A Meadow Patch for your Yard

Bobbi Little
Adams County Master Gardener

Hereís a great way to add interest to your yardscape and eliminate some lawn mowing. Sound good? If so, try growing a meadow patch. The term meadow patch sounds contradictory since meadows are generally large expanses of land, but it can be as small or large as you want and easy-to-grow, too. I tried it in 2008, and it worked so well that Iím expanding it this year.

First, letís briefly define what a meadow is: a large field that consists primarily of grasses and other non-woody flowering plants, or it might include plants that are cut for hay or grazed by livestock. Itís also something we picture in our minds from the books we read in childhood. Something fun and carefree was always taking place in the meadow. Nancy Drew solved a mystery or two down there. Iím sure you remember.

Last year, a class instructor talked about converting his field into a meadow of native grasses and flowers and the various ways to do it. One method in particular sounded like a great way to get rid of lawn, particularly for a small or medium-sized area. I chose a sunny spot that was 50 feet by 4 feet as a trial. Full sun is essential for a meadow. This spotís soil must be the poorest on the property for nutrient content. There is no topsoil, so it gets very dry in the summer. I thought, fat chance of these plants being around by August when it gets really dry, but the instructor insisted that if you use sun-loving Pennsylvania native plants, you just put them in the ground, water them for the first 4 weeks and then forget about them. I didnít believe him, especially knowing how poor this soil is, so thatís why I started small.

Hereís what I did. I marked the area with string to create a boundary, applied Roundupģ Weed and Grass Killer to kill the existing lawn, waited 2 weeks for it to die off, and left the brown thatch in place. I divided some existing native perennials and planted them without tilling the ground. Let me repeat: planted without tilling. I also included native grasses, which are absolutely spectacular in a large field even in winter. I made a hole just big enough for the root ball and planted and watered each clump. No amendments, no cultivating. For weed control I chopped up leaves with the mower and put them in between plants on top of the dead grass. Once they wetted down and began to decompose, they were attractive, efficient and free. Luckily, I never had to water the plants since we received a fair amount of rain immediately after planting.

What did it look like at the end of the summer? Not only did the patch grow, it thrived, with some plants flowering well into October. I was shocked. The instructor was right. No tilling, just kill the grass, plant your natives, and mulch. Maintenance was minimal, and it was probably one of the easiest projects I ever did. These plants are so well adapted to PA soils that they will grow in just about anything. Some plants prefer poor dry soil. Butterfly Weed will hate you if you plant it in rich soil. Many others will grow in a variety of different soil types, such as Black-eyed Susans and Obedient Plant. This summer, I expect this patch will fill in significantly, and the plants will help crowd out any weed sprouts.

You can plant a meadow patch in your own yard, especially if you would like to reduce mowing.

Choose a sunny area and then tell your neighbors what you are doing so they donít get worried about seeing a patch of something other than manicured lawn in your yard. Better yet, get them to do it, too. Native plants in your patch will attract songbirds, hummingbirds, butterflies and possibly other wildlife. Green lawn wonít do this. Start small since this is not practical for a 2 acre field. Thatís another topic.

What should you plant? Flowers and grasses native to Pennsylvania that like sun are essential. You can get lists of them through your Penn State Extension Office. You probably already have some in your yard. If so, this is a great way to divide them as they become overgrown. Ask your friends that grow natives to see if theyíll divide some plants for you. They probably canít stand to throw anything away and would love to give you some. Show up with the largest buckets you have, and youíll probably get whatever you want. This is not the time to worry about being called a plant hog.

Here is a partial list of the natives I used: Butterfly Weed, Obedient Plant, various milkweeds, Little Bluestem, Purple Coneflower, Black-eyed Susans, Bee Balm, Liatris, Indian Grass, Northern Sea Oats, Goldenrod, Agastache, Switchgrass, and Big Bluestem.

Read Mike Hillman's: Honey, I'm not going to cut the lawn anymore

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Read other articles by Bobbi Little