Increasing diversity in a meadow

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David Crook
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Increasing diversity in a meadow

Post by David Crook »

If you are thinking about reseeding or increasing the diversity of plants in your existing meadow you might be interested in using either green hay and/or dried hay bales from very diverse hay meadows. Both these methods are the most cost-effective way of seeding a large area.

Green hay versus dried hay

Green hay is the product of the cut before it is turned in order to dry it, in preparation for baling. Green hay therefore retains much of its seed. It needs collecting the day it is cut - and ideally put down the same day on your site, or it will start to compost. As the cutting of any meadow is weather dependent, there isn’t usually much notice of when the cut is going to take place. Dried bales can work well too but will have been turned. They will still retain seed but not as much as green hay. The advantage with dried hay is you can put it down when you are ready. It doesn’t have to go down immediately (preferably sometime in August and before the end of September) in order for seeds to start to germinate - though yellow rattle won’t until it’s had some frost).

Both green and dried are worth a try. Remember you won’t see the results for at least two years as generally perennials flower in the second year from seeding. And as for the orchid species it could be more like five!

Yellow Rattle
It would be worth putting down some additional yellow rattle seed as well as the above green/dried hay if you are creating a new area in a very grassy sward. Though the green and dried hay will contain some yellow rattle, it could be worth putting a bit more down to keep the grasses under control.

Ground Preparation - essential before receiving the seed
The seed needs to be in contact with bare earth. So prepare the ground in advance of receiving the seed - not too far in advance as other seeds could move in, ideally a few days before if you can. There are different ways of preparing the ground and everyone has their own method. Some options:
Either scythe/strim/a grassy patch with few flowers - as tight to the ground as possible. Rake this off to reduce fertility. Either rotovate the patches so you see at least 50% bare earth - this is essential
Or on smaller areas, say 1m x 1m (you could dot several about), upend the grass into turves, turn them over so you then have bare soil or use mole hills of you have them in your meadow.

If you are wanting to seed a whole meadow in one go then you could harrow the lot after it’s been cut and baled, or after it’s been mown really tight by livestock. You’ll still need to see 50% bare soil minimum. Spreading the seed with a muck spreader is one option, as suggested by Charles Flower at the Meadow Makers’ Conference. Broadcasting by hand in lines marked out with bamboo canes and string is another method. However, before you make any changes, it’s a good idea to see your meadow with the grasses all grown up to see what is in there already. A meadow that hasn’t been ploughed or had artificial fertiliser put down may be full of wildflower surprises - even if it’s been grazed by livestock, or mown as a lawn, in living memory. Perennial flowers survive for many years and are adapted to being constantly mown. Changes in the management, including when livestock are put on and taken off, or when mowing with machines stops and starts, will have a huge impact on any flowering plants.
Peter Brown
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Re: Increasing diversity in a meadow - summer or spring sowing?

Post by Peter Brown »

I am undecided whether late summer or early spring is the best time for seeding. Spring would be using the previous years seed, but the soil would be moist giving germination a better chance perhaps. Late summer seeding can benefit from fresh green hay, but more and more we are seeing droughts at this time of year and the ground can be hard and unreceptive. Probably the answer is to take whatever opportunities present themselves!

The second question is sourcing the seed - are opportunities likely to be posted on the Forum?
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Re: Increasing diversity in a meadow

Post by nickygradyscott »

Hi Peter, many of the seeds need overwintering to get germinating so best sown in autumn - or you can mimic by putting in the freezer for a few days prior. I established yellow rattle very successfully by sowing on molehills and where the badgers had scraped up the field. in the churchyard after mowing and vigorous raking in certain patches did the trick! sown in early to mid autumn.
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Re: Increasing diversity in a meadow

Post by Amy »

A further thought for sourcing seeds - perhaps look in the local hedgerows and roadside banks - last Sept, within 5 miles of home, I found ripe seeds of yellow toadflax, meadow cranesbill, tufted vetch and bristly oxtongue which I didn't already have - and I gathered more knapweed, greater birdsfoot trefoil, hemp agrimony, hawkweeds and angelica to augment my existing seedbank. I was careful to collect from seedheads overhanging the actual road, thinking those seeds would be squashed by cars otherwise and so that I didn't denude the immediate area.

I found many more seeds on the local 'B' road, which has wider verges and banks, than on the very narrow high banked local lanes which had been cut back hard in late summer for visibility. I followed nature and sowed the ripe seeds straightaway.
Richard Lewis
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Re: Increasing diversity in a meadow

Post by Richard Lewis »

I strongly agree with Amy's approach - I've been collecting seeds from native species in our few local unimproved grassslands (mostly road verges) which I'm as confident as possible are from native, not sown or naturalised plants.

A word of caution - Meadow Cranesbill isn't actually native in Devon, nor in most of the south west, though it is a common garden escape in road verges in North Devon. I strongly recommend 'The New Flora of Devon' for more information on the distribution (native and introduced) of species such as this.
Mark Baker
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Re: Increasing diversity in a meadow

Post by Mark Baker »

At Knapp Copse LNR ... re-reserve in East Devon, we have just oversown a semi-improved field as part of a Countryside Stewardship Higher Tier scheme. 2ha of the field was topped and power-harrowed by our grazier, and Simon Tomasso of Devon Wildlife Trust spent a morning on Oct 1st spreading 32kg of wildflower seed (the premium meadow mix with no grasses) grown/sourced locally by, using a quad-trailed spinner.

Although such a large volume of seed was quite expensive and probably not an option for many, the Higher Tier agreement is covering 100% of the costs for the whole project.

Within this field the management will switch from light summer/autumn cattle grazing to a haymaking regime with the field shut up from early spring and autumn cattle grazing following the haymaking. I'm happy to share plans / photos / costs by email with anyone wanting to know more about this project (although of course only time will tell how successful it is!)
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