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Can I plant flowers in my wood?

Woodland flowers are just one of the many delights to be found when visiting woods in spring. If you are managing or creating a wood you might be eager to encourage or increase ground flora, but can you do this?

 

Why do some woods have so many flowers?

Many woodland ground flora species are slow to colonise new areas. It can take a long time for them to spread, so they are generally more abundant in the more stable conditions offered by ancient woods and their less disturbed, nutrient-rich soils. Most flower in spring when the trees have less leaves and more light reaches the forest floor, but they are more tolerant to lower light levels than open habitat species.

Celandines adding some yellow to a woodland in spring. (Photo: WTML)
Celandines adding some yellow to a woodland in spring. (Photo: WTML)

I’d like to plant flowers in my wood

Please do not plant anything in a wood that you do not own unless you have the permission of the landowner. If you would like to plant flowers in your wood, we recommend buying a range of different native species from a respected nursery that supplies stock sourced and grown in the UK. We also recommend you survey your wood to see what species are already there, so that you do not upset the natural balance, especially in ancient woods. It is often best to plant flowers at woodland creation sites, where there is likely to be a natural lack of woodland flora species. There are several UK nurseries and organisations that specialise in selling wildflowers. 

Early purple orchids flowering in an ancient woodland site undergoing restoration. (Photo: WTML/Jim Smith-Wright)
Early purple orchids flowering in an ancient woodland site undergoing restoration. (Photo: WTML/Jim Smith-Wright)

Be aware that if you wish to cover even a small wood it will be very expensive to do so. For larger woods it may not be possible as there is limited supply of wildflower bulbs and seeds and you may not be able to obtain the volume you’d need through accredited nurseries. We do not recommend that you source stock from unaccredited nurseries as this may be grown from non-native stock, which risks the spread of plant pests and diseases and invasive non-native species. It is also illegal to remove certain plants from the wild for trade and without the landowner’s permission.

I’d like to plant bluebells in my wood

Bluebells spread very slowly in woodland. This is one of the reasons why they can be an indicator of ancient woodland; they indicate that the wood has been there for enough time to allow bluebells to establish and form the dense carpets we enjoy in spring. Because of this, to “artificially” create a good spread of bluebells in a reasonable amount of time you will need tens of thousands of bulbs per acre. This would be extremely expensive, and it would be very hard to source this number of bulbs. There would be a risk that at least some of the plants you introduce into your wood would be non-native bluebells, which can hybridise with our native species.

Bluebell carpet can be very visually striking. (Photo: WTML)
Bluebell carpet can be very visually striking. (Photo: WTML)

The Trust’s view

In many of our woods (particularly our ancient woods), we prefer to let nature take its course through sensitive and gradual management over time. As such, we generally only introduce flowers into some woodland creation sites. Thinning trees, coppicing or clearing understorey allows more light to reach the ground, and can help stimulate the growth of wildflowers stored in the seed bank in more mature woods or those undergoing restoration work.

Many wildflowers won’t grow without the right sunlight and soil conditions, so it can be very beneficial to focus on developing these conditions to encourage species to colonise and spread. The Forestry Commission have an excellent leaflet (PDF) on managing woodland, which we recommend if you are new to woodland management and need some advice.

There are few sights more magical than an ancient woodland coated in wildflowers. (Photo: WTML)
There are few sights more magical than an ancient woodland coated in wildflowers. (Photo: WTML)

Nature won’t fill your woods with flowers as quickly as we can do as humans, but it’s a good lesson in patience and ‘slow living’, and it’s fun to visit a wood regularly and observe how it changes over the years. If you are interested in learning more about wildflowers in the UK, our spring issue of Wood Wise looks at a range of wildflower areas.

It’s important that we fight to protect existing woods with wildflowers from damage and development. If you are concerned about a wood with wildflowers that is at risk, please do not hesitate to visit our campaigning pages, or contact us if you need to speak to us.

Enjoy the wonders of woodland wildflowers this spring.

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