Striping lawns is so passé Wildlife meadows are in vogue 'A lawn is a monoculture devoid of diversity or habitat but admittedly does make for better sitting! How much does one really need anyway?'
Mixed annual meadows
Start with a weed free clean site, pay particular attention to deep rooted perennial weeds like docs, thistles, dandelions and nettles. Spray with a glyphosate based weedkiller right up to day of sowing. DO NOT USE any persistent herbicides like those recommended for paved areas. Using non organic methods would not be our first choice here at Fern Cottage but I have used glyphosate elsewhere with excellent results. Here we tend to live with nettles, docs and thistles as they are valuable food resources for many insects like caterpillars and beetles.
Loosen compacted areas with a fork and even out surface with a rake. Do this some weeks before sowing to allow weed seeds time to germinate before treating again.
Aim to sow around end of April into May, buy seed in advance to be prepared.
Add slow release fertiliser if soil fertility is low and rake surface to a fine tilth.
Split seed into two batches, mix with compost and distribute each batch evenly over whole site. This will ensure an even distribution of seed.
Lightly rake seed into surface.
Sit back and wait, no need to water.
Enjoy your displays.
If you decide to repeat this process in proceeding years then there needs to be a rigorous weed treatment regime involving raking, waiting for weed germination and then herbicide treatment. It may require several cycles over many weeks to achieve the desired seed bed for resowing. Weed seeds will have built up, hidden by the preceding flower displays and these weeds would compete vigorously during the germination of your annual mixes.
have used seed from 'Pictorial Meadows' many times in the past at home
and while working at Harlow Carr. My favourite mix was 'pastel mix'
which I have also mixed with 'classic mix' to great effect. I think the
website does advise against mixing their mixes however as they are very
carefully formulated. I have had less success formulating my own seed
mixes this way.
Perennial meadows - Establishment of a wildflower meadow
Choose preferred site and work out its area.
If you are starting with bare soil then follow advice above for 'mixed annual meadows' but do not fertilise. Decide on a grassland mix or a grass-free seed mix and choose one that best suits your soil type. Sow March-April or August-September. 'Emorsgate Seeds' have a wide range of seed mixes available online.
If sowing into an existing lawned/grassy area then follow advice below.
Areas with poor patchy grass growth are ideal as flower seeds have gaps to germinate in.
If grass species present are very vigorous and thick then gaps must be created to allow for flower seed germination. Given time yellow rattle will help here as it is a parasite of grasses but it must also be allowed to establish.
Treat all nettles, docs and thistles surrounding site either by spraying with glyphosate or chopping down to prevent flowering and subsequent seeding. This might require multiple treatments.
Aim to sow Aug-Sept but soil moisture levels and temperatures are also good in March-April. Autumn sowing is best as the seeds have time to imbibe, activate and be stimulated by cold winter temperatures so that they are ready to germinate in spring. Early sowings may require the following winter to stimulate germination.
Mow/strim as short as possible before sowing
The turf must be damaged to allow space for flower seeds to germinate. If using chemical methods then go to (10.), otherwise mechanical damage must be utilised by either vigorous raking, scarifying, rotavating surface top few centimetres or even burning to make gaps in turf.
Glyphosate (roundup) strips of turf. Make sure any thistles in the vicinity have finished seeding before treatment, this will limit future weed problems. Aim to spray 30% of site. The easiest way to attain this would be to spray 30cm strips out of every 100cm row. Spot marking of rows with turf paint will highlight each 100cm interval. On large sites practice with a backpack sprayer, containing clean water, on dry ground to ascertain appropriate height/nozzle to achieve 30cm spray band width. If using ready mixed weed killer then it will take longer to spray as nozzle will be prefixed. READ all advice on weedkiller label and use all recommended protective equipment.
CAUTION: try not to be tempted to spray in excess of 30% of site, on a windy day this might happen accidentally! Methodology of the strip method. What you want to achieve is enough time/space for your wild flower seed to establish while the grass is knitting back together again, remember that these are meadow flower species and naturally adapted to grassland habitat. If your strips are too wide the grass species you want to encourage will have to travel much further to close the sward. The more time this takes the more likely it will be that non desirable species will encroach on the site like nettles/thistles.
