Long-Term Management

Year 3 - a mature meadow


In the third year of growth and beyond, once your meadow is fully established and mature, the wildflowers and native grasses will work together as a unit to prevent unwanted weeds from establishing within your meadow. The different plants will occupy various levels below the surface creating an impenetrable net-like mesh of roots.


Like weeding, watering is unnecessary as your plants work to shade the soil around each root system. At Wildflower Farm, we never water our meadows.


No fertilizing is ever necessary for a wildflower meadow. For some species, fertilizer encourages rampant, leggy growth and you will find that these hardy native species are very capable of finding their own food using their large root systems beneath the soil.

Controlled Burns or Mowing

Burning or mowing your wildflower meadow on a regular basis helps ensure continued success. When your meadow enters its third year of growth, it is time to establish a rotational cycle of either burning or mowing as by this point, enough combustible plant matter is available from the previous year's growth to support a fire. If there is insufficient fuel to carry a fire, mowing and raking off the material should be substituted. If you have designed your meadow for controlled burns, they are an excellent way to encourage growth and return nutrients to the soil.

If burning your wildflower meadow is not an option, mowing can be substituted. Although not quite as effective as burning, mowing and raking off the mowed material is a good substitute. Mowing simulates the effect of fire by removing the previous year's vegetation, and cuts back cool season weeds if mowed in mid-spring. It is important to remove the mowed material to expose the soil surface and encourage soil warming.

If you have a large meadow area, it may be in your best interest (and that of the wildlife) to have established “management units” to build into a burn rotation. Divide your plot into three or four units (you choose the number based on the size of your plot) and burn one of these units every year. This leaves the remaining space untouched where wildlife can seek shelter and food.

A controlled burn in progress.
Note the mowed strip of Eco-Lawn as a fire perimeter buffer strip.

In order to keep your controlled burns ‘controlled’, it is important to have created a buffer strip around the unit you wish to burn. A mowed strip of turf 5-10 feet (1.5-3m) will work well for this (our low maintenance Eco-Lawn turf grass is ideal for this purpose). Never leave a controlled burn unattended! Call your neighbours and local fire department to notify them of your plan. Keep children and pets away from smoke and flames. In some areas burn permits and/or plans are necessary; always know and understand the rules surrounding controlled burns in your area.

Burning or mowing is usually, but not always, conducted in mid-spring. The best time to burn is generally when the buds of the Sugar Maple tree are just opening. Burning removes the accumulated plant litter from the previous year's growth and exposes the soil surface to the warming rays of the sun. Most wildflowers are "warm season" plants and respond favourably to warm soil temperatures. Burning encourages earlier soil warming and typically increases growth, flowering, and seed production of the native flowers and grasses. A mid-spring fire also sets back undesirable "cool-season" weeds such as quackgrass, bluegrass, brome grass, clover, etc., which come up earlier and get a head-start on the wildflowers. By waiting until these undesirable plants have initiated spring growth before burning, the fire will destroy their new growth and set them back, favouring the warm season wildflowers, most of which remain dormant under the soil and thus unharmed by the fire.

Timing is critical to success with burning. It is generally recommended to burn in mid-spring rather than early spring. However, this does not apply to dry meadows with an abundance of early-blooming flowers that would be harmed by a mid-or late-spring fire. Dry meadows should be burned in late fall after most of the native plants have gone dormant, but the non-native cool season grasses are still active. Burning in very early spring can also be done successfully on dry meadows.

Slow burns are more effective than fast ones and the weather conditions will play a major part in how fast an area burns. A controlled burn should never be conducted when your area is experiencing drought conditions. This increases the chances of the fire spreading to unwanted areas and also increases the speed of the burn. Relative humidity should be between 50 and 70% to keep fires slow and manageable. Avoid burning anything when wind speed and direction are unfavourable.

Finally, before you begin a controlled burn, consider researching the various techniques that exist or think about hiring a professional. An out of control burn is not only ineffective, it’s dangerous.

Frequency of Mowing or Burning

Most wildflower meadows respond positively to periodic burning or mowing. Research indicates that annual spring burning tends to favour the native grasses, while fall burning favours the wildflowers. Rotational burning of one of the “management units” of your meadow on an annual basis is generally recommended for a variety of reasons. First, the same planting, with different management regimes, can present very different aspects in the same year, increasing the landscape interest and diversity of habitat for wildlife. Second, leaving unburned sections preserves overwintering butterfly, moth, and other invertebrate pupae and eggs, that would otherwise be destroyed by burning. Third, variation in management prevents any given species from gaining overall dominance in the planting, thus maximizing species diversity. If mowing management is to be used instead of burning, rotational mowing is recommended for the same reasons.

Once your wildflower meadow has become well-established, it will return year after year with just a minimum of maintenance. Following these guidelines will ensure that your planting will have the very best chance of success, while providing you with a maximum of landscape interest throughout the year!

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