Produced by Dan Ori
This page will inform as to the benefits of low maintenance swards and provide an instructional guide to establishing and maintaining wildflower meadows.
Benefits of low maintenance swards
The word sward may or may not be known to you, the use of the word sward in this guide refers to the area of grass/ground/meadow you are deliberately cultivating with wildflowers and grasses.
It is extremely easy to establish a low maintenance sward it does not require any specialist labour with basic instruction anyone can do it.
A correctly established and maintained sward can be hugely important to encouraging wildlife, in particular, providing habitat for insects, small mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles.
Maintenance of a sward can be as low as cutting once a year (normally removing the cuttings a week later).
But there is one massive benefit not yet mentioned, and that is of course the sheer beauty of a meadow in spring and summer.
Establishing a wildflower meadow
There are two distinct types of meadow planting/sowing: Perennial meadows thrive best on poor soils because the grasses compete less with the wildflowers. If you have rich soil, it is worth removing the top layer and sowing directly into dug or rotovated sub-soil. Annual meadows, usually of cornfield annuals, need rich soils. These are a good choice where you are converting an existing border. However, you can grow both annual and perennial meadow plants in the same meadow, you just need to be prepared that one type of planting might not thrive as you would have hoped.
Sow during March and April or in September, depending on soil conditions. On lighter soils, autumn-sown seeds generally germinate and establish quickly, although some will not come up until the following spring. This delay makes it advisable to wait until March or April on heavy soils, as waterlogging may cause the seed and seedlings to rot during winter.
What plants to choose
When choosing a planting or seed mix pick one that suits your local conditions. Where possible, obtain seed of British origin.
Plants for a Spring flowering Meadow
Plants for a Summer flowering Meadow
Maintaining a wildflower meadow
The minimum maintenance is to mow the meadow in September/October. A cutting height of 30 – 70 mm should be observed during the first 2 – 3 years, then after a cut of 20 – 70 mm can be made. Ideally, cuttings should be left at the meadow for approximately 5 days to allow wildlife to move out of the cuttings, the cuttings should then be removed to help keep the soil nutrient-poor.
Weed control is the other concern, the best weed control is to encourage stressed conditions by mowing and removing cuttings. However, if you have a problem with certain species then removing by hand or spot weeding with an approved herbicide would be the best control.