Advanced lawn care and management
These advanced techniques can further enhance the wildlife value of your lawn. Although mainly applicable to larger gardens, it's possible to make the most of a smaller space!
Adding wildflowers to your lawn
Long grass can look even more attractive if you enhance it with a mixture of meadow flowers. These provide a source of nectar for insects, which in turn provide food for birds. See our downloadable list of suitable meadow plants and grasses.
- Establish meadow flowers in a new lawn by using wildflower seed with grass seed.
- If you have an established lawn, you can plant small, pre-grown plugs.
- Cut your wildflower meadow after the flowers have set seed. Rake off the cuttings to prevent smothering the grass beneath and enriching the ground (to the detriment of wildflowers or fine grasses).
- In a summer meadow, the flowers bloom in July and August. In a spring meadow flowers bloom around April and May.
- Make sure the plants you grow are suitable for the soil, occur naturally in your area and are of local or UK provenance from a reputable plant supplier.
This is an easy way to give some diversity to your lawn. Think of it as three, equal-sized blocks in a row.
- In year one, cut the first two-thirds from left to right.
- In year two, cut the two-thirds from right to left. In this way, the middle section is cut annually and each end is cut in alternate years.
- Cut in September, rake off and compost all the cuttings.
Alternating the location of long grass in this way reduces the build up of thatch and nutrients in one patch of grass, but still provides over wintering and egg-laying habitat for insects, and foraging areas for wildlife.
Cutting areas of long grass
A conventional mower may sometimes struggle to cut long grass. On small areas, it is possible to use a pair of hand shears. Larger areas will probably require a strimmer. Strimmers have a range of cutting heads - the most common is the nylon cord. The large semi-professional and professional machines can have steel grass blades or a cutting head with plastic blades.
Always check long grass for hidden amphibians and hedgehogs before you use a mower or strimmer. Amphibians are most likely to be found after it has rained or early in the morning when the grass is damp. Hedgehogs are frequently found during the day, particularly early or late in the year when they may be out looking for food just after, or just before, hibernating.
Although the nylon cord cutting head tends to spread the cutting more than blades, resulting in a little more raking afterwards, the action and techniques remain the same:
- Sweep the strimmer from side to side about 100 to 150 mm (4 to 6 ins) above the ground, keep the head slightly tilted and use it to gather the cut grass and drop it at the end of each sweep. This should leave the cut grass in a long row – much easier for picking up by rake, or with the aid of a lawn mower and box.
- If you only have a small area of long grass, cut using a hand grass hook or hedging shears.
- Use a mower without a grass box. Allow the grass to dry out, put the box on and run the mower over the area to pick up the cuttings. Alternatively, just lightly gather it up using a grass rake.
Leftover grass cuttings and leaves
Generally speaking, you won’t need to rake up the cuttings from short grass, providing they don’t lay in clumps and are thinly spread out over the lawn.
- Small amounts of clippings increase humus in the lawn to benefit soil invertebrates, particularly worms!
- Long grass cuttings will need raking off. If left to lie on the grass beneath they will smother and choke the lawn. They also increase nutrient levels which, if you are growing meadow flowers and fine grasses, encourage more aggressive grasses to take over at the expense of those you want to keep.
- A small amount of leaves will not damage your lawn. They will soon be drawn into the underground tunnels of earthworms, where they quickly decompose. Earthworms aerate lawns, decompose organic material and are an important part of the diet of birds.
- Large quantities of leaves may need raking up, but what is left will soon be dealt with by the worms.
- Grass clippings and leaves can be composted or alternatively spread evenly on beds and borders to act as mulch. Do not leave them in heaps, as they will not break down properly.
Bare patches can be caused by heavy wear or through the activities of various soil invertebrates, principally cockchafers and cranefly larvae, both of which are important food for birds.
Some bare earth in a lawn will benefit wildlife. Insects use it to bask on and birds like to dust bathe in it.
They also provide a temporary opportunity for small annual plants such as plantain and annual meadow grass to grow, the seeds of which are popular with birds.