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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
I also noticed that this vine was producing lots of berries
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.
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.
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.
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 Spaces, by 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.
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