Wild Flower Meadows – Why It’s Important to Cut and Clear
Wildflower meadows are a stunning feature of your land and one which helps wildlife to prosper. But meadows require maintenance in order to remain at their best. It is vital that your meadow is cut back every year after it has dropped its seed and should then be cleared.
So, why should you cut back your meadow?
Meadows must be cut back to control the level of nutrients in the soil. Many of the most beautiful flowers thrive in poor quality soil. In addition, if fertility is high, grasses and the strongest wild flowers will dominate the more delicate species.
When Should You Cut and Clear?
You would normally cut and clear from late August but your meadow could be left undisturbed over the winter to give the wild birds and insects more time to take advantage of the seeds. The meadow will look untidy but this could be a sacrifice worth making.
Once the meadow has been cut, the cut material must be cleared as if it is left to decompose in situ, it will return too many nutrients to the soil. However, you could opt to leave the material in the meadow for a few days to allow any remaining seed to drop to the ground.
How to Cut Back Your Wild Flower Meadow
There are several methods at your disposal:
- Mow and bale
- Flail and then collect cut material in a hopper
- Mow or scythe then rake
- Mow or strim then collect with a mower collector
Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. The best option for you will depend on the size of the area to be cut and your available budget.
Baling is an excellent option if you have a large area to clear and benefit from access to a baler. Round balers will perform best as the vegetation may be damp. You will also require the means to remove the bales and that might mean engaging a contractor. Bales could be left at the field margins to provide shelter for wildlife whilst they rot down. If they are dry, they can be burned, but an annual derogation from the Environment Agency may be required. This is free of charge.
Flail and Collect
Scything is enormous fun, keeps you fit and can be an efficient method to use after a little practice. You will be able to cut a large area in a short space of time time. This is usually the cheapest option, but the cut material will need to be raked up then loaded onto a trailer and removed for composting or burning. Hand raking can take a significant length of time to complete.
One Pass Flail and Collect
The most efficient method to employ is a one pass cut and collect. I favour using a Ryetec flail collector. This cuts (shreds) the material and throws it straight into a hopper. When the hopper is full, it can be transported to a compost and/or burn site and tipped. With this method, the shredded material usually decomposes quickly as it has been reduced to small pieces. It also burns well when dry.
The one pass method is ideal if you are facing a short window of good weather but the equipment is a major investment and so it is often more cost effective to employ a contractor to undertake the work for you.
Mow or Strim and Collect
For smaller meadows, it is possible to mow or strim and then to leave the cut material in rows to dry out. It can be collected with a ride-on mower. This method works reasonably well but only when the growth is dry and so cutting is best undertaken in August or early September, before the weather takes a turn for the worse.
If you require assistance in sourcing machinery or contractors, I am always here!