Wildlife Habitats : Lawns and Grass
Wildlife Habitats : Lawns/Grass
Lawns are a good habitat for a variety of creatures in the garden. A lot of activity goes on below ground, with worms and insects, some of them quite large, feeding on the dead grass and roots. These are a source of fast food for many birds: easy to get at because the grass is short, and safe because on an open lawn they can see approaching danger.
You can create another habitat in the garden simply by letting some grass grow long on a bank, in an odd corner or on a patch in the middle of your existing lawn. This will give lawn “weeds” and grasses a chance to flower, attracting different insects, which in turn make food for different birds. It will also provide shelter for amphibians and small mammals. You may also get a show of, particularly from a lawn where no weedkillers have been used.
An even better plan would be to make a patch into a wild-flower “meadow” by creating the conditions in which the wild flowers of traditional hayfields and pastures grew. Meadow wild flowers do best in poor because this reduces the competition from coarse weeds and grasses. You can create a patch of low fertility in a small area by digging out the turf and topsoil and replacing it with subsoil. Make sure you remove all weed roots. For large areas, it is more practical to grow a hungry crop such as potatoes for several years without any compost or fertilizers, or to grow and remove a crop such as grazing rye.
Choosing wild flowers and grasses
Choose flower species that bloom over a similar period so they will all set seed before the hay is cut. Check they are suitable for your soil type — most will grow in any ordinary garden soil, but if you have extreme conditions (very acid or chalky soil or heavy clay, for example) you may be restricted in what you can grow.
You also need several fine grass species. Either buy seeds of meadow grasses from a specialist nursery, or use an ordinary lawn mixture without rye grass sown at a lower rate than recommended, say 3g/sq m (0.1oz/sq yd). Some companies sell mixes of wild flowers and grasses suited to particular soils and situations.
The best time to sow wild-flower seed is in early autumn, because the seeds of some species need to experience winter cold before they will germinate. Alternatively, sow in mid-spring when conditions are warm and moist, but be prepared for some seed remaining dormant until the following spring.
Prepare a fine crumbly seedbed by raking and firming, just as you would for an ordinary lawn. Mix the wild-flower and grass seed with an equal amount of silver sand: this makes it easier to distribute the small amount of seed more evenly. The sowing rate for wild-flower seed is only approximately 1g/sq m (0.03oz/sq yd). Broadcast the seed, rake it in and lightly firm the soil.
Meadow wild-flowers developed as a result of the traditional farming practices of haymaking and grazing. To re-create this on a patch of your lawn, you have to adopt a particular schedule of mowing and not mowing and stick to it each year.
For a spring meadow, select plants that flower between early spring and early summer. Leave the patch to grow until mid-summer. Cut it (remove the hay) and then mow the patch and lawn until the end of the season.
For a summer meadow, choose plants that flower between early summer and early autumn. Mow up until early summer, but not too closely — set the mower blades at a height of 7.5cm (3in). Leave the patch to flower until mid-autumn, then cut it and remove the hay.
A small patch can be cut with a sickle or shears. Meadows were traditionally cut with scythes, but a strimmer is a good substitute. It is important to rake up the hay and remove it to keep the fertility of the meadow low.
Adding to a lawn or meadow
Sowing seeds into an established lawn or meadow is unlikely to work. Instead, plant out wild flowers from pots, preferably in mid-autumn after mowing. Wild flowers are found in nurseries, but you can get a greater variety if you grow your own from seed. You can also plant bulbs of wild flowers such as wild.