Wildflower meadows are full of colour and provide vital habitats for bees, butterflies, small animals, insects, birds and other wildlife. More of us are turning patches of our gardens into wildflower habitats and No Mow May is a popular campaign.
Add in the drive over recent years for farmers to help biodiversity and wildlife by allowing their fields to grow into wildflower meadows and you may wonder why a conservation charity gets involved in the annual cutting back of wildflower meadows.
Why mow or cut a wildflower meadow?
Cutting a wildflower meadow at the end of the flowering season actually helps to improve the growth of flowers the following year.
The reasons for this include:
- Reducing the vigour of dominant species (grasses and weeds) by cutting before they seed, allowing a more diverse range of wildflowers to grow in the future.
- Limiting the nutrients going back into the soil through cutting and raking. Wildflowers prefer an impoverished soil, so this gives better conditions for flower growth the following year.
- Helping nature to distribute seeds from dying wildflowers.
- Preventing the meadow from turning into woodland. Without cutting, the coarse grasses would soon take over and encourage the growth of scrub like Hawthorne and brambles. These then become a nursery for larger trees to grow.
When is the best time of year to mow or cut a wildflower meadow?
The recommended timescales for cutting will partly depend on whether a meadow is new or established. The article from the RHS is great and gives detailed advice for each situation.
In the established meadows we manage for organisations, cutting tends to take place towards the end of the flowering season so bees and insects will have done their work and already reaped the benefits.
Importantly, once the meadow has been cut, we need to remove all the cuttings otherwise rotting debris will fertilise the ground, encouraging tougher grasses to become dominant. It could also smother germinating wildflower seeds in the spring.
Want to learn more?
We have a team of volunteers working on a variety of conservation and countryside management projects throughout the year. Working with our Environmental Project Officers, volunteers learn practical countryside skills and discover more about the reasons behind each job.
If you’re interested in conservation and countryside management, it’s a great way to get more involved while working outdoors with a friendly and supportive team of like-minded people.
Find out more: https://steelvalleyproject.org/jobs/