After spraying or when grass yellows and spray bands become more obvious you can sow your seed. Sow seed of your desired mix, suitable for your site, at the recommended rate. I have used 'Emorsgate Seeds' several times in the past with great success. I have also fortified their mixes with other desirable species of my own choice. Remember to buy a grass-free mix, preferably with yellow rattle included.
Remember to buy enough seed for 30% (or % area sprayed) of total area not for the whole site area.
Divide seed mix into two equal batches and mix with compost. Spread both batches evenly over damaged areas. I find that this techniques gets a better distribution of species. Consider working in opposite directions when scattering each batch.
Sit back and wait, do not water or feed.
The treatment of your site from now on will be the same. Of course you might want to experiment with timings of cuts and introduction of other species perhaps as plug plants raised from seed in cell trays and planted in the autumn or spring. You may also want to consider repeating the seeding process in the autumn by spraying off 30cm strips adjacent to the previous years seeding. Remember that some of the species in the mixes will take several years to become prominent. Think of it always as a 'work in progress', nature will improve on it year on year, just keep the thugs out (nettles, thistles and docs).
Year 2 in a nutshell
Leave uncut to flower
If grass growth is very vigorous then cut once with mower on highest setting (March/April) but NOT if leaves of early bulbs are present
DO NOT FEED
Timing of your 'hay cut'
This will very much depend on what species you decide to put in to your meadow. If using just native species then cutting from August onwards is a good time. Cutting with a strimmer, scythe or mechanical reciprocating scythe for larger areas is ideal. Leave to dry, then remove from site and add to your compost. It is important to remove grass cuttings from site as this will impoverish the soil over time and reduce thatch. This will improve establishment of your meadow flowers by reducing the vigour of the grass species.
At Fern Cottage, 'Those Plant People' are developing a mixed grassland meadow using many non-native species or cultivars of native species more often found in herbaceous borders. We are aiming to have as many diverse pollinator friendly plants as possible for the longest time and with the least effort of management! Our choices are governed by our familiarity with their growth habits, knowledge of their natural habitats and quite a bit of experimentation! We plant plug plants and small divisions and we are having a lot of success with many different species including pulmonarias, many primula species, asters, rogersias, geums, thalictrums, rudbeckias, persicarias, aconitums and a myriad different bulbs. It is surprising in this setting how little pest damage we observe when compared to well managed herbaceous borders where your plants can literally be sitting targets for slugs and snails. It is a reasonable assumption that if you create habitat for pest predators then they will do the messy job for you. Of course the management of such a meadow must be altered since many of the species I have chosen flower well into autumn and early winter. Our meadow is north facing, surrounded by trees and quite damp in places. We cut the meadow down once a year in late October and then wait until all the leaves have fallen from the surrounding trees. Then I rake everything up mixing it all together. The resulting stack is cold composted for about 18 months and makes excellent compost without any turning necessary.
Raising and planting plug plants
Cell tray transplants are also known as plug plants. We sow our seed as fresh as possible (refrigerating until ready if necessary) and aim to sow by late summer for autumn planting. Those that don't germinate immediately in large enough numbers are left on north facing racks exposed to everything the winter can throw at them. In spring they obligingly germinate, usually on mass. Since I want my resulting plants to be as hardy as possible I do not give protection at any point during their development.
Seedlings are transplanted into cell trays for 'growing on'. Wood cranesbill, meadow cranesbill, ox-eye daisy, self-heal, ragged robin, red campion, plantains and knapweed all germinate quickly after sowing. Unless fresh, seed from members of the buttercup and umbelifer families will probably need to be overwintered to induce germination. In this way plug plants can be planted at the end of the year and in the spring to spread the workload OR previous years plug plants can be left in their cells throughout the winter and then planted in the spring altogether. Others use bulb planters but we find this simply too time consuming. The key is to produce smaller plug plants that can simply and quite effortlessly be inserted under sods of turf prized up by thrusting a trowel shallowly into the turf. After planting tread down the sod, with the plug inserted, firmly with your boot!
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