EcoBlog

The latest thinking on ecological landscapes. Useful tips to improve our environment

Meadowscaping: A Perfect Alternative to Lawns

You might be thinking about doing some planting this fall.   Why not consider planting a native meadowscape:  a meadow or a meadow-like garden?  Meadowscapes are fantastic ecological alternatives to lifeless lawns (“green deserts”).

Whether you have a tiny yard or an expansive landscape, you can create a native meadowscape and give your landscape a big ecological boost.  Bees, butterflies, other beneficial insects, and many species birds will appear, seemingly out of nowhere.  The plant diversity and complexity of a meadowscape attracts an incredible variety of species.

Meadowscapes are low-maintenance, requiring less labor and fewer costs than required to maintain a lawn or even a formal perennial bed.   After a meadowscape has established, you will need to cut it back once a year, and that’s it!

Here are some things you need to know in order to create a successful meadow or meadow-like garden:

Meadows are almost always free of woody plants – no trees or shrubs.

Most meadow plants require full sun and infertile soil.  Although most meadows are dry, there are some wet meadows, too.

Think “plant communities” when selecting meadow plants – plants which grow together in nature.   For example a wet meadow might include native Joe Pye Weeds and Ironweeds which are often found growing together.

Native grasses should comprise 40% to 60% of plants in a meadow.  Grasses are a critical component in a meadow, creating a structural foundation both underground and above ground.

A lawn which you stop mowing is not a meadow,  it is only exotic cool-season grass allowed to grow, and will never provide provide the ecological benefits of a native meadow.

Spring and fall are great times to install a meadow.   With sufficient irrigation to help plants establish, you can even plant in the summer.

You can create a meadow by using seeds, plant “plugs” or even large containers of plants.  Your budget, the size of your landscape and your patience will determine which format you use.  While seeded meadows are inexpensive, they can take several years to establish.  Using large containers of plants can be prohibitively expensive, for all but the smallest landscapes.  Plant “plugs” are a nice compromise – affordable and fairly quick to establish, but can be hard to find.

Meadowscapes can be naturalistic or more formally designed.  A seeded meadow will be quite random in terms of where plants grow.  By using plugs or containers of plants, you can create more of a design with swaths of plants, where you’d like to have them.

Select plants so that you create 3 seasons of bloom to benefit the greatest number of wildlife species.

Leave your meadow plants standing through winter to provide seeds for birds, cover for overwintering  insects, and visual interest.  Cut the meadowscape back in early spring.  If you have a large area, consider cutting back only half of the meadowscape each year to preserve habitat for many species.

If you have a lawn, you can have a meadow, and a much healthier ecosystem too!

Happy Meadowscaping from Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial!

Photo: Great Spangled Fritillary on Common Milkweed.
Photo credit:  Flickr_Acrylic Artist

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Comments

  1. I have a small grass area here in Tuckahoe – if I do meadow scaping what plants would you suggest – I have tow large trees – a very tall sycamore and a very tall evergreen – so only some hours of sun.
    Thank you, sms

    • Thanks for your question! It’s pretty tough to have a successful meadow without sufficient sun. It sounds like you may have better success with a woodland garden than a meadow on a site which is under mature trees, with a great deal of shade. Can you provide some more details about the site you are thinking of planting in (# hours of direct, full sun, how close to trees, is it a flat area or sloped, anything else growing well in that area, etc?).