Create a Meadow

Lawn alternatives, such as meadows (areas with growing grasses and wildflowers) have much to offer and are available to every homeowner with a sunny piece of land. Although the maintenance of a meadow is simply a matter of mowing the meadow once or twice per year with a weed wacker or a brush hog, it can be hard to find a landscaper who is comfortable to offer this as a regular service. Also, there are several ways to establish and maintain meadows, so it can be confusing. Meadows have been around for millions of years, but ‘meadow-scaping’ for homeowners is fairly new and we love to hear about your experience. Feel free to contact us any time for questions about and/or suggestions for meadows: info@healthyyards.org

The Laissez-Faire Meadow

The easiest way to create a meadow? Select a sunny part of your lawn and reduce mowing. This will result in your lawn grasses growing and producing seeds. Many of those grasses will flop over after seed production and dry out. It will look ‘messy’. But by then, your new meadow will already be discovered and filled with crickets, hoppers, skippers, dragonflies and birds. And you have reduced gasoline use, work and noise. To avoid weeds and invasives, some mowing will be needed. The mowing can’t be done with a regular lawn mower anymore. You will need weed wacker or, if the meadow is big, a brush mower or bush hog. No need to mow everything at once. Mowing randomly will benefit a healthy insect population. Just enjoy the disorganized liveliness of the meadow, or, if you want to mitigate the messy look, mow some clean edges and paths through the meadow or create clean lines with hedges, walls or fences.

The Natural Meadow

A natural flower meadow and/or a prairie ecosystem develops after fires, grazing or by haying practices. When carpet forming lawn grasses are cut less often, they will invest more in vertical and less in horizontal growth, and after flowering and setting seed these grasses lose rigor or die off. This will encourage clump-forming grasses and wildflowers to take over. But for these new species to enter your meadow they need exposed soil. So we shouldn’t just cut the grass but also remove clippings. Removing the clippings will allow better access to the soil, remove nitrogens and have sunlight enter the deeper parts in the meadow. If you keep repeating the process of mowing and removing the clippings, your meadow will become more biodiverse and colorful over time.

The Freestyle meadow

When you keep on haying (mowing and removing the clippings) the carpet-forming lawn grasses will disappear, and bare spots in soil will start to show up. You can use these spots to fill with seeds or plugs (baby plants) of your choosing. This will add to the biodiversity and aesthetic value of your meadow. Planting is best done in early spring or fall. Since weeds and established perennials often grow faster, and earlier in the season, you’ll need to mow in the spring to let the sun reach the seedlings and new planting and give them a chance to emerge and develop.

The Designer’s Meadow

If you have the budget, why not let a professional landscaper design a wonderful meadow for you? Generally, they will start with a ‘clean canvas’, which means the removal of all the grasses and weeds before they seed or plant plugs. In the beginning, when the new plants are still small, invasive species and weeds need to be controlled. Often this service is included in the meadow installation.

Our hope is that eventually more landscapers will get familiar with meadow design and maintenance practices. A meadow is a living thing and grows and changes over time. Meadow mowing, but also hand weeding and managing more rigorous species in favor of more modest perennials and annuals, is a valuable service and it will give landscapers a sustainable alternative to their harmful conventional services. By asking our landscapers for a ‘meadow’, we create an important financial incentive for a more sustainable landscape.

Find Plants

To find the right plants for your meadow, click here for a plant finder >

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