Stroll along the path from Mead Hall to Brothers College on a warm summer day and are you are likely to hear little more than a breeze in the towering oaks and the cry of a red tail hawk circling above. That’s because lawn mowers have been largely banished from the newly established Mead Meadow.
Last summer, native flowers–such as Butterfly Milkweed, Purple Coneflower and Wild Bergamot–were planted throughout a .5 acre area of the lawn. Now mowers only cut once a year, in late autumn, after the flowers have gone to seed. The deep root systems of wildflowers and native grasses naturally loosen the soil, enabling the roots of surrounding trees to better absorb oxygen and nutrients. According to Mike Kopas, executive director of Facilities, the trees in Mead Meadow are already showing improved health with new growth and increased leaf size.
Look closely and you will find that the meadow is also home to myriad forms of animal life. “A typical lawn is really a dead zone in terms of the food web,” explains Sara Webb, professor of Biology and director of Environmental Studies and Sustainability. “A meadow, on the other hand, supports all kinds of insects–including endangered pollinators–and small mammals, which then attract a variety of birds.” Webb uses projects like the meadow as teaching opportunities where students are deeply involved in the restoration and monitoring processes.
The meadow is part of Drew’s overall “Climate Action Plan” that calls for the university to become carbon-neutral by 2035. Reduced mowing is one step forward because, according to the EPA, “operating a typical gasoline-powered lawn mower for one hour produces the same amount of smog-forming hydrocarbons as driving an average car almost 200 miles under typical driving conditions.” Earlier this year, Drew received acclaim for its leadership in creating vibrant ecosystems in the midst of campus (see The Glory of Being Green), including Mead Meadow.
At first glance, the meadow may seem like nothing more than an overgrown lawn. But the playful Rudbekia and Giant Hyssop are actually signs of care–not neglect–for Drew’s campus, our own laboratory of sustainability where students learn what it means to be “green.” This commitment to the planet and its next generation of citizens has deep roots not only in the Forest, but in the meadow too.–Barbara Perkins P’09
Want to start your own meadow?
- Prepare the site by removing any undesirable vegetation. For example, you can dig out selected plants or till an entire plot.
- Spread native seed in the late fall so it experiences winter dormancy, or plant container grown perennial wildflowers in the fall or spring. Ask your local plant nursery for recommendations of flowers and grasses that are native to your area.
- According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, native grasses should make up 50 to 80 percent of the meadow because they discourage weeds and support wildlife.
- In the first year you may need to continue removing undesirable vegetation so it does not crowd out your plantings. Do not mow the area until late-blooming flowers have dropped at least half of their seeds, but leave cuttings which may contain more seeds (you can even wait until late winter to provide food and cover to wildlife).
- It can take three to five years for a meadow to become fully established, but then will be lower maintenance than a turf lawn and will attract birds and beneficial insects to your yard.