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Annual vs Perennial Wildflower Meadows

We often have different ideas of what makes a 'wildflower meadow'. Some might picture a field full of Corn poppy, Cornflower and Corn marigold (annuals), giving a burst of colour from June/July, while others think of species like Cowslip, Bird's-foot trefoil and Oxeye daisy (perennials) offering a gradual wave of flowers emerging from spring to late summer.

While both of these are wildflower meadows, it's important to understand the differences between annual and perennial meadows, as they are managed very differently, offering different benefits to wildlife.

Annual wildflowers

Annual wildflowers offer a great source of nectar for pollinators, and provide vibrant colour from June onwards. In the UK we mainly sow 5 naturalised species known as Cornfield Annuals (including Corn poppy and Cornflower), although other annuals can be used too. 


As a long-term option, annual meadows tend to be more labour-intensive. These species need fresh soil disturbance every year for their seeds to germinate, meaning that all meadow creation steps, including cutting, soil disturbance and sowing, need to take place every year.

Nature benefit:

While cornfield annuals are a great nectar source for pollinators, and birds enjoy their seeds over winter, they don’t host as many invertebrate larvae as native perennial wildflowers. Annual meadows usually have fewer wildflower species than perennial meadows, meaning they support a smaller range of wildlife. 


Annual wildflowers have plenty to offer wildlife, but an area dedicated to annual wildflowers in the long-term would be less beneficial and biodiverse than a perennial meadow. 

Success rate: 

Annual species can thrive in bare soil, but are very unlikely to survive in existing grassland, as they struggle to compete with grasses. Conversely, plenty of hardy perennial wildflowers do well if they have enough soil disturbance when sown.

Annuals: Corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas) with Corn chamomile (Anthemis arvensis)

Annual: Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)

Annual: Corn marigold (Glebionis segetum)

Perennial Meadows

A perennial meadow (often including biennial wildflowers, which bloom and then self-seed in their second year) can be a species-rich haven for wildlife. They can also offer a longer flowering season, with some species blooming as early as April (e.g. Cowslip). 


The flora is self-perpetuating, with the species coming back every year. Many meadows only require one cut annually in order to keep fertility low, while others with more grass may need two or three cuts per year. (See our Meadow Management guide for more details.)

Nature benefit:

Perennial meadows offer almost unlimited benefits to wildlife. They can include many more species than annual meadows - as many as 40 or 50, compared to the 5 Cornfield annuals typically sown. This biodiversity in plant life supports the ecosystem much more widely, across the spectrum from butterflies and moths, to bees, birds, and beetles. 

Success rate:

Perennials and biennials are often hardy and have a high success rate. They may take time to establish, with most not flowering until Year 2, but after this point they visibly thrive and continue to develop as time goes on.

Wildflower species often emerge in perennial meadows without being sown, either from naturally dispersed seed or very old seeds still in the ground. This provides additional diversity, often from plants with a local provenance, which are important to preserve. 

Perennial: Bird's-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

Perennial: Common-spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) (Credit: Dean Wilby)

The Right Balance for a New Meadow

Annual and Perennial meadows both have their place, each offering a visual treat to humans as well as benefits to wildlife. 

Based on all the above, we believe that an Annual Meadow is right for an area which is temporarily available. However for a longer term option, a perennial meadow is most recommended in order to:

  • Offer a rich habitat to benefit wildlife, with increased biodiversity

  • Reduce workload, without an annual meadow-creation process needed

  • Provide a longer season of flowers, with colour and interest from April onwards

However, when creating a new meadow in bare soil, we recommend sowing a wildflower mix with 20% annuals and the rest biennials/perennials. This means that annual wildflowers will bloom in Year 1, benefiting pollinators and acting as a 'space saver' - preventing grasses and invasive plants from moving in. Then, from Year 2 onwards, biennial and perennial species will bloom and you (and your local wildlife) will really see the fruits of your labour.

The 80/20 split was our approach for the Forest of Flowers project, and it has worked incredibly well, with our meadows now offering a rich, colourful and diverse habitat.

For anyone starting their own wildflower area, we offer our Forest of Flowers Wildflower Seed Mix, with seeds collected from the site, including 30+ species (annual, biennial and perennial, including Yellow Rattle).

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