Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Lawns, Ground Cover, & Wildflowers

Meadows Come to Town (page 2 of 3)

by Karen Dardick

Establishing a Meadow

If you need to remove your existing lawn, the surest and fastest way is to spray twice with a broad-spectrum contact herbicide such as glyphosate (RoundUp) or glufosinate-ammonium (Finale). When the grass dies after the initial spraying, water thoroughly, wait for more grass or weed seeds to germinate, and spray again. Rake away and dispose of the dead material.

Nonchemical methods are equally effective but are either more work or take longer. For instance, with a sod cutter (available at rental yards), you can cut existing sod into strips, then roll them up to compost or give away. Or you can smother the lawn with a sheet of black plastic or old carpeting.

Before sowing, rake away dead grass and weeds and lightly loosen soil. If necessary, use a tiller, but set it so it works soil no more than an inch deep. If your garden soil supported turfgrass fairly well, it should need minimal soil preparation. On the other hand, if your site supported little vegetation of any kind, it is unlikely to support even native plants. In that case, have your soil tested and then amend it accordingly.

Use seeds of any of the recommended grasses or wildflowers, but use plants of perennials. If the wildflower seeds are particularly small, spreading them evenly is easier if they're mixed with a carrier, such as builder's sand. Water the area the day prior to sowing, then immediately afterwards. Lightly cover the seedbed with weed-free straw to help keep soil moist and to protect seeds from birds. Keep germinating seeds moist.

In cold winter climates, such as USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 6, plant perennial plants and bulbs early, by mid-October, so they can become established before cold weather sets in. Mulch in early winter once soil is cold to prevent soil heaving, which damages new roots. Sow seeds late, in mid- to late November. The seeds will wait until spring before growing.

Don't be afraid to experiment. Because this type of garden is by intent a collaboration with nature, there is no single or right way to do it. Just don't try to plant everything all at once. Start with those plants you're sure will do well (see the recommendations for your region), and let nature take its course. Then gradually add more.

Until the meadow is well established, it's important to keep it adequately weeded and watered. While native grasses adapt easily to the weather in their area, it's best to water regularly for the first two months of growth April to June for both fall- and spring-seeded landscapes. Once the surface area dries out, water in the early morning for 15 to 20 minutes or until the soil is damp to 3 or 4 inches deep.

Learn to recognize which plants are in your meadow, and remove invaders regularly. During the first year, mow or prune to encourage branching, so plants grow no taller than 6 inches. In the Midwest or East, a meadow landscape is ideally managed by burning plants every two to three years, if local regulations permit. If you can't burn, mow the meadow to the ground in early spring, and rake off the mowings to expose the soil to the warming rays of the sun.

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