What’s the best way to manage a meadow so as to encourage a variety of native plants?
Should a meadow be mowed and if so when and why? I am trying to encourage and maintain a native meadow. I have been here for over one year now. We haven’t mowed this spring or summer except over the leach field in front of the house and to maintain paths. This summer with the drought, tall tough goldenrod of all kinds and asters took over the southern-most part of the “meadow,” closest to the water. Light, delicate, wispy, pillowy native grasses did okay in the middle part in spite of encroaching quack grass spreading and poking up among the clumps, alas. And quack grass, dandelions, and fake strawberry, all exotic invasives, ruled on the leach field mound located right in front of the house. My question is, how best to manage the overall expanse of meadow so as to encourage a variety of natives? The goal would be to keep and encourage the natives (flowers as well as grasses) so that they are strong enough to withstand the relentless onslaught of the quack grass and other non-native and less beneficial super-spreaders.
Quackgrass (PDF) is common in Maine, especially in clay soils. It is difficult to get rid of without chemicals, which we try not to recommend to homeowners, especially near any body of water.
If you’d rather have a better lawn-type grass around your home and on your leach field, a soil test is the first step to renovate the area with better grass seed (or one of the micro-clovers). Cutting more frequently will also help slow the spread into the fields.
Field mowing (bush-hogging) schedules depend on what you plan to accomplish. If you want to encourage pollinator and bird habitat, mowing later in the season is recommended. This leaves safe places for ground-nesting birds like bobolink, eastern meadowlark, and turkey, and cover and nectar for late summer insects. It’s also good for raptors and other wildlife.
Here’s an article in the Bangor Daily News about protecting bobolinks.
To protect monarch butterflies and other insect species including fireflies, mowing should be done in fall after migration (Oct 1 – May 1). Here’s a Xerces Society map on Best Practices for Monarch Management (PDF).
One way to compromise on mowing is to create pathways, which it looks like you’ve done. If you have a problem with invasives coming in along the perimeter of your fields, you can mow there, too. If you have patches of the kinds of plants that you want to keep (asters, milkweed, goldenrod, etc.), you can mow around them and leave some for wildlife.
To learn more about Maine’s natural communities, native and invasive plants, visit the Maine Natural Areas Program.
For more information about re-wilding and meadows, visit the Wild Seed Project.