If I Just Stop Mowing, Can I Get a Wildflower Meadow?

Milkweed Beetle sm

A beautiful wildflower meadow is one of the best gifts you can give to butterflies and native pollinators in your wildlife garden. But the question is, can you achieve this by simply stopping mowing your lawn?

Well, the idea of reducing your lawn is wonderful, especially if you are adding lots of native plants that support many different kinds of wildlife. BUT you may not be pleased with the results if you just stop mowing your lawn.

Abandoned House with overgrown lawn

Abandoned House with overgrown lawn

Let’s look at an example right next door to my home. This house has been abandoned for more than 8 years now, so obviously there is no lawn care happening. There has been several bursts of sporadic activity as various people have bought the property in either sheriff sale or tax sale, only to abandon it again, such as the time that a prospective owner sent a butcher with a chain saw to take down most of the trees.

While this is certainly an eyesore in our neighborhood, it does give us the opportunity to make a careful observation of the results of what happens when you stop mowing your lawn. Yesterday I took a walk around my neighbor’s abandoned yard on a journey of discovery to share with you. I grabbed my camera and headed outside, only to return immediately to grab the backup battery because the first one was dead. I was back inside within 5 minutes because the backup battery was dead as well (I take a lot of photos, LOL). So this discovery walk is brought to you courtesy of the camera on my iPhone (see how dedicated I am!).

After grabbing a bunch of photos, I sat with my favorite reference guide Weeds of the Northeast, by Richard Uva, Joseph Neal, and Joseph DiTomaso to attempt to identify all of the plants that had sprung up when the mowing stopped.

Right next to my fence line there is an ever-expanding patch of Orange Daylily–and a cucumber plant growing from the spot where our compost bin used to live. Pretty right?

Orange Daylilly sm

Well, it depends. We love our volunteer cucumber plants for sure. But the Orange Daylilly is listed as an invasive plant in almost every state east of the Mississippi, including my home state of Pennsylvania. It’s really hard to get rid of because of the rapid expansion of its thick tuberous roots. Recommended treatment to eradicate it is to use Roundup–but we all know that’s really not a good idea!

Also next to the fence line is lots of Rudbeckia laciniata (Cutleaf Coneflower) that I’ve been happily transplanting from my garden because it’s a tough native–and easily able to hold its own against the rising tide of invasive plants that have popped up in this unmown yard.

Rudbeckia Pokeweed sm

Behind the Rudbeckia laciniata are several large stands of Pokeweed, a native plant that thrives on disturbed soil that produces lots of berries which the birds enjoy, and is spread because the birds poop out the seeds as they fly over open spaces.

While the Pokeweed is native, you probably don’t want to plant it in the more formal areas of your garden. It does tend to be kind of aggressive.

Much of what has popped up and spread next door is what I like to call “nasty viny stuff.” There is English Ivy, Sweet Autumn Clematis, Wild Grape, Morning Glory, and some more that I haven’t yet identified.

Vines sm

I did discover a previously unknown vine. I have recently been noticing this very unusual flowers around the neighborhood as I walk my 2 Plott Hounds.

Bittersweet Nightshade

I also noticed that this vine was producing lots of berries

Bittersweet Nightshade berries sm

Using Weeds of the Northeast, I discovered that this is an invasive vine called Bittersweet Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara). It is also known as: Blue Nightshade, Climbing Bittersweet, Poison Berry, Shooting Star, European Bittersweet and Violet Bloom.

The berries of Bittersweet Nightshade are poisonous to livestock. And given its unusual beautiful flower, I doubt you’d like your kids to play here only to discover that the berries are poisonous to children too!

There is one good native vine making a stand over there. Check out this Virginia Creeper climbing up the side of the house.

VA Creeper sm

There is one thing growing next door that has made me extremely happy. For the first time since the house was abandoned so many years ago, there is some Common Milkweed right near the side porch.

Milkweed sm

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that hopefully soon I’ll get to see my first Monarch of the year in my wildlife garden. I’ve got some Swamp Milkweed in my own garden, so I’m hoping that this combination will attract some Monarchs here this year.

