Native meadows, wild flower prairies, and extensive grasslands are what early American settlers viewed when they crossed west of the Appalachian Mountains. The early pioneers wrote about millions of acres and beautiful wildflower meadows northwest to the Black Hills in South Dakota and southwest to the Rockies. These diverse areas of native vegetation were unique in both flora and soil. The Native American prairie was breathtaking in flowers in many areas and supported a wide variety of animals and insects. Early in New York’s history, meadowlands and prairies could be found in central Long Island on the Hempstead Plains and through the MohawkValley between Albany and Buffalo.
Establishing these grassland meadows can be fairly easy but timing is everything. Get to know your soil. Soil consistency and its moisture retaining ability will dictate the types of plants to use. The amount of light available is important. Understory meadows that are in a dapple shaded environment also require a unique set of plants. I recommend using seed to establish these areas.
In March cut grasses in the area you would like to establish the meadow very short. At this time, try to remove unwanted or invasive plant species. Seed by mid-May. Wildflower seed is expensive and germination is best in early spring. Wildflower seeding any other time of year is a waste.
Once established these grassland areas should be mowed once a year. If not mowed, these areas will start going through various stages of environmental succession. Woody shrubs and small trees will develop and your meadow will eventually revert back into woodland. Mow these meadow areas in late winter or early spring. Animals depend on these areas for shelter and food. Use native plant seeds to establish these meadow areas. In sunny areas, plants such as black-eyed susan, primrose, iris, and cone flower are perfect examples of plants for wildflower meadows. If starting with bare soil, re-seed these areas for three years each spring. The heavy seeding will help to establish the meadow quicker and will help to hold back invasive species. It takes three to five years for seeds to mature enough to flower. Be patient with your meadow. You can get help for your meadow projects at local garden centers or the Dutchess County Cornell Cooperative Extension.
Shrinking our lawns and establishing our wildflower perimeters or meadows is a challenge worth taking. Asking children to get involved and observing these areas as they develop, is a great example of taking a giant step towards sustainability on your property.
Submitted to Pawling Public Radio
Pete and the Natives