Grow wildlife-friendly flowers
Growing wildlife-friendly flowers in your garden, on your balcony or even in a window box is a great way to add colour and interest for yourself and nature. 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. Plus, it needn’t be expensive - a packet of seeds can be picked up quite cheaply. Have a look at the RSPB’s wildlife-attracting seeds. It’s quick, easy and the results can be stunning.
Our guide to sowing annual flower mixes and wildflower seeds
Popular wildlife-friendly flowers
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. Here’s a selection of common flowers you can find in seed mixes:
- Ox-eye daisy (white)
- Cornflower (blue)
- Phacelia (purple)
- Common knapweed (pink)
- Forget-me-not (blue)
- Bird’s-foot-trefoil (yellow)
- Foxglove (pink, white, purple)
- Viper’s bugloss (purple)
- Poppy (red, yellow, orange)
- Corn marigold (yellow)
What’s the difference between annual and perennial?
Annual flowers live for only one season, before they set seed and die. If you leave the seeds, you should get some new plants in the next season, but you’ll probably need to sow some new seeds too, to get a good display of flowers.
Perennials live much longer, as they come back with each growing season. At the end of the season, they’ll set seed and die back, just like annuals, but the next year they’ll return. If the previous season’s seeds germinate too, your perennials will spread naturally.
Why are wildflowers good for wildlife?
Wildflowers can be an important source of nectar for insects such as bees and butterflies. But that’s not all they are. Their leaves can also be a tasty treat for caterpillars, and the foliage creates a fantastic nesting site for all sorts of wildlife. Wildflower patches also encourage larger wildlife, such as birds and bats, who come to feast on the insects and seeds. It’s a great way to encourage diversity in your outdoor space.
Step-by-step guide to growing wildlife-friendly flowers
Where to sow wildflower and annual 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. Not to worry if space is limited, though. Why not use large plant pots to create a wildlife container or two?
Don’t worry too much about your soil type. Generally wildflowers prefer nutrient-poor soil, so wherever you plant them, they won’t need feeding!
Growing wildlife-friendly flowers in pots
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.
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.
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-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.
Prepare the soil for sowing
Getting the soil ready is the most important stage. You will need to sow the seed on a bare area that is free from weeds and is a fine tilth (like crumbs).
If you’re sowing in a flower bed or bare patch of soil, have a good weeding session first. You can dig them out by hand, or cover the soil with a few sheets of old cardboard for a few weeks. This will help to warm the soil and encourage any weeds to germinate and die from the lack of sunlight under the card, without needing to use harmful chemicals.
Once you’ve weeded, lightly dig the soil surface and rake it to create your fine tilth. Then, ideally leave it for a few more weeks in case that prompts more weed germination. Hoe them off, and then you’re ready to sow your seeds.
Working with a larger space? View our guide to creating a wildflower meadow.
Preparing pots for sowing
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.
If you’ve got space, creating your own compost is a great way to make your own organic, peat-free compost.
Evenly scatter the seed
It’s important to scatter the seed at the sowing rate on the packet instructions - usually around 2-3 grams per square metre. Seeds that have been sown too thickly will compete with each other and may become leggy or spindly.
Don’t worry about raking the seeds in - just gently press them down using your hand, or walk across the surface. This helps the seeds to make firm contact with the soil. If you have lots of birds like pigeons around, you can lightly rake the soil to cover the seed.
Water them in, then give them the odd water in dry spells. And that’s it!
Sit back and enjoy
Your flowers should bloom from June to September. At the end of the flowering season, let the plants set seed and die.
Remove the dead foliage (perfect for your compost) and dig over the ground in autumn to ensure weeds don’t get a hold. Then repeat, either sowing in autumn or next spring to make sure your flowers are back again next year.
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.