Wildflower meadow: maintenance

Wildflower meadows require an annual maintenance programme to allow the more desirable species to flourish and to reduce the vigour of the more rampant species. This usually involves mowing and some judicious weed control.

To look their best, meadows need careful maintenance. Credit: RHS/Tim Sandall.

Quick facts

Suitable for Wildflower areas and meadows
Timing Early to late summer
Difficulty Moderate

Suitable for...

The techniques explained on this page are for newly-sown and existing perennial meadows. It is important to work out whether you have (or are aspiring to) a spring or summer-flowering meadow, as this will affect what regime you choose (see below).

Maintaining meadow

To look their best, meadows do need some maintenance each year. The basic process is explained below.

Watering and feeding

A wildflower area doesn't require any additional watering or feeding. This could alter the natural balance of plants in the area. Many native flowers colonise poor land and the addition of extra nutrients and water will only encourage excessive vigour in the grasses, which will consequently out-compete the more desirable native plants.

Mowing

Mowing is one way gardeners can manipulate the range of wildflowers that grow.

New meadows: To encourage perennial flowers and grasses to make good root development, it is important to mow the meadow in the first year after sowing. Cut to a height of 5cm (2in) four times during the year.

Established spring-flowering meadows: Cut in July and for the remainder of the summer to reduce the vigour of coarse grasses and to allow flowers such as cowslips, fritillary, lady's smock, selfheal and bugle to prosper. Leave un-mown from February to July.

Established summer-flowering meadows: Don't mow until late August or September, after wildflowers such as knapweed, devil's bit scabious and lady's bedstraw have set seed. Use this summer-flowering meadow regime for meadows with plants flowering at various times, including spring and summer species.

For meadows at all stages:

  • It is usually a good idea to leave the initial mowings in situ for a few days to allow seed to drop to the ground but then it is important to collect mowings to reduce soil fertility.
  • Aim for the first cut to be 5-7.5cm (2-3in) high. Subsequent cuts can be lower.
  • Many lawnmowers will struggle with long grass. Small areas can be cut with a strimmer, though larger areas are best tackled with a heavy-duty mower (e.g. sickle-bar mowers and motor scythes) or a two-wheel strimmer.

Problems

The main problem that is likely to be encountered is an abundance of weeds or dominant grasses.

  • Perennial weeds - thistles and nettles for example - can either be weeded out by hand or spot treated with a weedkiller based on glyphosate, such as Roundup or Tumbleweed.
  • Lawn weedkillers should not be used, as these will kill the wildflowers you wish to encourage.
  • Where grasses become dominant try sowing the annual wildflower, yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) which is semi-parasitic on grasses. Sow this in August and keep the grass mown until March.

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