and accelerate the transition to sustainable development, had this to say about the critical need for this paradigm shift in landscape development:

Human activity is degrading ecosystems and driving biodiversity loss faster than ever before. The need to reverse these trends is formalized in Sustainable Development Goals 14 and 15. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and the post-2020 global biodiversity framework provides opportunities to rebuild the biodiverse ecosystems which sustain all life on Earth. Rewilding has the potential to do so at a landscape scale, and brings other important benefits for society.”

The rewilding practitioner achieves the goal of reversing biodiversity loss and restoration of healthy ecosystems by utilizing native plants to create the framework for naturally occurring biodiversity (before human disturbance) to repopulate the area and become a functional system. In essence, plant it and they will come!

Meadow crane's-bill
Geranium pratense (Meadow Cranesbill)

The benefits of using native plants compared to exotic species are tremendous. Doug Tallamy, an entomologist and professor at the University of Delaware, conducted a study chronicling the benefits of oak trees in our landscapes as it pertains to the diversity and quantity of caterpillar species that are supported by oak trees. He looked at caterpillars as they “fuel the food web” –  “they are so important, critically important, in running our ecosystems, and that’s what attracts me. Oaks are not just another plant,” Tallamy mentioned in his 2020 best-seller “Nature’s Best Hope”. Although oaks may take the prize for the overall numbers of other species that depend on them, not all properties can accommodate the space oaks require, and therefore other native plants-shrubs, perennials, groundcovers, and smaller tree species fill those needs.

Oak tree
Quercus alba (White Oak)

Our native plants have coevolved with the local animal species for hundreds of years. This symbiotic relationship provides food and shelter for the fauna, while the flora benefits from the propagation and dissemination of its own species. Exotic plants do not share the same qualities. Some, in fact, create issues in the form of invasive plants overrunning our properties along with providing empty calories for our local creatures. In turn, creating a veritable dining dessert, akin to a junk food diet. It’s always a good idea to supplant exotic plants with more resilient and beneficial native ones. Along with providing clean air, water, food and shelter, and even medicine, these transformed landscapes can help increase carbon removal and provide socio-economic opportunities that include community wellness through passive outdoor activities.

deer in woods

10 Rewilding Initiatives as Outlined by the IUCN Commission:

1. Rewilding uses wildlife to restore food webs and food chains.
2. Rewilding plans should identify core rewilded areas, ways to connect them, and
ensure outcomes are to the mutual benefit of people and nature.
3. Rewilding requires local engagement and community support.
4. Rewilding focuses on the recovery of ecological processes, interactions, and
conditions based on similar healthy ecosystems.
5. Rewilding recognizes that ecosystems are dynamic and constantly changing.
6. Rewilding should anticipate the effects of climate change and act as a tool to
mitigate its impacts.
7. Rewilding is informed by science and considers local knowledge.
8. Rewilding recognizes the intrinsic value of all species.
9. Rewilding is adaptive and dependent on monitoring and feedback.
10. Rewilding is a paradigm shift in the coexistence of humans and nature.

a landscape rewilded
Storm King Art Center in New Windsor, NY offers the perfect example of a rewilded landscape

We all live on pieces of land that intersect with the natural landscape. How do we achieve better integration? How do we reconnect the native landscape to the planted one and do so in an artful and resilient way? It can be accomplished by creating spaces that take care of themselves – helping not just our visual feast but an actual veritable feast for nature’s creatures… and even our four-legged friends.

dog in native meadow

We can do this with one plant, one parcel at a time. Let’s clean up our rooms!


It’s Time to Start Planning!


Welcome to the Winter Edition of our new Quarterly Newsletter! 

Winter may seem like a quiet time in the landscape – in actuality, it’s anything but. Along with keeping an eye on plants and prepping garden tools for use in spring, taking a closer look at invasive plants while they’re in a dormant state and creating a garden plan for implementation in spring allows you to start with a clean slate and dive into the upcoming growing season with ease and excitement!

Take Control of Invasive Species

The best time of year to remove pesky invasives from the landscape is now, while they’re in their dormant state and before the native plants emerge. Invasive plants spread to wetlands and other natural areas crowding out the native plants that birds depend on. A few common culprits to be on the lookout for include – Garlic Mustard, Oriental Bittersweet, Multiflora Rose, and Japanese Knotweed.

Getting Creative in Winter 

hand drawn garden plan
Hand drawn garden plan, Dan Holmes

One of our favorite things to do during the winter months is to create personalized landscape designs for our clients. When approaching a re-design, a revamp of an old garden, or updating a site that offers a clean slate, we first carefully take into consideration our client’s goals and at the same time observe and understand the location and its unique conditions. By looking at plant material both naturally occurring and previously planted, observing how water flows throughout the site (including drainage and topography), and assessing the health and location of large trees – we are able to create a design that’s perfect for the site and also fulfills the property owner’s vision.

Now is the Perfect Time to Focus on Tree Concerns

tree work via bucket

Check out our latest ad featured in the Newtown Bee


Did you ever notice how cool bark REALLY is?

There’s a lot more to bark than meets the eye – it’s similar in many ways to our own skin and plays a pivotal role in a tree’s survival by keeping moisture in and infection out. Bark also provides endless benefits to a host of other species within the forest ecosystem and adds aesthetic beauty to the landscape including the depths of winter when its texture really comes to life.

Sweet Dirt
Welcome to Sweet Dirt! In this section of our newsletter, you’ll find links to safe local activities to seek out, books to read, movies to watch, and other tidbits – all with a nod towards the horticultural world we love.

Consider taking a short drive up the road to NYBG! Among many horticultural happens both onsite and online, here is a mesmerizing opportunity not to be missed!

Saturday, April 10 – Sunday, October 31, 2021

Public tickets on sale: March 16, 10 a.m. ET

Experience Yayoi Kusama’s profound connection with nature
Contemporary Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is one of the most popular artists in the world, drawing millions to experience her immersive installations.

Exclusively at NYBG, Kusama reveals her lifelong fascination with the natural world, beginning with her childhood spent in the greenhouses and fields of her family’s seed nursery. Her artistic concepts of obliteration, infinity, and eternity are inspired by her intimate engagement with the colors, patterns, and life cycles of plants and flowers.

entangled life book

Speaking of fungi… here is a book that comes highly recommended you may want to check out.

“Merlin Sheldrake’s marvelous tour of these diverse and extraordinary life forms is eye-opening on why humans should consider fungi among the greatest of earth’s marvels. . . . Wondrous.”—Time

In keeping with our mushroom theme, we recommend this award-winning documentary film about the secret world beneath our feet.

fantastic fungi movie