What Makes a Meadow or Prairie Better Than a Lawn?
In my previous post, I wrote about some of the advantages to the homeowner of having a meadow or prairie, versus a traditional lawn. Both meadows and prairies (the former have more native grasses and fewer wildflowers than the latter) contain plant life that is native to that region, whereas lawns contain grasses that are known more for their durability than for being local. Because of this difference, meadows and prairies can be friendlier to local animal life by providing shelter and food sources; they are also better able to withstand variances in the weather such as drought and are more resistant to non-native, invasive species of plants such as Ivy. For these reasons, meadows and prairies can be a much simpler, cost-effective and low-maintenance lawn alternative.
Now that we’re familiar with just what makes meadows and prairies such a great lawn alternative, let’s take a look at the process of converting a lawn into a meadow, and how we can maintain that meadow once we have established it (hint: an Orec Brush Cutter is a great tool for this).
Before You Plant Your Meadow or Prairie, Do Your Homework
When planning your lawn alternative, there are some obvious, and some less-obvious factors to consider before you dig up that lawn. Certainly, you will need to research what native plant species you would like to include on your property, and you will need to figure out just how much time and money you will need in order to establish a meadow or a prairie on your property. In regards to this last consideration, most experts believe that it takes around three years in order to properly establish a meadow or prairie.
Outside of these considerations, there are some less-obvious factors you will need to consider. First, you should check in to local laws and ordinances that relate to the work that you are going to be doing. If any of these hinder the work that you would like to do, you may consider applying for a variance. It is also a good idea to check in with your neighbors to let them know the work that you are going to be doing and the benefits that it will have. If you can convince them to follow you in building a meadow or a prairie, they will make your environment that much more friendly to native wildlife and plant-life.
Once you have done the prep work that is needed, you can get down and dirty by first removing all or part of your lawn and then converting it into a meadow or prairie. Once you’ve done that, maintenance is quite simple. Creating a meadow or prairie can be a low-maintenance lawn alternative.
Tearing it Down to Build it Up: Removing Your Lawn
Before you put in the native plants you will need to make your meadow or prairie, you will first need to remove the lawn with which you want to replace it. One way to do this is to remove the sod in strips with either a shovel or a sod cutter. You should remove the strips at a depth of between 12 and 18 inches. Once you have removed the sod, you will need to will need to prepare the soil and to plant immediately.
One more way that you can remove your lawn is to solarize it. Solarizing your plants kills them by speeding up germination and then baking them. You can solarize them by covering them with materials, such as black plastic, wood chips about 6 inches deep, plywood or a layer of newspapers 20 sheets deep with wood chips on top. You should apply the material in late spring and keep it in place for at least two months. Once you have dead plants and dry soil, you should remove the covering and till the soil or rake away the dead thatch. If you do not plan to plant your meadow or prairie until spring, be sure to mulch the solarized area with wood chips, shredded bark, or shredded leaves to prevent soil erosion and to keep weeds from sprouting. One last note: solarizing should only be done for small patches of lawn that are 1000 square feet or less.
Planting your Low-Maintenance Lawn Alternative
You can plant your meadow using seeds or plants, and in most areas the best time to plant is in spring. Once you have planted your meadow, you should add a light layer of mulch and water as needed during the first six weeks. Once you have done the planting of your lawn alternative, it will simply be a matter of maintaining your meadow or prairie.
Keep it Growing Strong: Maintaining your Meadow or Prairie
It is the first three years of building your meadow or prairie require the most time and money; however, once you have established your meadow or prairie you will only need to inspect for weeds once in a while and to mow the area—with an Orec Brush Cutter of course!
During the first year, while your plants are still tiny, you will need to mow a little more often to ensure that your plants win the battle with the weeds that always want to take over. The first time, you will want to mow before the weeds become 8 inches tall, and to mow the weeds at a height just above the level of the plants that you want to keep – normally about 4 inches. Here, it is a great idea to have a mower with an adjustable blade height, which is where the Orec Cyclone Walk Behind Flail mower and the Orec Samurai Walk Behind Rotary Brush Cutter come in. Both units feature easy to adjust blade heights that will enable you to cut the weeds at the desired height.
You should mow often enough to prevent the weeds from reaching 8 inches in height or from developing seed heads. Be sure to discontinue mowing at the end of the season in order to give your plants overwinter protection.
In the second spring, whatever vegetation is left over should be mowed to the ground before the start of the growing season. During the growing season, keep an eye out for invading weeds and be sure to cut them to the ground when you find them. The second season is a great time to use the Orec Cyclone flail mower, which not only cuts down to a height of two inches but mulches the material that it cuts, meaning you won’t have to mow as frequently.
From here on out, you will just need to keep an eye out for those pesky weeds, and mow them down with an Orec Brush Cutter when you find them.