Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Must A Meadow Be Mowed?

A publisher is promoting a new book about meadows in an email newletter. An effusive statement by the reviewer grabbed my attention:

"...presents an alternative to the American lawn that is better in every way — better looking, less expensive, drought resistant, friendlier to wildlife, and yes, even good for walking barefoot. Did I mention you never have to mow a meadow?"  [Italics mine. There are the words of a reviewer, not the  author of the book.]

Never have to mow? That has not been my experience. If we don't mow on occasion, scrub trees and undesirable briers begin to take over along with the wildflowers. If not mow, then prescribed burn is  the practice here. In a postage stamp sized former lawn kept hand weeded, barefoot walking is possible on certain groundcovers. Without hardscape, mown paths are necessary for walking in our meadows.

One man went to mow,
Went to mow a meadow,
One man and his dog,
Went to mow a meadow.

I've dabbled in meadow plantings and in allowing former cow pastures to return to a somewhat natural state. I can only speak of the climate and soil with which I am familiar. Two of our concerns for  walking and the area around the house are rattlesnakes and fire ants.

I looked at a number of University Sites in different locations around the country. The underlying principals of meadow establishment all point to the same premises.

Mild success with scattering seeds on a prepared site: Spring bloomers like poppies and silene successfully bloomed without added chemicals or water.

Cattle egrets enjoyed following the mower when the spring meadow, overtaken by weeds and grass, was mowed.

Some misconceptions about meadows:
1. Easy Color from Spring through Fall  is a myth; proper, careful selection is a must. Mid-summer here is not a good time for blossoms.

Fall asters must compete with wild Black Cherries in this meadow. The woody plants are controlled by mowing or burning, sometimes by digging.

2. Debunk the myth of No maintenance; meadows are Low maintenance. There may be much work in future years to keep out woody invaders.

Wild Blackberries, at right in the pic, compete with goldenrod and native grasses in this meadow area.

3. Myth: You can create a meadow by just scattering seeds. Nature simply scatters seeds by the millions, and many of them are weeds. We have to prepare soil and get rid of weed competition before we scatter our meager desirable seeds.

Seeds scattered by Nature.

Tara Dillard showed her photos  of the meadows at Great Dixter on her blog this week: Tara's Photos of Christopher Lloyd's Gardens

My favorite of the University sites referencing establishing a meadow is Dr. Leonard Perry's Perennial Pages at the University of Vermont.

The LA Times reviewed the book from a different slant: The Crusade Against the American Lawn. This article links to the Lawn Reform Coalition site.


  1. Nell, I share your opinion about the necessity of mowing meadows (we hillbillies call them pastures). In this area, if not mowed, the land would so be overrun with thorn trees, osage orange, and thistles.

    I am amazed at the brushy growth if we miss even one year mowing.

    I do hate cutting wild flowers and if I am mowing, I zigzag around them! DH does not!

    I do admire lovely fields of wild flowers but know that maintenance is require to get that lovely 'natural' look.

  2. My father always did a controlled burn to keep woody plants out of the meadow. He would round up all the kids (and their friends)to keep an eye on their spot. We always thought it was great fun.

  3. It seems that if it was truly no mow that it would become a forest. The birds scatter so many seeds around here for wild trees that if mowing didn't happen it would quickly convert. Good post!

  4. I know how you work on keeping your meadows looking great. I am like the rest. If they aren't mowed, they turn into bramble tangles, live oak motts, and brushy growth inhabited by mostly snakes and other undesirables.

    I say, "Mow it!"

  5. good information Nell, we are thinking of having a meadow garden on our 1/2 acre lot that is our drainage field for the septic--
    not sure all the details yet.

  6. What great tips for growing and maintaining a meadow. Your post proves that you can't always believe what is advertised....

  7. I planted meadow type flowers on a hillside, and it definitely needs work. I'm even thinking about moving all those plants to a flatter area, so caring for them will be easier. Haven't decided yet - thanks for your excellent post.

  8. http://habitataid.wordpress.com/2009/11/10/archies-meadow-update/ Have you read this interesting British site? Wildlife gardening and how to create and care for a meadow.

  9. We bale our meadows/pasture or let cattle graze it. Otherwise we would be overrun with Osage orange and ceder saplings. But it does have a beautiful variety of flowers. My husband is not so keen on the flowers as they compete and crowd out the grasses he wants to grow.

  10. I must be a horticultural NERD. Reading about meadows not needing mowing had me laughing.

    If that were the case it would be magic.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  11. I thought that in nature, meadows are burned down on every few years? At least I think I remember reading that in The 64$ tomato. have your read that? It's hilarious. THere's a chapter on creating a meadow, and all the bumps along that road.

    Your meadow is lovely!

  12. Hi Nell~~ I went through a wildflower phase and read up on the how-to's. I quickly learned that it's not as low maintenace as you'd think. The books I read said it was of benefit to mow and that by doing so you were dispersing the wildflower seed to aid in germination for the following season. Beautiful photos!

  13. Wished I had a meadow, land space are very rare to get in my place, in few months time, it becomes a tropical rainforest...
    I must say.." What Meadow?"

  14. I've been hit by the same spam lately. I'm hoping I won't have to resort to weeding too. It's a nuisance for sure.

    I've started a "meadow". I put that in quotes most of the time because it's really just a spot where I plan to have drifts of "wildflowers" rather than planting things in specific places. I fully expect to cut it all down at some point, probably mid summer. I've already found a few germinating acorns, planted by squirrels. I am hoping for low maintenance, expecting to spend as much time as I do on the perennial beds.

  15. Excellent post. I can tell you've done your research. Certainly debunks the idea of easy meadow.

  16. You're right... meadows either have to be mowed or burned. The historical way to maintain meadows is by burning. Let's see how many people get behind having their "no maintenance" landscapes set on fire!

  17. Neil Jean,
    Really good article! Here in NC the parks always mow in late fall or early winter. Their reasons are to keep the trees and shrubs down and not to disturb good butterfly habitat. Butterflies love the flowers and their larva use many of the plants in the meadow as a food plant. Some places are managed differently and are burned in small portions not to destroy habitat in the entire area.

    Again one of the better articles I have read in a while.

  18. Thank you for this informative and interesting post about meadows. I enjoyed looking at the green green grasses. Somehow it reminds me of Heidi and her grandpa, Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music and Laura Ingalls.

  19. Nell, I'm so glad you're pointing this out. People forget that invasive grasses will outcompete the beautiful wildflowers they're after, and then they are disappointed. I honestly could not imagine taking care of a meadow, I can barely keep on top of the weeds I have. And those meadow seed mixes are just a joke.

  20. A fantastic post Nell! You've debunked the myths that are unfortunately still floating around out there. There is no easy meadow in a can! gail

  21. Thank you to everybody who took time to leave a comment.

    This afternoon I took a packet of California poppies across the road to a little spot under the electric line where DH moved some limbs and a tree stump, nice soft soil was just waiting for my California poppy seed. I'll let you know in spring how that works out.


I look forward to comments and questions and lively discussion of gardening and related ideas.

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