Long-Term Management




Year 3 - a mature meadow

Weeding

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.

Watering

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.

Fertilizing

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 rotational basis helps ensure continued success. The first burning or mowing is usually conducted in mid-spring of the third year. The best time to conduct this burning or mowing 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 your wildflowers and native 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.

The timing is critical 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.

Burning can usually be instituted at the beginning of the third growing season. At this point, sufficient combustible plant matter is often 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.

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.

Frequency of Mowing or Burning: Wildflower meadows respond positively to periodic burning or mowing. Research indicates that spring burnings tend to favour the native grasses and legumes over the wildflowers while fall burning or mowing favours the wildflowers. For this reason, it is recommended to institute a rotational burning or mowing regime. To do this, conduct your second burning or mowing in the fall of the third year of growth. Afterwards you will burn or mow once every year and a half, one time in spring the other in the fall.

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. Do not mow or burn after new plant growth has reached 1 foot (30 cm) or taller as this could damage some of your desirable plants

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.

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.


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!