Wednesday 23 October 2019

Gerry Daly: Why not try a wildflower lawn?

In the garden

As the proportion of wildflower plants increases, the show of flowers in the lawn gets better
As the proportion of wildflower plants increases, the show of flowers in the lawn gets better

Gerry Daly

If you quite like the idea of a flowery tapestry, why not treat the lawn as a wildflower lawn?

The model of a moss-free, weed-free green lawn has been popular for a long time but a wildflower lawn is an attractive alternative.

From the outset: this is not a wildflower meadow. A meadow grows tall and is not cut until late June or July, just like a traditional farm meadow. The wildflower lawn is the farm equivalent of constantly grazed pasture. Instead of having animals keeping the grass down, an ordinary lawnmower can be used.

The management of a wildflower lawn is quite different, and can sound like heresy. It is quite easy to convert an existing lawn into a lawn managed to encourage wildflowers. Many lawns are already halfway to being wildflower lawns in any case, so why not go the rest of the way? Also, a wildflower lawn can still be used for all activities, and it needn't be a large area.

To manage a wildflower lawn, the broad-leaved plants in the lawn should be favoured. The first favour you can do them is stop killing them. Weedkillers are never used on a wildflower lawn. Weeds have now become wildflowers: daisies, clover, bird's foot trefoil, buttercups, dandelions, speedwell, selfheal, dog violets, hawkweed and cowslips. Some of these are already present in most lawns that have not been sprayed in the past two years.

Broad-leaved plants in general root more deeply, and can grow and flower well with little or no feeding.

They are best in well-drained soil of low fertility which favours the flowers. When no weedkillers are used, these plants will gain the upper hand on the grasses and progressively increase their numbers.

As the proportion of wildflower plants increases, the show of flowers in the wildflower lawn gets better and better. It will normally take two or more years under this system to build up a reasonable show. As the years pass, the display will get better.

A wildflower lawn is wonderful for wildlife too, not just for wildflowers but the myriad insects and other animals that feed on them. It is better than meadow because it allows access to the soil, for example, for birds to feed.

Mowing should start with one cut in January, February and March. When growth picks up, mowing will be required more regularly, between fortnightly and three-week intervals.

The variation depends on the rate of growth of the lawn. If there is good growth, it needs to be more frequent to avoid a heavy sward build-up that could be difficult to reduce.

As the wildflower lawn matures, and the rate of grass growth declines, it will be easier to mow and require less frequent mowing. After each mowing there is a recovery period, when there are few flowers, but this becomes less apparent as the wildflower lawn matures. On the other hand, the regular cutting away of flower heads keeps the plants flowering much longer than they would naturally.

To progressively reduce soil fertility, the mown grass should be removed from the wildflower lawn until about the middle of May because the grass will still be vigorous until then. After this, during the period of lesser grass growth, the mown material should be allowed to fall back on to the sward, in order to return some of the nutrients and to return the seeds of the broad-leaved plants, encouraging their spread.

The wildflower lawn suits gardens with an informal style. A wildflower lawn is easier to maintain, requiring less than half the mowing of a top-quality green lawn. It also saves the effort and expense of spraying for weeds and moss and of lawn feeding. And because you mow the lawn less frequently, garden wildlife is encouraged. Winner all round!

CLIMATE AWARE

For the last seven years, Muintir na Tire, Cork County Council Environment and Heritage Sections and Griffins Garden Centre have come together for Muintir na Tire Cork School Garden Project. This year the theme couldn't be more timely - or necessary - Climate Change and Gardening. Twenty schools have already signed up, log on to muintircork.com to register your school.

PRETTY POLLEN

Aubrieta is named after a French man called Aubriet, hence the correct spelling. Whatever you call it, this alpine plant is a little gem. It has flowers with four petals, a sign of its cabbage family membership. The flower colour varies and ranges from purple pink to deep violet. It is a source of nectar and pollen to visiting bees and early butterflies. It is easily grown from seeds or a bunch of cuttings together.

HUG A TREE

Good news for tree - and planet - lovers, National Tree Week starts today and runs until next Sunday. It's never been more important to plant our native species as carbon catchers, air purifiers, soil stabilisers, bird habitats and just things of beauty. Log on to treecouncil.ie for events in your neighbourhood.

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