Meadows are Happening

I have been writing about turning excessive expanses of lawn into meadows for a few years now and I’m excited to say it is happening.  Last year, I met with Bonnie and Alan Robb.  They had a large lawn and after reading my columns and a few other sources promoting meadows, sought advice on whether they could turn their lawn into a meadow.  They had so many good questions, such as “after killing the current grass, should we leave the clippings or remove them because they might contain crabgrass seeds?” and “should we mow the meadow three times during the first summer to remove weeds as was recommended in a NY Times article?” and “what is the best time to plant?” and “should we irrigate?”.

I suggested they mow twice; the first time collecting the crabgrass seeds and the second time mow close to the ground and leave the clippings as a mulch. I do think mowing a new meadow three times during the first year is a good strategy to help control weeds.  The best time to plant warm season grasses is early May, when the soil has warmed up enough for good germination.  Since the grasses thrive during the summer months, they will continue to grow, unlike our cool season lawn grasses that go dormant during many dry summers.  The irrigation question was trickier because it depends on the rainfall we receive.  This past summer, we had plenty of rain and no irrigation was necessary.  The Robbs seeded 15,000 square feet of lawn to a meadow mixture in late spring after killing the existing turf, cutting it back closely, using a core aerator to open up the soil for good seed/soil contact and then letting our spring and summer rain water in their seed.  I just received another email in October with a photo of their blooming meadow.  They love the blooming black-eyed Susans and plan to add another section next year!

I also consulted with the landscape committee at the Village of Fox Meadow.  They have acres of shared open space in their community and most of it is meadow, forest or bioretention area.  They were having the meadow cut routinely three times per year, which included a fall cut, as specified by their county management plan.  This meant the meadow was mowed in late September when it was at its peak. We worked with the county to get this recommendation changed and they are enjoying goldenrods and warm season grasses this fall.  They have several new areas soon to be planted with meadow seed to increase the flowers at the edges of their meadow. I recently spoke to 40 plus interested homeowners about the importance of including natural spaces like their meadow in the suburban landscape.  The group was excited about the role they are playing in helping pollinators, supporting wildlife, increasing ground water recharge, cleaning our water and cleansing the air we breathe.

The Cartmel community, a part of the Kendal at Longwood’s suite of independent and assisted living communities in Kennett Square also recently sponsored a talk about converting lawn to other types of vegetation (including meadows) to provide the ecosystem services we all need to live and thrive.  Cartmel has a large meadow area and the landscape committee is hoping to convert several more mowed areas to meadow in the coming year.

Even my good friends who live in suburban Newark have converted their back lawn to a meadow.  I am still trying to get them to mow a path through the meadow so they can more easily access their beehives.  But, needless to say, the bees love the meadow and have much more opportunity to forage than when the back yard was mowed lawn.

Why don’t you join the cause?  Take that large lawn you mow every week and turn it into a beautiful meadow whose grasses sway in the breeze and whose yellow flowers lift their faces to the sun.

Bonnie and Alan Robb’s 6-month old meadow.

Forcing Bulbs for February Color

October is the time of year to begin potting your favorite spring bulbs to prepare them for winter flowering.  I usually forget to talk about forcing bulbs in the fall and only remember in December or January, when I am anxious for some sunny flower color.  If you forget to start your forcing now, you are relegated to use bulbs like paperwhites and Soleil d’Or, daffodils that do not need a cold treatment.  However, this year I remembered!  So, you can buy tulips, any type of daffodil, hyacinths, crocus, scilla, grape hyacinths or any other bulb sold for fall planting and spring bloom.  Most garden centers are carrying those bulbs for outdoor planting, but you can also force them to bloom early indoors and bring some color to your winter windowsill.

Begin by potting the bulbs in clean, sterile clay or plastic pots. Do not bury the bulbs; leave the “noses” of the bulbs exposed. The soil should be a mixture of good garden loam (three parts), peat moss (two parts), and sand (one part). You can also use a commercial soil-less mix, but be careful the medium doesn’t stay too wet.  Don’t worry about soil fertility or feeding bulbs because they have enough stored food to flower one time.

Plant the bulbs close together in the pot. Usually 6 tulip bulbs, 3 hyacinths, 6 daffodils, or 15 crocus, will fit into a 6-inch pot. Place the flat side of the tulip bulb next to the rim of the pot since the largest leaf will always emerge and grow on that side, producing a more desirable looking pot.  Fill the pot loosely with soil.  Don’t press the bulbs into the soil. Allow 1/4-inch of space at the top of the pot so it can be watered easily. Water immediately upon planting, and never allow the soil to become dry.

Bulbs require a cold temperature treatment of 35– 48 degrees F for about 12–13 weeks, but this varies by bulb (see chart below). This cold treatment can be provided by either in a cold frame, an unheated attic or cellar, or even your refrigerator’s vegetable section. In the refrigerator, the pots should be covered with plastic bags that have had a few breathing holes punched in them. With cold frames, cover pots with deep mulch for insulation. Do not allow the bulbs to freeze.

Bulb Chill time Time to bloom after chilling
Crocus 8-15 weeks 2-3 weeks
Daffodil 2-3 weeks 2-3 weeks
Grape hyacinth 8-15 weeks 2-3 weeks
Hyacinth 12-15 weeks 2-3 weeks
Iris 13-15 weeks 2-3 weeks
Paperwhite daffodil None 3-5 weeks
Snowdrops 15 weeks 2 weeks
Tulip 10-16 weeks 2-3 weeks

When you bring bulbs indoors, a temperature of 50–60 degrees F is preferred for the first week or until the shoots and leaves begin to expand. Then, they can be moved to warmer locations such as the living room. Avoid direct sunlight. Once the bulbs are blooming, move the pots to a cool location each night. The cooler temperatures will prolong the life of the flowers. Small pots of crocus can even be placed in your refrigerator overnight. Discard tulips, narcissus, crocus, and hyacinths after flowering as they normally are “spent” and are not likely to ever flower satisfactorily again.

Hyacinths, crocus, and narcissus also can be forced in water. Special clear, glass vases are made for hyacinths or crocus. Place the bulb in the upper portion, water in the lower portion. Keep the vase in a cool, dark room (preferably under 50 degrees F) for four to eight weeks until the root system has developed and the top elongates. At this point place it in a bright window, where the plant soon will blossom.