How to Plant Wildflowers in Grass Without Tilling

You can plant wildflowers in an existing garden with grass cover. You do not have to extensively cultivate the land to plant wildflowers.

Wildflowers are valuable to your garden ecosystem as they provide floral resources, and nesting sites and offer protection for hundreds of insect species. They are also great ground cover plants.

wildflowers growing in grass

It is possible to establish native perennials in your grass-covered garden without tilling. Wildflower meadows offer a lot of value in carbon storage, recycling of nutrients, filtration of stormwater, and soil building. Once your wildflowers are established on the lawn, they have minimal maintenance requirements.

How to plant wildflowers in your garden without tilling

Kill existing grasses and other perennial weeds before you begin planting wildflowers. Try not to use herbicides to kill the grasses as they are indiscriminate and may negatively affect the soil quality in your garden. Use a process called smothering instead, to introduce wildflowers to your landscape without tilling the soil. Here’s how to go about it:

  1. Scalp the land once or twice after the grass blooms in the spring. Create gaps in your grass cover, where you will plant your wildflower seeds. This can be done with a hand cultivator or rotavator. It depends on the size of your land and how many wildflowers you want in your garden. If you have a large piece of land, follow this guide on how to plant wildflowers.
  2. Rake off organic matter and dead grasses to create uniform gaps on the surface. A light layer of grass and foliage clippings is good for trapping moisture in the soil. The matter should not be left to decompose in the areas you intend to plant your wildflowers.
  3. Lay several sheets of black plastic or other opaque material like cardboard over the entire area. Ensure the edges of the covering overlap by around a foot, and bury them with soil. You can alternatively hold the edges in place using rocks or any other available dense materials. This helps kill grasses and weeds under the sheets by halting photosynthesis. Weeds will not be able to sprout and grow under the coverings. You can also cover the soil with leaves and other organic materials less conspicuous compared to black plastic. You should however be careful not to enrich the nutrient levels to avoid impacting soil quality. Move the organic material to other parts of the garden once you need to start planting.
  4. Leave the soil covered through the summer, from around June to September. Once you remove the covering, you will find bare soil in which you can plant your wildflowers. Do not till the soil; this is to prevent stimulating weed growth.
  5. Plant your wildflower seeds. You can do this by either scattering your seeds with a seed spreader or using a no-till seeder.

Wildflowers do not require compost or nutrient-rich soils. Rake lightly to remove dead leaves and debris before you begin spreading the wildflower seeds. Leave the ground bare and soil undisturbed for sowing.

Need your wildflowers to grow fast? Here’s a list of fast growing wildflowers.

This process is easy and inexpensive. You can apply it in your home garden. The plastic coverings are reusable for future no-till planting. No-till planting is applicable for over approximately 25 varieties of wildflowers including gentian, butterfly weed, and purple prairie cover.

You may also be interested in planting wildflowers in pots.

Do you need to remove grass before planting wildflowers?

Yes, you should remove grass in the areas you intend to spread the wildflower seeds. Some native grasses can coexist on the same landscape with native wildflowers. The gardener decides which parts of the grass cover to eliminate to create space for the growth of wildflowers.  Clear grass until you can see at least 50% earth.

smothering grass and weeds with plastic sheet
smothering grass with plastic sheet

Remove grass through cutting and smothering. If your landscape is large you can use a chain harrow to cut and clear grass. A rake or hand cultivator works in a small garden. The goal is to create large gaps to accommodate the slow germination of wildflowers before fast-growing grass chokes them out. You have to give them a chance to germinate before they start competing for space and nutrients with the native grass.

Depending on the grass cover in your garden, it may be essential to completely clear small patches to give wildflowers the best chance to thrive. While you do this, you have to ensure you do not cultivate the land.

Can you just scatter wildflower seeds?

No you should not just scatter wildflower seeds over your unprepared garden. If you do so, your wildflowers germination rate will be low, as the sprouting seedlings will be shaded by mature plants, the young roots may choke and will likely loose the battle for nutrients.

Scatter your wildflower seeds evenly over the area you intend them to grow. Do this at least twice to ensure you have covered the entire area comprehensively.

Wildflower seeds are quite small, so scattering them is the only efficient way to plant them. You should mix the seeds with some sand to make sure you do not run out before you complete sowing. Some gardeners mix the seeds with compost. However, this might result in imbalances in the nutrients in the soil due to over-fertilization and could impede the proper growth of wildflowers.

Map out the areas where you killed the grass cover. This will help you to know how much seed you need and how to mix them with a carrier. The ratio of seeds to sand or compost does not matter.

Scattering the seeds might not be enough to initiate germination. Ensure that they are in good contact with the earth. You should not till the soil at all. Just lightly walk or use a board to compress the mixture and to keep the seeds close to the ground. Do not bury the seeds as they will likely not sprout.

What is the best time to plant wildflower seeds?

It is best to plant your seeds during the fall. Wildflower germination is enhanced by cold winter temperatures and the wetness in the soil. Wildflowers naturally establish and thrive during the wettest periods of the year.

Wildflowers need temperatures of over 10 degrees Celsius to grow. In early fall, the temperatures are appropriate for wildflowers seeds to germinate. Avoid late frosts as that could kill the seedlings.

You should ensure the seed has enough moisture to support early growth. You can water your garden regularly if your soil does not retain enough moisture. However, this can be time-consuming and wasteful. It is best to plant close to the rains so the soil is wet for longer periods.

Annual wildflowers such as Poppies and Cornflowers have a single flowering season. You can plant them during Autumn to get the best out of them. Spring is too late to plant annual wildflowers.

Perennials take longer to establish and therefore you can plant during fall or spring. The right conditions for the seed are crucial to successful germination.

How long does it take for wildflowers to grow?

Wildflowers begin growing a couple of weeks after sowing. You will see blooms during the spring. This is highly dependent on the time of the year you planted your seeds. If you selected the best planting season, you should have small plants during winter, and full blooms in spring.

Your seedlings should have enough water to reach the blooming stage. Annuals bloom about 2-3 months after they sprout. Perennials develop foliage in the first season and then bloom in subsequent seasons. They may take a year or longer to bloom. You need to be patient if you only plant perennials in your garden.

You should mix both annuals and perennials. They will bloom at different times and your garden will retain its interest all through the year.


Wildflowers are a good addition to your home garden. They provide floral resources such as nectar, are nesting sites and provide protection for butterflies, bees and other insects. Wildflower meadows allow small mammals and birds to thrive on food and shelter. Once you plant wildflowers, your landscape becomes vibrant and more attractive to insects and birds. Wildflowers have limited maintenance requirements.

You can plant wildflowers without tilling the land. Smothering is the most effective way to kill certain sections of your grass cover to allow for the sowing of wildflower seedlings. If you plant during the fall, you will have full blooms by mid springs. In general, wildflowers are a good addition to your garden if you are looking to change the ground cover and appearance of the landscape.