Plant a Meadow!

by Michelle Reynolds

November/December 2015

Hummingbirds slurping, bees buzzing, hover flies hovering, butterflies drinking, caterpillars munching, and finches and warblers picking are all wonders I encounter in my garden on a daily basis in the spring, summer, and fall. It is fun observing and celebrating biodiversity in my own yard, and I enjoy tending to the garden teaming with wildlife. I would much rather spend my time pulling weeds out of a wildflower and native grass meadow than mowing turf grass any day!

Indian Blanket by Bob Farley.

Indian Blanket by Bob Farley.

A meadow does not have to be large. A border around the yard, a small plot in a sunny spot, or even a planter will hold the ingredients for a wildlife-feeding plot. Ultimately, by providing plenty of seeds, nectar, and insects, you’ll be inviting your winged friends over for a fine dining experience. To provide the whole habitat, just add water, places to hide, and nesting boxes.

Planting a meadow by Michelle Reynolds/Bob Farley.

Planting a meadow by Michelle Reynolds/Bob Farley.

To create a meadow, it is best to start with a small area, or you will quickly become overwhelmed with filling the space (plus it will be easier to sneak it in to the neighborhood if you grow the space a little at a time). Begin with removing the top layer of grass with a flat-headed shovel or sod remover. Use the grass pieces to patch turf in other areas of the yard where you may have brown or thin spots. Remove any stubborn weed and grass roots by hand. Add in an organic layer to replace the topsoil you remove with the grass. I like to use a mixture of topsoil and composted manure from the local garden supply store and composted leaves from my own compost pile. Plant native grasses and wildflowers in a natural arrangement, sprinkle wildflower seeds over the area, and top off with a thin layer of raked leaves from your yard. Water to establish, and weed to maintain. Add more diversity in flowers and grasses in the spring and fall of each year as you learn new species. Observe and learn, and the meadow will give you a sense of calm and pride. Bird-friendly is eco-friendly, and by putting nature back into the urban landscape, you’ll contribute to an overall healthy environment.

Standing cypress by Bob Farley.

Standing cypress by Bob Farley.

For inspiration, visit the Birmingham Audubon Urban Bird Habitat Initiative (UBHI) projects. Limestone Park’s prairie restoration area and the native plant beds in Avondale Park Rose and Habitat Garden serve as wildlife gardens as well as demonstration plots. Some of the plants you will see at these locations (listed below) were purchased locally from Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve, and Turkey Creek Nature Preserve. In addition to the UBHI projects, you may also visit the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Railroad Park, and the Southern Environmental Center’s EcoScapes for great ideas.

Wildflowers:

  • asters (Symphyotrichum spp.)
  • partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata)
  • red bee balm (Monarda didyma)
  • wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
  • standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra)
  • tickseed (Coreopsis spp.)
  • sunflowers (Helianthus spp.)
  • cup plant and rosinweed (Silphium spp.)
  • coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea, Ratibida pinnata, Rudbeckia spp.)
  • mountainmints (Pycnanthemum spp.)
  • butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • hummingbird mints (Agastache spp.)
  • evening primrose (Oenothera biennis)
  • blanket flowers (Gaillardia spp.)
Asters by Bob Farley.

Asters by Bob Farley.

Shrub-like plants:

  • wild blue indigo (Baptisia incarnata)
  • St. John’s wort and St. Andrew’s cross (Hypericum spp.)
  • threadleaf blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii)
  • New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus)

Grasses:

  • Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans)
  • switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)
  • little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
  • pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)
  • purple lovegrass (Eragrotis spectabilis)

Michelle Reynolds is a native plant enthusiast on a mission to teach people how to put nature back into the urban landscape. She lectures, writes, and consults on gardens in and around Birmingham, Alabama.