Alongside the current disturbing fashion for plastic grass, an increasing number of people are choosing to let their lawns grow wild to encourage a more diverse range of plants and insects to live there.
You may not be convinced of the beauty of a wild and unruly garden, but there is a sweet spot to be found between a re-wild jungle and a barren green desert that not only looks good but offers a refuge for wildlife.
This is particularly important in the UK, where 97% of semi-natural grassland has been destroyed over the past 80 years.
I am an ecologist specializing in the study of this type of habitat, and I want to help you make the most of it.
A simple compromise you can make is to postpone the first time you take the lawnmower out each year. A campaign by conservation charity Plantlife called #NoMowMay is asking lawn owners to delay the first cut until June, giving weeds and weeds time to flower and set seed.
But if you want to maintain a wildlife-friendly lawn all year round, without letting your garden become completely overgrown, here are some tips on what else you can do.
To find a happy medium, mowing may be necessary. This stops ecological processes that would otherwise turn a lawn into wood over time.
By varying the height at which you mow different areas of your lawn, and the frequency with which you do so (simulating the effect of different herbivores grazing in the wild), you can create a mix of conditions that benefit a variety of people. ‘species.
Spaces cut short will favor daisies, which will bloom profusely and offer a buffet of nectar for bees and butterflies. Neglected areas left uncut for a year are suitable for a wider variety of flowers, tempting a diverse distribution of insects and other creatures in your garden.
In experiments in his garden in Kent, Charles Darwin noted that refraining from mowing the lawn for too long resulted in an overall decrease in species, because: the more vigorous plants gradually kill the less vigorous ones…so in 20 species growing on a small patch of grass (three feet by four) nine species perished because the other species were allowed to grow freely.
Another key thing to think about is the level of nutrients the lawn is receiving. Even if you’ve never succumbed to the heavily promoted lawn fertilizer products at most garden centers, your lawn will get an ample dose of fertilizer from reactive nitrogen carried by the wind.
The purpose of mowing in a natural grassland should be to mimic animal grazing. And to do this, you need to remove the clippings, otherwise the nutrients they carry will flow back into the soil.
Fungi and bacteria break down dead plant matter and return these nutrients to plants in a lawn through networks of mycorrhizal fungi in the soil.
Regular mowing that dumps cuttings and overloads the soil with nutrients drives a stick in the spokes of this cycle by devaluing the currency of nitrogen and phosphorus fungi. Clumps of grass clippings can also choke out small seedlings.
At abnormally high soil nutrient levels (common in regularly mowed and clipped lawns), vegetation is dominated by a small number of fast-growing weed species.
As Darwin discovered, this prevents a rich wildflower community from taking shape. Low nutrient soil not only promotes more species, but also healthy food webs.
At the Rothamsted Park Grass Experiment in Hertfordshire, scientists have studied the effects of annual hay cutting since 1860, making it the oldest field experiment in the world. When fertilizer was applied evenly to some plots, the number of plant species fell from 40 to less than five.
Fall Fruiting You also want to consider the time of year. Mow sparingly and leave the grass long in the summer to create diverse plant and insect communities in the warmer months. A lawn left unmowed until the end of July, as in a traditional hay meadow, will favor the greatest variety of flowers. But shorten it in autumn to favor the conditions for fruiting mushrooms at the end of the year.
Soil organisms and their hidden lives are seriously neglected in nature conservation.
Among the most overlooked are the prairie macrofungi, so named because they are large enough to be seen with the naked eye. My favorites are the brightly colored waxcaps. These movie stars of the fungal world are restricted to undisturbed grasslands where soil nutrient concentrations are low.
The British Isles are a global hotspot for these fungi, but they are threatened by habitat loss. At least 11 species found in the UK have been assessed by international experts as vulnerable – the same risk of extinction faced by the panda and the snow leopard.
A study by my research group showed that waxcaps need short grass (8 cm high at most) in the fall, but their most prolific fruiting occurs when the grass is not cut. until mid-July.
Waxcaps are slow growing and long-lived, but with late cuts and the removal of clippings to lower soil nutrient levels, the first waxcaps will likely return in a decade.
To sum up, delay mowing until mid-summer, keep your lawn free of clippings, and leave more neglected patches longer to please butterflies and bees. But prune it regularly starting in August to encourage globally rare mushrooms.
You will then see that grasslands are diverse and dynamic habitats just waiting to be liberated.
(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)