Ecology + Design

Organic Meadow Management | Westchester, NY

This organic meadow is now in its fourth year.  Before our change in management practices, this field was a manicured lawn, one of many on the North Salem estate. Jay and the client agreed the area, as a lawn, was squandered potential and decided to convert it to a meadow simply by stopping the weekly mowing practices.  

Native wildflowers act as a vegetative border between the lawn and the pond, an extension of the adjacent organic meadow.

Site Conditions for Meadow Making 

Said area is adjacent to a large pond and bordered by forest, the perfect plot to connect two important habitats. The germination potential from the existing seedbank, the wetland, and all the local birds spreading seeds from the surrounding habitats was both encouraging and exciting. The full sun and moist soils were ripe to foster a new, organic meadow habitat. GJL also designed a riparian buffer of native wildflowers, an extension of the adjacent wet meadow. Riparian buffers are effective plantings designed to intercept stormwater runoff from the lawn before it reaches the pond and threatens eutrophication.

Goldenrod, aster and native grasses and forbs compose the late season meadow.

Converting a Lawn to Meadow

When converting to a meadow, it is crucial to disrupt the seedbank as little as possible, so as to not overwhelm the meadow with weeds. Within the first year of this North Salem native meadow, many ecologically beneficial native perennials appeared including: 

Goldenrod and tall white aster make a beautiful and impactful late summer / fall pairing.

Goldenrod – The New England Wildflower Society declares this native, late-blooming perennial to be the number one attractor of native bees! 

Joe Pye Weed has amazing stature and pairs well with fellow native goldenrod.

Joe Pye Weed – Tall and hardy, Joe Pye Weed is a favorite of bees, butterflies, and other valuable pollinators. Blooms at the same time as Goldenrod for a fabulous, habitat-building combination. Joe Pye Weed is also deer resistant, important in this part of Westchester. 

New York Ironweed and Goldenrod — two ecological powerhouses!

NY Ironweed – Ironweed prefers wet soils and is also a tall late-bloomer. It is a favorite of Monarchs and numerous other butterflies and pollinators. 

Monarch butterfly on native perennial New York Ironweed.

Asters — Several verities of asters emerged in this meadow including new England aster, tall white aster, and along the shadier riparian buffer section, white wood aster. Asters will attract bees, butterflies, and birds including: cardinals, chickadees, goldfinches, indigo buntings, nuthatches, sparrows, and towhees.

White wood aster along the riparian buffer that surrounds the pond.

Ecological Value of Meadows

Clearly, even the late-season snapshot of this meadow reveals how many functions each native plant provides when allowed to regenerate in its native environment. Not only do they attract numerous pollinators with their nectar, the overall meadow creates a fringe habitat between forest areas – creating safe spaces for birds to feed, gather nesting materials and transition safely between habitats. 

The meadow in early fall — evolving and ever-beautiful.

These native plants also naturally absorb, filter and let infiltrate stormwater that would otherwise become mostly run off in a lawn area. In ecological terms this is referred to as bioretention and biofiltration. 

Riparian border of native perennials surrounds the pond.

Aside from a meadows intrinsic benefits, the environmental costs avoided by not maintaining a lawn (fertilizer, water, energy) are enormous.  Read up on our previous post on the cost of the suburban lawn, Lawnscaping Versus Ecoliogical Landscaping.  

Asters and goldenrod in the riparian border.

Organic Meadow Management & Maintenance 

It is important to mow regularly in the first few years of the meadow, to allow sunlight to reach wildflower seeds that are slower to germinate.  GJL also mowed a walking path through the meadow – strolling the path and seeing the vibrancy of the meadow and all that it attracts is an inspiring reconnection with nature.  

We never tire of walking the mowed paths through the meadow.

In the third year we disturbed the meadow in March, before the songbirds come out, and again at the end of the summer. Prescribed burns are also effective, but difficult to obtain permits for.

Joe Pye Weed, Goldenrod and Aster — nature’s beautiful combo! (Fence in the background for an in-progress project)

We achieved the desired meadow disruption using a tractor with a spike aerator.  Afterwards, we reseeded with a northeastern wildflower meadow mix. 

Mowed paths through the meadow are beautiful to roam any time of the year, like this early October shot.

This year, management was very minimal, as the new seeding began to fill in, bringing a fresh succession of wildflowers. We are pleased with the succession and for the time being only need to mow for access.  GJL will continue to monitor for woody species, as a meadow naturally wants to convert to a forest overtime. 

Meadow in fall, tall and dark NY Ironweed make a statement.

Thinking of converting your lawn to an organic meadow? We’d love to discuss your project! Contact us or reach out at 914-560-6570.

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