The other plant that is making the native bees and butterflies happy is Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron annuus). It’s an annual native plant that is often classified as a “weed” but if you want to create a pollinator garden or a butterfly garden, this is a great plant.

Daisy Fleabane sm

Most of what is growing next door is invasive, much of it is 4-5 feet tall, and very little of it could be considered “beautiful” by any stretch of the imagination, so my answer to the question we started off with “Can I get a beautiful wildflower meadow just by stopping mowing my yard?” is: Not Really.

If you’d like to learn how to install a beautiful wildflower meadow in your wildlife garden, please check out:

Urban and Suburban Meadows: Bringing Meadowscaping to Big and Small Spacesby Catherine Zimmerman Author and photographer, Catherine Zimmerman, combines her expertise in photography, storytelling, environmental issues, horticulture and organic practices to offer meadowscaping as an alternative to reduce monoculture lawns. Zimmerman crafts a guide that provides step-by-step instructions on organically creating and maintaining beautiful meadow gardens. Four experts in meadow establishment lend their knowledge for site preparation, design, native plants, planting and maintenance. The book provides plant lists and resource sections for nine regions across the United States along with local sources to assist the meadow creator in bringing diversity back to urban and suburban landscapes. Meadows can be big or small, short or tall.

© 2014, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of BeautifulWildlifeGarden.com We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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Comments

  1. denise meehan says

    We have the Orange Day Lilies here too. OMG, are those tough roots to get out. I think I read in a Susan Wittig Albert “Darling Dahlias” book that they were originally called Ditch Lilies, and they surrounded the outhouses. They sure have come a long way. I have been sick and not able to
    spend too much time outdoors, but I do want to study pollinator action on those liles. My Late Grandmother (from Alabama) would roll over in her grave if I took them out. Our house was her’s 60 years ago, and some plants are sacred. I did try to plant some Turk’s Cap Lilies near my frontyard
    orange ones, but like every corm or bulb… nothing came up.

    We have the nightshade here as well. I used gloves to remove mine. It has such a pretty flower, but being toxic and all. Well it had to go.

    Were you able to identify the grape ? I replaced a patch of them and invasive Sweet Autumn Clematis with native Elderberries. Now and again one tries to re-assert itself, but I pull them out.

    Is that a common milkweed ? Or Swamp Milkweed ? It reminds me of the latter ?

    And finally I love my fleabanes. Yes they do have to be thinned out. But I know that pollinator’s who can get through the chemical soup that surrounds me these days (Permerthrin another neuro-toxin),
    that they have something to feast on. I have two kinds, the white ones, and pink ones. That came from ? Well birds I guess.

    Thanks for the great post.

    • says

      Denise, that is the Common Milkweed (Aesclepias syriaca) in the photos, although I do have some Swamp Milkweed inside my own yard. The Bittersweet Nightshade does have lovely and intriguing flowers, but I won’t allow it to spread into my garden because I have 2 dogs and I’m already battling so many invasives here that I don’t want this to get a foothold too. I haven’t yet IDed the grape, but it’s a mess all over my neighborhood :(
      Carole Sevilla Brown recently posted..Kill The Bishops Weed

  2. denise meehan says

    Also, I hope you see Monarchs soon. We have yet to get any here on Long Island, NY. And I saw only one last year, on a butterfly bush in the parking lot of our King Kullen supermarket.

  3. says

    Denise: Don’t expect to see many pollinators on day lilies. In general native pollinators don’t care for non-native flowers unless they are closely related to some native plant with similar flowers, eg. Apples and crabapples. Let me know if you find any. I keep looking. http://nativeplantwildlifegarden.com/pollinators-and-native-vs-non-native-plants/

    I, too have the bittersweet nightshade. It can crowd some big shrubs by growing in the middle of their foliage and stunting the growth of center branches. Nasty stuff.
    Beatriz Moisset recently posted..The Importance of Native Pollinators

  4. Bob Vaiden says

    Well… if you ALREADY HAVE a collection of native plants nearby…then you CAN just stop mowing and expand your natural area (while keeping a close eye and weeding trowel handy!). However… most yards really don’t have the species material left that might appear if mowing stopped. You might be pleasantly surprised…but I doubt it :(

    Daylilies? I recommend backhoes, or low-yield nuclear explosives… :)

  5. Marilyn says

    I love your tenacity, Carol!

