Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Feature: Native Plant Meadows Experience ‘Growing Pains’


      Emily Stambaugh, Intern, Penn State Agriculture & Environment Center

Native meadows reduce stormwater runoff and improve water quality and local stream health.
A native meadow is land planted with vegetation, such as wildflowers and grasses, that are native to the local area and allowed to grow with infrequent mowing. 

The establishment of native meadows is becoming increasingly popular as they are a great alternative to traditional lawn space and provide many benefits.

Native meadows reduce stormwater runoff and improve water quality and local stream health. 

The native species planted in a meadow lessen the need for irrigation and fertilizer compared to a traditional lawn, as native species can withstand drought and poor soils. 

The deeper root systems of native plants improve infiltration, which aids in the absorption of rainwater. 

The meadow plants also slow down stormwater runoff and filter out pollutants.

Additionally, native meadows and their plants can provide beauty through all seasons and various colors and textures to enjoy. 

They provide food for birds and other wildlife and a habitat for pollinator species such as bees. Since they are only mowed once or twice per year, they reduce the time and resources spent mowing, making them less expensive and time-consuming to maintain long-term.

This multitude of benefits comes after an establishment process that can be messy and awkward to the eye. There are initial costs and time investments required to establish a thriving meadow. 

Native meadows take a few years to become fully established, and they experience many "growing pains" through these first years. 

Knowing the process required to implement a native meadow and the phases these spaces go through during establishment can help community members understand what they see through the first years and may make it easier to picture the final result.

Meadow establishment begins by clearing the site of any pre-existing vegetation. 

Removing existing plants is most effectively done with herbicide, although you can use other methods for smaller projects. 

The treated vegetation, once dead, will then be removed from the area leaving bare soil behind to create a suitable planting bed for the meadow seeds. 

The site can be covered lightly with straw, but the bare ground will exist there until the seeds of the planted native species start to grow. This stage could last through winter, as the seeds might not begin to grow until spring. 

A cover crop may be used as a temporary species to provide soil coverage before the native species begin to grow. 

Starting with this blank slate is essential to prevent the meadow from becoming overgrown with weeds. Tiny seedlings of native plants can't compete with already established and aggressive weeds.

Hand-weeding or applying herbicide to weeds and invasive species may be necessary while the native plants are becoming established. 

The young meadow might need to be mowed a few times during the first growing season to prevent nuisance weeds from going to seed and to ensure sunlight reaches the native seeds and immature meadow plants. 

This battle against weeds might even mean sacrificing some flowers for the greater good of the meadow. Weed competition must be kept in check during the first few growing seasons for the long-term health and success of the meadow.

Some native plants are slow growing and take a few years to mature and flower. During the first summer, only one or two species might flower, and the meadow might not be as colorful as expected. 

Over the next few years, the appearance of the meadow can change as different species thrive, die out, re-seed in new places, fill out, and mature. 

Enjoy the process, and don't hold on too tightly to your expectations. Some years might be "prettier" than others.

Once established, the meadow should be mowed once or twice yearly to prevent trees and woody vegetation from becoming established. The meadow should not be cut shorter than 8 inches during the growing season. 

Meadows, by nature, are more unkempt than a traditional lawn. In particular, leaving the dead vegetation standing during the winter might look messy, but it provides lots of benefits for wildlife. 

Though awkward in their early stages and different from the appearance of traditional turf, one can rest assured that a native meadow planting will provide many benefits to a community, the local watershed, and beauty for all to enjoy.

(Reprinted from Penn State Extension Watershed Winds newsletterClick Here to sign up for your own copy.)

Upcoming Events:

-- September 8: Pond Twight Walks Start At Several Location In PA

-- October 4: Community Science Tool - First Investigation Of Stream Health (Recorded Webinar Available)

Related Articles - Extension:

-- Penn State Extension: Managing Your Drinking Water Well During A Drought

-- Penn State Extension To Offer Private Drinking Water Testing Webinars This Fall

-- Importance Of Manure Application Setbacks For Protecting Private Drinking Water Well

-- DEP Opens Comment Period On State Water Plan Update

-- National Natural Resources Education Conference Coming To PA - Be A Sponsor

-- Penn State Master Watershed Steward Native Tree & Shrub Sale

[Posted: August 23, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

No comments :

Post a Comment

Subscribe To Receive Updates:

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner