Advice for the continued maintenance of your meadow
In the first year it is likely that there will be few flowers from sown meadow seed. However there should be yellow rattle, plug plant flowers and a few daisies and clover. Cut the sward, keeping it short until the end of March to prevent the stronger-growing grasses from out-competing the slower-growing wild flowers. Remove all cuttings to ensure nitrogen levels are not too high. Weed out or spot-treat any perennial weeds which appear. If many annual weeds appear you may decide to top them by doing a high cut in April. Do not cut later than that as you may risk taking the tops off the yellow rattle plants!
The hay cut in the first year can be fairly early. When the yellow rattle has set seed (mid July) you can cut for hay, bale or rake off all cuttings. Through the rest of the summer, autumn and winter keep the sward short like a lawn either through grazing or mowing (removing all cuttings) In fact the young meadow should be mown every time the vegetation height reaches 10 to 15 cm. This is likely to mean cutting three to four times between spring and autumn depending on the fertility of the soil. Do not cut the meadow shorter than 5 cm.
In following years there should be a greater variety of flowers. Cut the sward in the Spring from March – April to keep the vigorous grasses and weeds in check, then leave it to grow up, flower and set seed. A further cut of the hay should be made any time from late July to September to a height of about 5cm after all the plants have shed their seed. Remove all cuttings to gradually reduce the soil fertility and to avoid leaving a thatch which will inhibit the growth of next years flowers. During the autumn and winter, mow any re growth as necessary to prevent the grasses from becoming too dominant.
Alternatively the meadow may be grazed at low intensity between August and March. On a field scale, meadows grazed over autumn or winter tend to be the most successful. If yellow rattle fails to establish in the first year, as it is an annual, re introduce seed in years 2 and 3, therefore keeping the dominant grasses in check!
When to cut
The decision when to cut your meadow will depend on two factors; the species present and the weather. If you have included plants or seed of late flowering species such as betony, devils-bit scabious, field scabious, yarrow, wild marjoram you will need to leave the meadow standing until September when these plants shed their seed. If not every year, leave it standing at least 1 in 3 years. This is not a problem as long as you do not have tough grasses or other perennial weeds threatening to dominate. If so you could cut the weedy areas earlier and more regularly, whilst leaving the late flowering areas to set seed. If using plug plants this would be something to consider when planting.
You could cut earlier (end of July) some years and later (early September) from time to time to allow seed fall from the late flowering plants. As the majority are perennial plants it will not harm them to be cut back early in some years.
In a wet summer, it can be difficult to cut when you would wish to. Compacted ground is very bad for wildflower meadows so do avoid driving on it in wet conditions. If it can be grazed by cattle and/or sheep you could graze without first cutting the grass and this would be better than leaving the grass to flop and rot. The sward will need to be cut in the autumn and cleared even if the hay is useless. Otherwise leaving a thick thatch will be very detrimental to the next season’s flowering species and will encourage dominance of grasses and weeds.
Please be patient and don’t give up; creating a beautiful meadow from seed will take 3-5 years and from existing grassland will take 5 years + depending on the existing species. However with perseverance, the results will be so worthwhile, providing visual appeal, and bringing a whole wealth of wildlife to your world! A well-managed meadow will go on improving over 15-20 years, and will offer an ever changing area, from one year to the next.
Do feel free to contact us if you need any further help and advice about your meadow.