Wildflower meadows and areas of long grass not only attract wildlife but have a beauty and animation that I love to see in gardens.
The delicacy and horticultural richness of a meadow area come down largely to the way it is cut and managed. Plentiful amounts of wildflowers are largely the result of a lack of thuggish grasses, which in turn is the result of low soil fertility.
The timing of the cut in late summer and the removal of mowings afterwards play a huge part in achieving the ideal balance. The best time to cut meadows is from mid-July, which gives any wildflowers enough time to set seed and disperse in the surrounding grass.
Yellow rattle is one of those flowers and an essential addition to meadows. It acts as a parasite on grasses, which reduces their vigour and creates an opportunity for wildflowers to grow that would otherwise be outcompeted by the grasses. Yellow rattle seed can be sown now and is available online from many suppliers, including Shepherd Seeds.
Long grass and meadows can be tough to cut with a lawnmower when they’re at their peak growth, so if this is the case, use a strimmer to bring the grass height down, then rake up the top growth and compost it.
You can then use the lawnmower to cut the rest of the grass down tight, and keep mowing it closely until the end of October, always removing the top growth and composting it.
As the grass grows, by cutting it and removing the top growth, we are reducing soil fertility by not allowing the mowings to rot down and feed the soil. The lower soil fertility in turn weakens the grass and provides an opportunity for more flowers to grow.
By repeating this mowing regime, after a few years you will notice that the more delicate grasses and wildflowers start to dominate, and vigorous grasses, which have a tendency to flop in midsummer, are no longer present in such numbers.
Another way to extend the period of interest in meadows is to add spring-flowering native bulbs, such as daffodils, snowdrops and fritillaries. Plant these in the autumn, and they’ll grow, flower and die down by the time you come to cut the meadow next July.
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