Member Advice on Gardening
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Turn your garden lawn into a wildflower Meadow. The easiest way to create a meadow is to stop mowing part of the lawn and to stop using weedkillers and fertilisers. Many lawns have low growing wild flowers among them naturally, leaving the mower blade on the highest setting and mowing once a fortnight or less, or simply not mowing at all will allow them to flourish. Keeping the meadow away from borders will prevent weeds from spreading. Pot grown plants can be added, but the meadow will gradually improve with time.
It can take a few years to establish a wildflower meadow, as the soil needs to be dealt with in a particular way. The less fertile the soil, the more chance the flowers will have, otherwise the grass will succeed at their expense. Nitrogen hungry plants that grow quickly can be planted for a year to strip the nutrients out of the soil. Weeds that will be a problem have to be dealt with. Herbicides such as glyphosphate products, don't have any sort of residual effect that is detrimental to germinating wildflower seeds.
The simplest way for a home gardener to establish a wildflower meadow is to remove turf, physically or with herbicides, scarify the soil (as opposed to deep tilling, which is not recommended), and sow seed mixed with some inert material like sand or clean soil (1 part seed to 2 parts sand). Commercial seed mixes can be bought, taking into account the type of soil. A home made mix can be sown, but it is not always easy to obtain seed for every species that are required. As the meadow matures, more species can be added, as they will spread out as they flourish.
Sowing is best done in September, although the beginning of October is not too late. Many seeds need a cold spell to break their dormancy. If the soil is bare it is best to sow the grass seed first, rake it in thoroughly, and then sow the flowers without further raking. Don't use lawn seed! Native meadow grass is the best. Keep the seed bed protected from birds with netting or branches.
Six weeks after the start of the growing season in the following Spring, when it is about 10cm high, the meadow will need mowing. Cut between 5cm and 10cm with a scythe or rotary mower, and then again in a further six weeks, when it reaches the same height. This should be done throughout the growing season.
By the second summer it should only need to be mowed once or twice, although this should be flexible to cope with varying growth rates. In the third year, it need only be kept under 10cm if the grass is still dominant.
The grass clippings should be left on the meadow for one week to allow seed to be dispersed, then they should be collected to prevent them rotting down and adding unwanted nitrogen to the soil.
Types of Meadow
There are many different types of meadow that can be sown. The ones most likely to succeed are listed below with management plans.
Spring Flowers - This type should be left uncut until late June, when the flowers have died down, and then mown down to between five and eight centimetres. It can be kept at this height, or left to regrow and give another mild show of flowers. It should be cut back again in late September to ensure a good display of flowers the following year.
Summer Flowers - This can be left uncut until September, raking at the same time to remove dead grass.
Butterfly - Each species of butterfly likes different conditions. The best way to deal with this is to leave some areas short, some long, and others in between. Make sure these areas are varied from year to year. A path can be mown through the meadow, as long as the route is changed each year. Mow some parts in June, some in July, and then a final cut in autumn, raking up the grass. Leave some of the meadow unmown over the winter, and another part the next. This should encourage as many different types of butterfly as possible.
Another couple of things that can be grown as a lawn are chamomile and thyme. They can both cope with being walked on, and don't need mowing.
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Listed on Ciao since: 13/12/2000