Meadow Management – Mowing and much more
“Many eyes go through the meadow, but few see the flowers in it” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
It’s a sweet summer treat to come across a meadow with wildflowers in full bloom, serving a diverse community of insects and birds and small mammals who all benefit from the rich plant communities.
Meadows are often defined as open spaces free of large trees and shrubs, and dominated by grasses and herbaceous wildflowers. Meadows are very diverse and the plants found in meadows can vary widely depending on soil quality, temperature, available seed banks, and presence of pollinators.
In the last 50 years there has been a decline in meadow habitats due to land development and the loss of pasture land with grazing animals. This disappearance leads to declines in wildlife populations that depend on these habitats for food and shelter. Luckily, meadows are easy to bring back as many plants found in meadows are the first plants to vegetate areas. If allowed to, meadows will grow in places like abandoned farmland or other areas where the soil has been disturbed.
The Don’t Mow Let it Grow project focuses on the conservation of semi-natural grasslands. Visit their site for more on the importance of not mowing too early in the season as you might destroy sensitive life. Visit here: https://dontmowletitgrow.com/
The invention of the tractor mower and other lawn mowers have been it increasingly easy for everyone to mow their lawn often and expansively. This destroys valuable space and habitat for wildlife. Try considering a patch of wildflowers or perennial herbs rather than a dull grass lawn.
“Bees are “keystone organisms” in most terrestrial ecosystems. Bees are essential for maintaining the integrity,productivity and sustainability of many types of ecosystems: the forest under story, pastures, fields, meadows,roadsides, many agricultural crops, fruit orchards, and backyard vegetable and flower gardens. Without bees, many flowering plants would eventually become extinct. Without the work of bees, many fruit- and seed-eating birds and some mammals, including people, would have a less varied and less healthy diet” – An important message from Umaine Cooperative Extension. Read more about enhancing bee habitat here .
Valuable Habitat for All Wildlife
Many animals rely on the stems, seeds, and berries from plants that can be found in meadows. Insects in the meadow are food for other wildlife such as birds and larger mammals. Meadows are not only a food source for many wildlife but they offer protective areas for insects, birds and small mammals to nest and shelter. Notice the many bird boxes in the field as well as around other parts of the Wildlands. Most of our bird inhabitants are black-capped chickadees, tree swallows, and eastern bluebirds.
A Pollinators Paradise
The diversity of plant communities found in meadows is crucial for insects whose life cycles may depend on specific plants. A well-known example of this is monarch butterflies and milkweed plants. Not only are milkweeds one of the sole food sources for monarchs, adult monarch butterflies also rely on the milkweed for egg laying.
Eastern Blue Birds
A pair of eastern blue birds spotted at the nest boxes in the GPMCT meadow.
Planting Wildflower Meadows
We can all contribute to bringing these beautiful and beneficial habitats back to our landscapes and surrounding environment. Even if you can’t plant a large meadow, even adding a small patch of meadow grasses and wildflowers welcomes more life into the environment. Wildflowers can be grown from seed, and although it can be easy to start a meadow, it requires patience through the process. See the following links for more information on establishing meadows.
If left unmanaged, meadows in the eastern regions of North America transition to woodlands, the dominated landscape in the East. Watch this informative video from the Marsh Botanical Gardens on how to manage and mow your meadow.
Planting for Pollinators: Establishing a Wildflower Meadow from Seed : A resourceful fact sheet from UNH Cooperative Extension on ways to prepare a site for a meadow, selecting plants and other useful methods.
Wild Seed Project: Return of the Meadow : An information guide from the Wild Seed Project on things to keep in mind when designing a meadow and instructions on some steps to take along the way.
Native Wildflowers for New England Meadows : A chart of wildflowers found in New England Meadows by University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. This contains a list of wildflowers native to Maine’s meadow habitats.
PollinatorPlantsNortheast : A regional guide on how to support pollinators in your gardens and farms.