Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Wildflower Strip

I remembered the other day that one of my clients, when I first went to work there, told me that they had tried and failed to establish a wildflower meadow in their paddock.

One of the usual reasons that wildflower meadows fail is that people tend to use land that is too rich: that is, land that has been fertilised or enhanced for years, such as part of their garden, or worse still, part of the lawn, whereas wildflowers actually need it lean and mean.

The paddock in question had been used as grazing for decades, which means that it had been regularly fertilised and re-seeded by the previous owners, and had of course been continually fertilised by the grazing animals, leading to lush rich grass.

My client had spent a lot of money on a wildflower consultant, who had completely failed to point out that the land would need impoverishing, and had then supplied a wildflower mix which had, predictably, completely failed. I understand that there was a light sprinkling of poppies the first year, and nothing since.

As the client was still keen on establishing wildflowers, I asked permission to try again, on a small area, but this time starting off with Rhianthus minor or Yellow Rattle. This is a very interesting wildflower, it is partially parasitic on grass roots, so it is the logical choice as the first introduction. If you can get the Yellow Rattle going, it will weaken the grass sward, allowing the wildflowers to grow without being choked by the more vigorous grasses.

So, the client and I selected an area, a strip on the edge of the mown section, quite high up the paddock. I asked him to mow it very short - "scalp it" was the exact instruction - then scarify it thoroughly.

Last week he emailed me to say that this work had been done, and on inspection I was very pleased to see a lot of bare earth between the scarified stalks. "Good job!" as they say.

Onto this I broadcast a light scattering of the Yellow Rattle seeds, as well as a scattering of a casual wildflower mix.  I then stomped across the area a few times to push the seeds down into the sward, and left it to see what happens.

Meanwhile at home I am experimenting with growing wildflower plugs from seed, intending to insert the seedlings into the area if the seed germination is poor. According to the internet research I have done,  it's not possible to grow Yellow Rattle as plug plants, as they need the grass roots to supply part of their nutrition. However, I'm going to give it a go, just to see what happens.

I'll keep you posted!

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