May 20, 2022
By Angela Sisson
Last year the Gardiner Gazette printed an article about the new Wallkill Valley Pollinator Pathway (Winter 2021 issue). When Chris Vultaggio read the article he became intrigued. Chris had been wanting to convert much of his lawn into meadow for years but didn’t know how to start. He decided to reach out to the new pollinator pathway and contacted me for advice.
Over the summer, and acting on my advice, Chris used paper & wood chips to smother about 1000 square feet of lawn. He later expanded that area and then expanded it again with a smothering of plastic tarp. (The tarp will be reused for future smothering.) After the expansions, the prepared meadow area totaled about 4000 square feet. Over time, he wants to convert all of a lower wet lawn area into a wet meadow, an area measuring about 3/4 acre. At the present rate of conversion, that will take a few more years.
The preparation involved killing the lawn over the summer months, then in the late fall to early winter, sowing meadow seed into the dead turf. On December 28th, after months of preparation, Chris removed the tarp and seeded his new meadow. He used two different seed mixes from Prairie Moon Nursery to match the different soil conditions of the new meadow area. The upland area near the top of the slope was seeded with a shortgrass mix for medium soils and the adjacent wetter area was seeded with a short sedge meadow for wet soils. “Short” seed mixes were chosen to limit the height of the meadow plants and keep the view open to a pond lying beyond the future meadow.
Late fall & winter is the ideal time for sowing native wildflower seeds. The freeze-thaw cycle of winter allows the seeds to work into cracks in the soil surface, achieving the required seed to soil contact. Planting in winter ensures “cold stratification.” This cold period is required by many of the native seeds to break dormancy. Sowing in fall and winter also means that many of the seeds will germinate as early as March and April. By the time summer kicks in and the ground begins to dry out, the roots are established and watering will not needed.
Alternatively, seeds sown in the spring needing a cold period to break dormancy, won’t germinate until the following spring. Spring-sown seeds which don’t require a cold period will begin germinating in summer, just as the ground begins to dry out, and will need to be watered. Fall and winter seed sowing is the better way to go.
Now that Chris has the meadow seeded, he’ll need to follow a mowing strategy for the first growing season; every time the meadow reaches 10-12 inches, it should be cut back to about 5 inches. This strategy prevents the taller annual weeds from shading out the shorter native perennials. By the following season, the native plants will have grown enough to suppress any annual weeds.
We’ll check back with Chris next year to see how much he’s expanded the meadow and how his first growing season went. And to remind him that he needs to mow his meadow annually, sometime between November and March, to prevent woody plants from taking over.
The final step to a meadow installation—patience! It takes two to three years before a native perennial meadow starts to look like a meadow. After the start up years, native meadows tend to get better with each growing season. Compare that to meadows planted with mostly exotic (non-native) annuals. These instant gratification meadows flower quickly and abundantly but, alas, they are often short-lived and revert back to weeds once the annuals die off. Patience is the better choice for us and for the pollinators.
This project turned out to be a wonderful collaboration between the pollinator pathway and a local resident. As Chris says, “I’m eternally grateful to Angela for her guidance and expertise, and look forward to the sweat equity paying off for the greater good of the natural world. Most of all I hope others are inspired and we can do more to further enrich Gardiner’s commitment to nature and the environment.”
If you’d like more information about the Wallkill Valley Pollinator Pathway or about pollinator meadows, visit: https://wallkillvalleylt.org/pp/ OR contact Angela Sisson at: email@example.com
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