    Don’t try to stop mowing in my neighborhood or you’ll end up with a sign from the city in your front yard, and a nasty citation letter in the mail. One of my neighbors told me that while his letter went on about environmental concerns, it also specifically objected to the milkweed growing wild in his front yard. I have my new milkweed and cone flowers in a well-defined bed which I try to keep weeded. The milkweed is filling in beautifully. So far the city hasn’t objected to the poke weed that grows wild in the alleys behind the homes here. I think some of that maintenance might be their responsibility…which means it gets left alone. :)

  6. says

    I thought the Bittersweet Nightshade was native until I began researching growing native plants in my garden. It is loved by bumble bees but there are better choices. My sweet autumn clematis died over our harsh winter and I will not replace it because I have since learned it’s invasive. My native Clematis Virginiana however is thriving. I can’t wait to see it bloom. I hope the neighbors do not think the Common Milkweed growing in my sidewalk is an eyesore. It is in full bloom, smells delicious but so far, not a sign of Monarchs. An interesting journey. I vouch for that Cutleaf Coneflower. It’s a beauty, but tough, and will spread! The birds and bees absolutely love it in my garden. I think they are the reason it spreads …

    • says

      Kathy, I’m taking advantage of the “toughness” of the Rudbeckia to try to hold back all the invasives in my neighborhood in hopes of keeping them out of my garden. I get so many volunteers of this plant that I dig them up and transplant them along the other side of my fence line as a barrier against all those other thugs.
      Carole Sevilla Brown recently posted..Look Closer

    • says

      Sonia, your daylily patch doesn’t grow larger every year? That’s amazing. Those tubers are really hard to dig up here. The Virginia Creeper can be a bit aggressive, but I’d much rather have that than all the English Ivy, Sweet Autumn Clematis, Morning Glory, Wild Grape, and other invasive vines that are abundant here!
      Carole Sevilla Brown recently posted..Growing Nature Loving Kids

  7. says

    Ahhhh, “Weeds of the Northeast”. My bible when I lived in NY. I was proud owner of about 90% of the listed plants on my small plot of land and I didn’t know a thing about native plants, insect interactions or anything. Just knew I loved the interesting things that popped up.

    One way to try to start a meadow is to mow paths around leaving “islands” of growth to see what may appear. Then you can weed out any invasives maintaining a few areas at a time, slowly allowing them to expand as you get a grip on things.

    Great article Carole, you brought back a lot of memories of what graced my place in NY.
    Loret recently posted..Florida Cottonmouth, Water Moccasin Snake (Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti)

  8. Sally McGuire says

    One trick that works for restricted neighborhoods or public gardens is to plant a very neat low growing hedge around the perimeter of the “meadow” garden. Keep the edges very clean and the wonderful mess growing inside is totally acceptable!

  9. chris says

    i was interested to read this, i’m in the UK, because i did just that. I stopped mowing my front lawn. what once was a sea of yellow wildflowers disappeared under the grasses that grew. i did have a bit of a variation in that i put in mower cut paths, other sections that were cut in spring and then the uncut grass, some wildflowers survived in the spring cut section but it has been a real eye opener. so as much as the pollinators have lost out on nectar, grasshoppers, craneflies, moths and meadow ants have all thrived with cover and protection the long grass provides. also 3 possibly 4 species of grass feeding (caterpillar stage) butterflies have been witnessed egg laying. it has been a real joy to experiment, so although nectar sources have reduced the amount of habitat for other orders and caterpillars has actually increased the lawns biodiversity. even hedgehogs now frequent with the increase in slugs and invertebrates. so when thinking of wildlife please don’t discount grass. i have been gardening for wildlife for over a decade and this has been one of the most rewarding things i have done.
    Chris.

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  1. […] been regularly spotting a flock of over 30 American Goldfinch in my backyard wildlife garden and the abandoned property next door, which has become quite weedy and filled with Pokeweed, Cutleaf Coneflower, Common Milkweed, Boneset, and much […]

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