For farmers wanting to increase pollination and beautify their properties, planting wildflower meadows is a good way to provide food and shelter for beneficial insects, birds and other wildlife, not to mention add color and texture to the landscape. But knowing what native plants to start with and when to seed can pose a challenge, so the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension is conducting research in wildflower meadow establishment.
Cathy Neal, UNH Cooperative Extension nursery and landscape horticulture specialist, and research assistant Amy Douglas-Papineau, have been performing the ongoing research and recently released an online resource for wildflowers native to the New England area. The online guide provides photos and information about wildflowers from seedlings to mature plants—something unique to this particular guide—in order to help farmers identify young wildflowers. The guide includes collection of more than 50 wildflower species, which users can browse as a whole or follow prompts to narrow down a search.
According to Neal, a wildflower meadow with many different species of native perennials and grasses is a beautiful alternative to turf or other intensively managed landscapes. Meadows provide food and cover for pollinating insects, birds and wildlife, as well as capture storm water, allowing it to slowly soak into the ground rather than run across farm soil into lakes, streams or storm drains.
Although establishing a wildflower meadow might require more work than expected, once established, little time and money are needed for its maintenance. Meadow site preparation techniques, timing and using transplants instead of seeds are components Neal and Douglas-Papineau are evaluating.
The New Hampshire Plant Growers Association Horticulture Endowment Fund provided initial funding for the research. Since the project began three years ago, further funding has been provided by New England Grows, and UNH College of Life Sciences and Agriculture through the Anna and Raymond C. Tuttle Environmental Horticulture Fund.
To view the online guide, visit the UNH Cooperative Extension website.