Restoring a Meadow

ChiloquinNews article July 8th, 2013…

Our home was built here along the Wood River Canal in 2006. At that time, the lot we started with grew mostly annual rye grass and weeds, but there were a few native plants struggling along as well. I knew I didn’t want a lawn to maintain and water, and so I decided that the lower half of the property would make a wonderful meadow, filled with native wildflowers, and requiring no maintenance except an annual mowing. Dream on…..

Annual rye grass, taller than me

Annual rye grass, taller than me

The property had been used for growing potatoes at one time, and for hay storage at another, and so there were lumps where discarded hay had once been stacked, and now nettles were thriving. As soon as we had those lumps graded, the weed nightmare really began. Every weed imaginable grew to 8 ft tall; truly, I could not see over the top of them.

My extensive research on how to restore an area to native plants resulted just one piece of advice – kill the bad guys and save the good guys. Then they went on to explain that if you kill the bad guys with Roundup, you kill the good guys too. Ah you say, but I can kill everything and then seed with the good guys. Tried that. Doesn’t work. The weed seeds out-compete the natives every time, and there are weed seeds in the soil that will probably be alive for the next 100 years, not to mention those that blow in. So then you say, I can kill everything and then transplant native seedlings. Well…. I tried that too and it’s more successful than seeding, but I am talking ½ acre here. That’s a lot of transplants! The seedlings have to be transplanted when they are very small and when there is going to be enough rain to get them going, and no sudden heat waves. Now just think about what our springs are like. Enough said. And even then, the weed seeds will grow bigger and faster than those little transplants.

Weed whacking

Weed whacking

My neighbor, pulling a brush hog behind his tractor

My neighbor, pulling a brush hog behind his tractor

Mow for a bad lawn, let it grow and the prickly lettuce is taller than me.

Mow for a bad lawn, let it grow and the prickly lettuce is taller than me.

So now we come to the mower. Just cut the blasted weeds down before they seed. That also cuts the natives down before they seed and you end up with something that looks like a bad lawn. I tried that too, but the result was not what I had in mind.

A couple of years ago I took a Nature Conservancy workshop over in the Medford area on this very subject. They use Roundup sparingly, and mow sparingly, but mostly they get in dozens of volunteers to hand pull the weeds. NOT what I wanted to hear, but I came home and got to work. Considering that the meadow is about ½ acre and the garden area is about another ½ acre, hand pulling that many weeds is daunting, to say the least. I got help from Bart the first year, but as with many good things, he moved on. The next year I tried students. My gosh their poor 17 year old backs hurt and the sun was too hot, and my genuinely aching body could still pull three times as many weeds in the same amount of time. Luckily, they quit, I weeded, and then my neighbor came in with his brush hog and mowed the whole thing flat after I decided that I’d lost the battle for another season.

But perhaps those 2 years of weeding DID have an effect. This year I have help from Nate and now that he has been through most of the area once, and I have been through as well, it’s actually starting to look like a meadow! I can see lots more native seedlings starting, and those few earlier transplants that did survive are spreading their seeds with much more success than me. All they needed was someone to get the bad guys out of the way for them. Best of all is that the meadow is filled with bumble bees. What more could I ask?

Looking like a meadow at last.

Looking like a meadow at last.

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