Autumn mowing to restore balance

Wet summers inevitably cause a lot of problems and delays in mowing and hay making. Mowing is the best way to restore balance in meadow plant communities.

Autumn topping

Grassland left rank and uncut into the autumn typically starts to collapse and die back leaving a mat of rotting vegetation at its base which then both smothers smaller plants and it releases nutrients back to the soil which further encourage the dominance of coarser grasses and weeds.  Meadows that are not cut for hay in the summer can suffer losses of quality and diversity as a result.  Studies have shown that areas that are left uncut for just one year can lose species as taller more dominant plants grow unchecked smothering out low growing and less competitive herbs and grasses.

Geranium in autumn

The above meadow has been cut late (October) for several years. The sward is now becoming rank and dominated by more robust species such as meadow crane's-bill (Geranium pratense).

These losses are reversible with good grassland management but may take several years to put right. If autumn ground conditions allow cut back the standing vegetation at the first opportunity. Collect and remove the cuttings as best you can (not easy with a wet laid crop), this will remove some nutrients and limit the quantity of mulch laying on the meadow.  If collection is impractical then at least disperse the cuttings for example by repeat cuts or raking.  Additional seed can be sown into the gaps opened up by this clearance to restore diversity.

Resume mowing management in spring taking a cut in early March where necessary.  Ensure that you cut and remove hay from neglected sections of your meadow promptly in July over the next few years to reset the balance of fine and coarse components in the sward and to offset the build up of nutrients and thatch from the missed year.



Posted on 25 October 2012,
Category: Advice