Meadow Mowing – A Winter’s Tale

by John Grayley, Natural Areas Manager, Pelham Bay Park

Orchard Beach Meadow (Photo: Peter Quinones)

Orchard Beach Meadow (Photo: Peter Quinones)

This winter, we have done something that we’ve been wanting to do for years at Pelham Bay Park. We broke out the lawn mowers. Over time, any area of grassland will become coarse and rank, losing both diversity and interest, and eventually turn into scrub and woodland if left unmanaged. Until a few years ago, this progression could clearly be seen at Orchard Beach Meadow. The base of the meadow had become dense and matted: the accumulation of dead material was preventing the re-establishment of perennials, resulting in a loss of flowering plants. Numerous woody species monopolized much of the area including Bayberry, Groundsel Bush, Multiflora Rose and Bush Honeysuckle and most had Porcelainberry vine growing over them. It was evident that without intervention the whole meadow would eventually be lost.

The removal of encroaching woody vegetation took several years to complete with the help of volunteers like the Friends of Pelham Bay Park and New York Cares. By early 2013 it was possible to begin a management regime of annual winter mowing. The mowing is scheduled appropriately – all the late-season plants have gone to seed and the ground is frozen to decrease the amount of disturbance. Mowing prevents the re-establishment of shrubs and trees and helps conserve the structure, balance and diversity of the park’s meadows. It will be very interesting to see what species of plants return or appear each year now that we have taken on this natural areas management practice. Who knows, perhaps lilies or even orchids might be found blooming here in the future.

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