Meadow Management by Gina Frederick

There are several ways to install and maintain meadows. The management plan outlined here is designed to maximize long term viability. To do this, one must forgo flowering in the first year. At first, the meadow will look somewhat like a tall, scraggly lawn. This interim period of low growth is essential; it allows the desirable grasses and wildflowers to become established. While a lush, taller, colorful tapestry will eventually materialize, keeping the meadow low during the first year will save time and money later.

Stable meadows are dominated by native perennial grasses, which suppress weeds and bind soil. The roots of these grasses extend as deep as 8 feet into the soil, providing considerable stormwater management (see page 33). The seed mixture should be composed with a target of about 60% grasses.

During the first year, the meadow should be mowed or weed whacked to a height of 6” on a monthly basis, or whenever growth reaches 10” —14” in height. This helps control the spread of nuisance annual weeds and keeps tall growth from shading the young grass and forb seedlings. Native perennial grasses, which are the backbone of the meadow, need time to become established. Neither the grasses nor the wildflowers will be harmed by the mowing. In fact, most wildflowers need two or three years of growth in order to flower, so mowing the top growth will not hurt them during this first year. Do not remove the cut plant refuse, as it returns organic matter and nutrients to the soil.

The presence of specific annual grasses will help prevent erosion and provide the appropriate amount of coverage to enable the perennial grasses and forbs to root in. Mowing prevents the annual cover crop from becoming too dense. Annual grasses, also known as a nurse crop, should be selected according to the season in which the meadow is seeded. A spring seeded meadow may include Oats or Annual Ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum), while a fall or winter seeding would include Winter Wheat (Triticum). A fast growing perennial grass, Canada Wild Rye (Elymus canadensis) should also be seeded because of its ability to become established during the second year of growth, which helps stabilize the meadow.

The second year is likely to yield some blooms. This is when Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) typically blooms profusely. This flowering plant may only persist for the first and second year, and is intentionally seeded to jump-start the visual display which will follow during successive years. The mowing schedule from this point on should occur no more than once a year, with a possibility of mowing every three years. Mowing is the most effective way to control emerging woody plants which will eventually overtake the meadow if they are not continually removed.

Annual mowing or weed whacking should be done in March. This protects ground nesting birds and other wildlife which depend on meadow habitat. If mowing is scheduled too late in the spring, the ground is likely to be heavily saturated and therefore unsuitable for mowing.

Meadow maintenance in the continuing years will require both the mowing schedule described above and spot spraying or hand removal of invasives. Each successive year will bring an increase in density and complexity of meadow species. Meadow compositions also typically fluctuate somewhat from year to year, depending on moisture, temperature, and other environmental factors. The third through fifth years of the meadow are when it can be expected to   appear most attractive. Information from this section is from Weaner, 2008.



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