After I have sown a wild flower and grassland seed cocktail, how should I manage the site in the first year?
The first year is all about cutting, which is used to control all the annual weeds which will germinate. Cut the grass down to 5 to 7 cm whenever the sward reaches 10 to 15 cm and if at all possible remove the arisings. Do not expect or allow much flowering in the first season. The first cut is the most important. Err on the side of cutting earlier rather than later and lower rather than higher. It is a slow build to create a really attractive wild flower grassland from seed.
How should I manage the site in subsequent years?
In all but the most infertile sites flowering grasslands need to be cut. The grass growth needs to be controlled to allow the flowers a chance to thrive. The minimum is a hay cut in late July/early August. More typically this is followed by an aftermath cut in the autumn. It is always preferable to remove the cuttings; if they are left the thatch tends to swamp the wild flowers and in the long term it can slightly increase the fertility of the site. The area can be grazed from late summer through to late autumn or even the following spring. In fertile soils a cut (or graze) in the late spring or early summer, when the grass growth is at its most vigorous, is very effective in selectively weakening the grasses. The result is a shorter sward and flowering is slightly delayed, so the hay cut can be taken slightly later. Introduce this early cut if your site is prone to long grass which lodges.
Can I have different mowing regimes on the site?
Experience has shown that cutting paths through the flowering grass is effective in providing access, offers a measure of control over how people use the site and prevents the site looking unkempt and forlorn.
There are many other possible permutations of cutting, including monthly mowing in the early or later part of the year to create Summer or Spring meadows respectively. Some rougher areas can be cut every other year to leave standing cover for over-wintering insects.
Finally, as the sward develops and thickens some thought should be given to gap creation, deliberate damage to the surface approximating poaching by cattle, to allow new plants to establish by seed and ensure the continued evolution of the meadow community.
How should I manage a site in the season after I have planted wild flower plants into an established grass sward?
The young plants have to compete against established grasses. It is vital that the grasses are not allowed to swamp the young plants.
In the first spring and early summer it is vital that when ever the grass reaches the height of 10 to 15 cm it is cut back to 5 cm. The wild flowers will be unaffected by being topped like this; the important thing is that they are not short of light whilst they establish themselves.
Failure to take these cuts is one of the most important factors in plant failure, the others being inappropriate species selection and drought after a late spring planting.
This mowing regime is kept up until late May early June in the first season and is then relaxed, whilst the plants flower. A mid summer cut is then taken i.e. late July/early August with an aftermath cut in October.
How should I manage a site in the season after I have planted wild flower plants into an area, which has been seeded with a wild flower grass mix as well?
Follow the same regime as specified for a site just seeded with a grass seed mix (see above) i.e. multiple cuts in the first year.
In the seasons after the wildflower plants are established how should I manage the grassland site planted with wild flower plants?
Follow the same techniques as for a seed sown wild flower grassland set out above. Using wild flower plants makes it much easier to create specific areas for different cutting regimes. For example if all the spring flowering plants are planted together then after they have finished setting seed the grass can be cut down in late June and subsequently cut when required. This prevents the grass dominating the flowers, keeps the grass short for leisure uses and facilitates the flowering of shorter species as a flowering lawn.
Other areas can be planted with the late summer flowering plants and the cutting made after they have finished flowering, say August/September and if the grass tends to be rather rank an earlier cut (i.e. in May) can be introduced to keep the sward shorter.
Are there any flowers that are sustainable without a cutting programme?
Provided they are established successfully, then some species are much more able to sustain themselves than others. In our experience the following species can persist in low or no-maintenance locations: Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria), Cow Parsley (Anthiscus sylvestris), Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis), Greater Knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa), Black (Lesser) Knapweed (Centaurea nigra), Meadow Cranesbill (Geranium pratense), Musk mallow (Malva moschata), Red campion (Silene dioica), Bladder Campion (Silene vulgaris), and Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria).