Maximising pollinator potential

Maximising the pollinator potential of your garden, a talk by Paul Selby July 2020.

Turning your lawn into a meadow (introduction)
• A regularly mowed and maintained lawn is quite simply a “green desert”
• Pollinators and other insects need nectar, and most gardeners don’t even allow daisies, dandelions or buttercups to reach the point of flowering.
• Apart from looking neat and tidy, maintained lawns are a waste of space!
• So turn your lawn into a wildlife meadow.
• Apart from the benefits to pollinators (and the animals that feed on them), less effort is required.
• They only need mowing once a year (in September) rather than 15 times a year (between March and October).

Turning your lawn into a meadow (Method 1)
Method 1 – Slightly easier, but much less successful
• Stop mowing, and see what grows and flowers
• Likely to result in a nutrient rich meadow full of: Coarse grasses such as Rye grass and Couch grass • Dandelions• Daisy’s• Clover• Creeping Buttercup
• Definitely better than a tightly clipped “green desert”• But still likely to be dominated by the grass• And the flowering plant species are likely to be of limited diversity

Turning your lawn into a meadow (Method 2)
Method 2 – More effort up front, but very much more successful
• Remove the turf, taking away the top inch of soil
• This removes the most nutrient rich layer of soil
• The reason for this is that nectar rich wildflowers struggle to compete with grasses in nutrient rich soil
• The poorer and thinner the soil, the better the wildflower meadow
• Rake the new bare soil to produce a fine tilth
• Seed the bare soil with a native wildflower mix, Native fine grasses, Wildflower seeds that suit the soil type (eg Birds Foot Trefoil, Knapweed, Scabious, Ox Eye Daisy), Yellow Rattle (an annual wildflower that is semi parasitic on grasses)
• All this best done in September, allowing the seeds to go through a process called vernalisation
• Bird scarer’s and watering essential in the first few weeks!

Maintaining it thereafter, for either method
• Mow once a year in early September (ideally with a scythe, but a strimmer is okay)
• Leave for a few days to allow seeds to drop and insect larvae to find new homes
• Then make sure to clear away the cuttings to prevent nutrients leaching back into the soil
• Scarify the meadow hard, leaving lots of small bare earth patches
• Top up the meadow with Yellow Rattle and some additional wildflower seed species
• Year 1 may be a little disappointing. Year 2 you tend to get strong hints of what it will look like in the long run
• By year 5 it should have really settled down.

Perennial wildflower meadows vs Annual wildflower meadows
Perennial wildflower mix
• Seeds grow into established plants with rootballs that come back each year
• Tend to be 80% fine grasses, 20% perennial wildflowers
• Mown once a year (in September), followed by scarifying

Annual (cornfield) wildflower mix
• Seeds grow, flower, then die
• 100% annual wildflowers (Poppy, Cornflower, Corn Cockle)
• No grass
• Complete tilling of whole meadow in March
• Can involve the use of glyphosate • An annual meadow is better than a tightly clipped lawn. However maintaining it is hard, potentially environmentally un-friendly, and is more about the visuals than the pollinators

Maximising the potential of your boundaries
• Fencing is worst, even if it is generally the least maintenance
• If you have to have fencing, cover it with climbers such as Clematis, Honeysuckle and Ivy
• Don’t go for brick walls, use dry stone walling
• Hedging is best, preferably a mix of native hedge species • Hawthorn (blossom in May, fruit from August) • Blackthorn (blossom in April, fruit from August onwards)• Holly (evergreen and host to the Holly Blue butterfly)• Buckthorn (slow growing, not thorny, and host to the Brimstone butterfly) • Yew (evergreen, lots of small flowers, and decent fruit too)
• If your hedge is long enough, and if your neighbours will allow, try to rotate the pruning regime across the years, allowing a variety of heights and thickness

Trees vs Sunlight?
• Flowering plants, particularly wildflower meadows, produce more flowers and more nectar in full sunlight
• And you need lots of flowers and lots of nectar to attract pollinators
• So that would tend to discourage you from growing trees in your garden
• But many trees are also nectar rich, and many are also host to insect larvae too: • Elm trees for the White Letter Hairstreak, and its early flowers in February and March • Lime trees for the incredible profusion of “hidden” flowers in June • Oak and Birch are also well known for the variety of insects they attract
• It is possible to make room for trees, without compromising on your garden sunlight
• Plant trees on the northern and eastern boundaries
• Small trees such as Rowan and Hawthorn can be ideal (flowers and berries)

Ponds aren’t just for aquatic life
• Many wetland marginal plants are nectar rich. For example: • Water Forget-Me-Not
• Water Mint • Water Lilly’s
• Many pollinators need water to survive, both to drink and to build their nests
Dragonflies and Damselflies are voracious predators and help preserve the overall insect balance, preventing blackfly and greenfly from weakening some of the nectar rich wildflowers

Keeping some maintained borders
• You could turn your whole garden into a meadow
• However to increase the diversity further, keep some maintained borders
• The flowers planted in them don’t have to be native, but they should be aimed at extending the nectar season
• That means covering the period of September to March, where the meadow is unlikely to have any/many flowering plants.
• Good examples include:• Verbena bonariensis (June – late October) • Wallflower Bowles Mauve (January – December) • Rudbekia (August – November)• Sedum Spectable (August – October)• Ivy (September – November) • Mahonia (November onwards)• Winter flowering honeysuckle and clematis species (December onwards) • Early spring bulbs such as Snowdrop (late January – March)

Succession of nectar throughout the year
• The previous slide talks about what to do in your borders
• But you can do the same in your wildflower meadow too
• You can plant small bulbs into your meadow, but be careful• Large foliage bulbs such as Spanish Bluebell and most dafodills will supress the wildflowers from growing as their foliage rots• Crocuses are ideal (February – March)• Snakes Head Fritillary (April) in damper patches
• Plant Primrose and Cowslip seeds (March – April)
• Consider a “Chelsea Chop” in late May for a section of the wildflower meadow. The flowers of the same species will bloom later