Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor) Seed
Yellow rattle, Rhinanthus minor, is the only single species seed we sell. It can be an important plant for meadow creation. It's otherwise known as Hay rattle, as it was said to herald the harvest when it set seed. It's an annual, quick to appear through existing sward in early spring. Yellow Rattle is hemi-parasitic, like Eyebright - a distant relation - and Mistletoe. This mean that is photosynthesises, but also needs nutrients from a host plant. Rhinanthus significantly reduces the vigour of some other plants, including - most helpfully - grasses. Not all grasses though - the more vigorous, coarser species will overwhelm it. If you have lots of the thug in chief - perennial rye grass - in an area where you want to have Rattle, I'm afraid it's a lost cause. Some plants, like plantains and Oxeye daisy, have developed their own strategies to resist Yellow Rattle, so do well in swards with large Rhinanthus populations.
Once common but disliked by farmers - unsurprisingly - Yellow rattle is an attractive plant with a yellow snapdragon type of flower which pollinators find helpful too, particularly bumblebees and butterflies. It's said to represent a cockscomb, hence another of its synonyms.
Yellow rattle is an important part of most of our seed mixes, but as an individual species it can be added to existing grass if it is cut very short and raked or chain harrowed to open it up. If you're doing this, aim to have at least 50% of the earth showing, and tread in or lightly roll the seeded area to ensure good soil contact. Rattle must be sown in late summer up to the year end; the seed needs to get cold to germinate. Avoid cutting the seedlings as they appear, and the developing plants will significantly reduce the vigour of grasses, enabling other wildflowers to compete with them more effectively. When they die back they leave a helpful space for other species to use. We've written more about Rattle in our blog.
Rhinanthus seed has limited viability over time so we always make sure we supply the freshest seed available. It also needs to be processed carefully, which goes some way to explaining the cost of it. We think there at least 6 different subspecies in the UK, which vary a fair bit visually. Our seed is all UK origin, and generally comes from mixed populations in southern England.
You can expect to receive your seed within five working days of placing an order during the season to sow - August to end December. Outside this period we will take orders for delivery from August.
Yellow rattle seed is available in larger quantities at our Habitat Aid website.
Supplier: Heritage Seeds
Is My Site Suitable?
If you want to make a meadow you'll need a sunny site with relatively poor soil. Why poor soil? It's not so much that wildflowers don't like fertility, just that weeds like it more! You will have a constant battle on your hands with weeds like Dock and Nettle. If soil fertility has been improved artificially you can reduce it before starting; some people grow a crop of potatoes in the season before they start, others invert the soil so that relatively infertile subsoil is on top and the topsoil is buried.
When Do I Seed?
You can seed in spring or autumn - whenever it's wet and warm. If you seed in the spring make sure your seedlings don't conk out in a dry spell in summer, so keep them watered. If you have heavy ground don't seed too late in the autumn, as the seed will just sit on the ground and rot. If you sow in autumn you'll get some germination that season and some in the spring aftrerwards from species which need a prolonged period of cold to trigger it. These include Yellow Rattle, Rhinanthus minor. Apart from the Rattle please remember that the species in most of our mixes are all perennials and won't flower in their first year of establishment.
What Preparation Do I Need to Do?
There's no short cut here - you really need a seedbed which is clear of weeds and existing grass. Don't cheat! Firstly, your new seed needs to have light and contact with the bare ground. Second, it is much, MUCH more difficult to deal with unwelcome plants once the plants you do want are established. It's best to physically remove all existing vegetation and then rotovate/hoe any seedlings that come up. Then do it again! Rake the seedbed over to get rid of any lumps, detritus and stones.
Ready to sow
How Do I Seed?
The seed mixes we sell typically need sowing at 4g per square metre. This is not a lot! It's a good idea to add something like sand to the seed, so you don't end up running out of seed half way through your project. Don't be tempted to think the seeding rate is too low and seed at a much higher rate - you'll end up looking at a lawn; the wildflowers in the mix need space. Mark out the area you want to seed into squares using canes to help get an even covering. Scatter the seed / sand on the surface of the soil - don't bury it - and tread / roll in to make sure the contact with it is good. I would just scatter by hand unless you have a large area to cover, and do two passes - one North / South and one West / East, if you see what I mean.
How Do I Manage my Meadow Area?
Contrary to popular belief, this is not as time consuming or difficult as managing a lawn. Make sure the seedlings don't dry out. Pull out any weeds you see appearing. Early on, these will be things like thistle, mayweed, dock and nettle. All of these plants have value for wildlife, but they will take over given half the chance! Start mowing or grazing your meadow area from late July. This helps light reach the wildflowers, which typically form leaves close to the ground, and stops weeds from seeding. Don't be tempted to wait and wait before cutting it as the grass will just get thicker and thicker and fall over; it MUST be cut before September. Keep the meadow area cut or grazed from then until say early March. If you're cutting it, remove the cuttings. That's it!
Wildflower Seed Advice & Guides
Which wildflower seeds do I buy?
A simple guide explaining the different kinds of wildflower seed mixes available
How to make a wildflower meadow
An easy to follow introduction to wildflower meadowmaking
How and When to Cut Your Wildflower Meadow
A practical introduction to mowing your meadow!
Starting a wildflower meadow (Video)
Our video guide on how to start your own wildflower meadow