Managing your wild flowers
1. Management Regimes.
Year 1 is quite different to subsequent years in that annual weed needs to be mown or cut several times through the season. This includes cutting species like oxeye daisy which may well flower in the first year. But I will hear you say, “You cannot really mean it!”. Yes, we mean it because nearly all these plants are perennials and keeping the more vigorous plants short helps the slower species to establish such as cowslips and ladies bedstraw.
For small areas, remove cut material if possible.
NB. If yellow rattle is being established, mow above 8 inches to allow yellow rattle to set some seed.
Grazing animals can usually be introduced after mid July when the wild flower seedlings have established.
Subsequent years. “The Golden Rule is to remove the season’s growth”. It does not matter how this is done or when it is done, but it needs to be done if possible every year. It can be grazed or cut at varying times through the season. The aim should always be to allow wild flowers to flower and to set seed. If removing the season’s growth is not possible in one year, it will have little effect, but over two years or more, diversity will begin to decline.
Traditional hay meadow. Allow wild flowers to flower and set seed and cut end of July/early August. Remove cut material and then graze or mow re-growth. This regime favours early species such as meadow saxifrage and cowslip. Graze late autumn particularly where yellow rattle is used.
Early cut or graze. Cut or graze through until end of May or even to mid June. Then allow wild flowers to flower and set seed. Cut and re move growth end of September and graze or mow any subsequent re-growth. This is the best option for sites where grazing animals are not possible.
2. Yellow Rattle.
This attractive parasitic wild flower has been rediscovered in recent years as an essential tool of managing wild flower meadows, particularly in the early years when residual fertility from arable crops may be high. Before its rediscovery, grasses used to gradually increase and wild flower diversity would suffer. Yellow rattle was abundant in all the old species-rich hay meadows which had survived so in a sense it was under our noses. It does however have some constraints:
It is an annual with relatively short seed dormancy. The seed rarely lasts more than three years in the soil, so it needs to flower and set seed either every year or every other year.
The seed is an unusual shape in that it is like a round wafer. Because of this it has difficulty making good contact with the soil surface unless grazing animals are used to tread it in.
Because it is parasitic on grass, hay yields will reduce significantly, may be up to 50%.
How to use Yellow Rattle.
Coarse grasses such as Yorkshire fog, cocksfoot , false oat-grass and many other species will be effectively controlled. Yorkshire fog has an irritating habit of appearing after the first winter when winter chill has broken the seed dormancy, so yellow rattle is invaluable here.
Yellow rattle can build up to a high population in years two and three, which provides the perfect opportunity to establish other wild flowers.
On light chalky soils Yellow rattle can be broadcast into grassland which has lost all or most of its wild flowers using sheep or cattle to tread it in during late autumn the same time as the grass is being grazed. Allow the yellow rattle to flower and set seed for one to two years, taking a hay cut, before adding in other species. On stronger soils where there are coarse grasses, we have been trialling sowing Yellow Rattle in strips at a higher seed rate in order to help it get established. Early results are promising, see Blog.
Yellow rattle should be used as a management tool to aid wild flower establishment. Once the additional wild flowers have been established, yellow rattle can be grazed every other year so as to increase hay yields if required.
For areas less than 100m2, sow yellow rattle at 1g/m2. Yellow rattle costs £220/kg, so the larger the area the lower the seed rate to avoid too big a hole in the pocket. Yellow rattle spreads fairly quickly but no-one wants to wait if the area is quite small.
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