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Author Topic: wild flower meadows and hay  (Read 6679 times)


  • Joined Jun 2013
  • Herefordshire
wild flower meadows and hay
« on: February 22, 2014, 04:54:48 pm »
I hope someone who has tried this can give advice. The more I read the more I am confused!

Our holding has been permanent pasture for sheep and cattle. We are using some for woodland, have planted an orchard and started a veg area. We also have chickens and will have goats and pigs but the bit that is causing the confusion is about half an acre that we want to encourage to gradually revert to wild flower meadow. We intend harrowing it as soon as the ground has dried enough to take machinery on (it is generally fairly well drained but like everyone else we have had a lot of rain this winter) and intend to cut it regularly this year and take the grass away to reduce the fertility. We will then decide whether to leave it to see what grows or to use plug plants to increase variety.

My problem comes in that apparently if we want wild flower meadow for wildlife we shouldn't cut it until after the flowers have seeded but if you want hay then you need to cut early while there is maximum goodness. We will need hay for the goats but are wanting hay and wanting a wildlife meadow mutually exclusive?

Marches Farmer

  • Joined Dec 2012
  • Herefordshire
Re: wild flower meadows and hay
« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2014, 07:02:10 pm »
Can you cut it twice - maybe haylage? That would reduce fertility.  We had fields which had never been reseeded but regularly had pig muck from a small commercial herd spread on them, so fertility was very high.  Ten years on, never been harrowed and been grazed only by sheep and they're full of wild flowers and many native grasses as well as orchids, and we've planted nothing.


  • Joined May 2013
Re: wild flower meadows and hay
« Reply #2 on: February 22, 2014, 09:05:40 pm »
wildflower meadows get cut late if they are under some kind of subsidy. contradicts cutting for max nutrition but thats why they get the extra subsidy i guess.
we planted a small flower meadow it was beautiful, mainly used for cutting and feeding to my rabbits ( i had a lot then) but i stupidly planted poppies which are poisionous. but the following year hardly anything grew back even though we planted perenials aswell as annuals.


  • Joined Aug 2010
    • The World is My Lobster
Re: wild flower meadows and hay
« Reply #3 on: February 22, 2014, 10:40:52 pm »
You can make hay then once every three or four years do a late cut in say August, that can allow some seeding. 

Wild flowers need little competition from grass to do well so don't fertilize if you want plenty of flowers or the grass will outcompete them.
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  • Joined Jul 2012
  • Kent
  • HesterF
Re: wild flower meadows and hay
« Reply #4 on: February 22, 2014, 11:33:44 pm »
For the flowers to work, it will need to be only cut once - late, after flowering. But traditionally that would also have fed the livestock through winter so although it might not be optimal, it must have worked for centuries. Maybe you will need to supplement too. It is all quite tricky though from everything I've read - you want very little nutrition in the meadow for the flowers to work. I think you have to start with yellow rattle which will weaken the grass. Otherwise whatever flowers you plant will be out competed by grass. I've been reading up on it because I'd like wild flower meadows but our grass is really strong and we've recently had our soil tested which shows it's really high in phosphate, even though it's never been fertilised, so I think I might be on to a loser.


  • Joined Jun 2013
  • Herefordshire
Re: wild flower meadows and hay
« Reply #5 on: February 23, 2014, 10:01:30 am »
Thanks for all your replies. It really helps getting other people's thoughts. This year I will have to concentrate on weakening the existing grass and then try and get the wild flowers going next year. Good point about the yellow rattle. As Hester said people cut after flowering for years and used the hay but if that isn't any good I like the idea of trying cutting at different times in different years. Thanks as well for the warning about poppies. I know I have also got to watch that there are no foxgloves for the goats.

Our trees from the Woodland Trust are coming this week so that's another long term project.


  • Joined May 2013
Re: wild flower meadows and hay
« Reply #6 on: February 23, 2014, 10:11:23 am »
the thing is people cut the late grass for centuries and fed their beasts with the hay over the winter, but the beasts were slow growing traditional breeds who didnt need alot of calorie rich fodder. more modern breeds would need supplementary feed for quick growth.
for quick results mustard, phalacia (?) and borage give quick results to please the eye. heaven for bees.

Marches Farmer

  • Joined Dec 2012
  • Herefordshire
Re: wild flower meadows and hay
« Reply #7 on: February 23, 2014, 10:46:39 am »
Be very careful what you plant if you do introduce new species.  Yellow rattle does reduce fertility but also swamps everything else - our neighbour has been trying to eliminate it for 30 years!  Knapweed and plantain (ribwort) are similarly invasive in the right conditions.

Dreich Pete

  • Joined Jan 2014
  • Aberdeenshire
Re: wild flower meadows and hay
« Reply #8 on: March 10, 2014, 10:50:27 am »
That's very interesting about Yellow Rattle because it us what's recommended as a first planting after cutting the grass back and turning over or harrowing. It destroys the grass roots but allows other flowering plants to establish after one season.

I don't think many of us would want to loose the grasses in our meadows and ultimately that wouldn't make for a nice wild flower meadow.

I'm glad I'm not the only person here who wants a wildflower meadow as well as productive land.  :farmer:


  • Joined May 2013
Re: wild flower meadows and hay
« Reply #9 on: March 10, 2014, 11:14:29 am »
I remember looking at the wildflower meadow next to baxter soup factory up the road, they were all keen to publicise it with info signs etc but I did see they were plenty of docks and ragwort amongst it and not too many flowers. getting the desired plants to take hold is tricky.


  • Joined Sep 2011
  • West Yorks
Re: wild flower meadows and hay
« Reply #10 on: April 08, 2014, 11:20:16 am »
Just seen this and had a thought -
if you want to weaken the grass, then you will end up with thin 'hungry' grass, whatever time of year, may be OK for a bit of stock feeding, but wouldn't have the goodness the animals need, (some hay I bought last year is like this, something I'll be aware of in future), I think you have to decide which you want, personally I think I'd just have a smaller area for the wildflower meadow, and see how you go on with it for a year or 2.
I think you can get the flowers in plug plants to get started, more expensive but more reliable? at least you'd know what will survive.


  • Joined Jun 2013
  • Herefordshire
Re: wild flower meadows and hay
« Reply #11 on: April 14, 2014, 07:43:52 am »
Thanks again for all your input. Sorry I haven't replied earlier but now spring has arrived I am spending less time at the computer (can only be good). We have had to do some refencing for the pigs and goats so we have done this inside the original and have left margins to do what seems best for wildlife, including patches of wildflowers. We have left them wide enough to get into. This year we are just going to leave the half acre and cut it at the right time to make hay - the raking and baling will have to be done by hand - and see how we get on.



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