The British love their lawns. The perfect emerald-green, velvet-smooth sward is a thing of envy, especially in parts of the world where the climate isn’t quite so lawn-friendly. But it takes much time and energy to achieve such a standard, not to mention lots of water.
There is another factor to consider: a lawn isn’t very wildlife-friendly. Although lawns will attract birds hunting for worms and other tasty morsels, the scope of wildlife is limited. The fine ornamental lawn is likely to contain only three or so types of grass which limits the variety of creatures it can support.
However, there’s no need to replace your lawn if you want to make your garden more attractive to wildlife. Simple steps, such as reducing mowing frequency and fertilisers will all help.
In your garden
- Just setting the mower on a higher cut, shunning the chemicals and allowing a few other plants in and before you know it you have a wildlife lawn. Leaving the grass a little longer provides extra protection from the sun and so reduces the amount of watering.
- Reduce the mowing frequency and more grass and flower species will arrive, steadily increasing the diversity of wildlife supported. Bees are especially fond of clover and many grasses are the larval food plants for butterflies.
- Limit the mowing to twice a year, introduce wild flower seedlings or plug plants and, before you know it you’ve got a wildflower meadow!
- If this all seems a little too radical, why not leave just a small section of lawn to its own devices and see what happens? Keep a record of how many plants and creatures settle in – this is a great way of involving children as well.
- Either: just leave a patch of lawn alone and see what happens
- Or: continue mowing but less regularly, raising the cutting height of the mower.
- Introduce some wildflowers: scattering seed onto an area of grass probably won’t work. Sow seed under cover in early spring and plant out as seedlings, alternatively plant plugs can be sourced from nurseries. Spring flowering bulbs such as fritillaries, or bluebells can be planted in autumn. Clear an area around them to help them establish.
- Don’t use fertiliser, wild flowers do best in poor soil
- To get the most out of your wildflower lawn, mow it short in late winter, lifting the clippings, and then leave the next mow until after the flowers have all seeded, in late summer.
- A lawn that hasn’t been fed will benefit from an annual maintenance programme of scarifying and aerating. See link to RHS advice below.
- Any newly grassed area needs regular mowing in its first year to give it a chance to establish.
- If you choose to plant some bluebell bulbs in your lawn, make sure they are the British native bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) not the Spanish bluebell (H. hispanica).
- Take care that any hedgehogs or grasshoppers are out of the area before mowing or strimming by walking over the area in a noisy, heavy way (dance and jump around if you like!). Raising the cutting height of the mower, gives them a better chance of survival.