Establishing a Prairie Meadow

Asked July 2, 2019, 6:35 PM EDT

I live in Sussex County, DE in a community with an HOA. We have a series of 3 ponds that have become a goose problem. To solve this, the HOA has stopped mowing the sod (tall fescue grass) in a 20-30 foot perimeter around the ponds with the expectation that this area will become a Prairie Meadow with wildflowers.
1. Will this method work?
2. How long might this take to look like something other than an unmowed field?
3. Shouldn't the area be cleared of existing sod, raked out to remove any vegetation and then planted with wildflower seeds native to this area?
4. Will this prairie meadow deter the geese from the area or is there a better solution?

Sussex County Delaware

4 Responses

Hi. Thank you for your question. It is great to hear that you have a buffer around the pond. Eventually you may see some perennials in the unmowed area. It will definitely take a while. We see white heath aster, goldenrod and Joe pyeweed emerge in these areas. If you are looking for a colorful wildflower meadow, this is something you would want to seed into the area. If you would like access to the pond, I suggest you mow a path. The geese do not like to land in or walk through tall grass/meadow. It is not a 100% control method but the number of geese should drop considerably. The other goose control methods available are mono-filament exclusion and chemical application to turf grass that golf courses use to deter the presence of geese. I don't think these two methods are needed if the HOA allows the buffer meadow to establish. I did not like using these methods as part of our management plans, but they work as a last resort. If they wish to have an access point to the pond, the geese will most assuredly use that as an access point as well so they may want to use the repellent on this area or install a fake predator near the entrance. I have seen geese ignore the predators at times, but other times they work well. I would suggest mowing a path to see what happens. If it does not work out, you can always let the grass grow taller in the previous pathway.

Information on meadows is available in our Livable Delaware Series of publications - . Take a look at the livable plants for the home landscape and the livable ecosystems. Sue Barton’s blog on meadows may also be helpful -
Good luck,

Thank you for your great response I do have a few questions one you say that it will definitely take a while for a meadow to establish how long would you think it would be for it to become a nice Meadow without taking up the original side first and then planting wildflower seeds. Also spreading with wildflower seeds in the area in existing grass later
in the fall will work as well

Hi. Multiple years to transitions, my guess is 3-5 Of course, each person's view of a nice meadow may differ. If you are limited on time and money, maybe establish the wildflowers near the path to the pond.

You can't just throw seed out into existing grass - you have to have good soil to seed contact for them to germinate.

More Meadows

The trend is growing. Longwood Gardens has a meadow. Mt Cuba Center has a meadow. Winterthur has several meadows. Isn’t it time YOU manage a meadow too? As people become concerned about pollinators and bee decline or just want to see more songbirds in their gardens, they are turning to landscaping with native plants and one of the cheapest and easiest ways to get more native plants in your landscape is to manage a meadow. Dr. Doug Tallamy, professor of Entomology in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at UD and author of bestseller, Bringing Nature Home, was the keynote speaker at the recent American Society of Horticultural Sciences meeting in Atlanta Georgia earlier this month. He spoke about the role native plants play in supporting native insects and more importantly life as we know it. His talk was the buzz of the meeting (no pun intended).

I just met with a couple who live in Middletown, DE on about 5 acres. They are tired of cutting grass and managing a lawn plagued by crabgrass. Instead, they plan to focus on maintaining a small healthy lawn right around the house where they want to entertain and play sports. The rest of the property is destined for meadow and maybe ultimately a forest. They started last week manipulating hoses to get the mow lines for the meadow just right. Then, they plan to kill the existing turf with glyphosate (sold as Round Up or other generic products). They will core cultivate to open up holes in the soil and improve seed/soil contact when they seed. They may use the sawdust method, which involves mixing meadow seed with sawdust and spreading a one-inch layer over the entire site. The sawdust provides a good germination medium for the seed and prevents light from reaching crabgrass and foxtail seed reducing their germination and encroachment into the new meadow. The best time to seed a meadow is late spring, but now is a great time to start deciding where your meadow will go. Just stop mowing the sections of your lawn that you want to turn into meadow and see how it looks. You will get a sense of the shape and feel of the meadow, before it is time to seed next spring. The gardens I mentioned earlier do a great job of using cues of care to indicate meadow management. Mow edges around your meadow and mow curving paths through the meadow. You can add artwork to the meadow or plant native perennials at key intersections or edges.

I have a bee-keeper friend who is taking the simpler route to meadow establishment. He simply stopped mowing his lawn. He is still mowing a circular area off the back patio, but the rest of the backyard is starting to grow tall and will hopefully provide nectar for his bees in a year or so. He needs to apply those same cues of care, by mowing a path from the end of the driveway to the mowed section. The clean crisp line between mowed grass and meadow is critical. It will take a bit longer to establish a native plant meadow with this method, but eventually native warm season grasses and perennials, like common milkweed, will grow. A middle-of-the-road strategy to jump start the meadow is to open up the soil and plant pockets of native grasses and perennials, either from seed or plugs into the now tall lawn. These plants will eventually produce seed and spread into the surrounding meadow. You can’t just throw seeds onto an existing lawn, though and expect them to germinate. Only seed that stays moist and is in contact with the soil will grow.

To manage a meadow, plan to mow once a year in early spring, and possibly again in late June. This will keep woody plants from taking over the meadow and still allow the native plants to flower. Jump on the meadow bandwagon; do your part to encourage wildlife; and help provide the ecosystem services we need right in your own home landscape!

Feel free to email with specific questions -

If you would like to see different see mixes in bloom, feel free to visit our Demonstration Garden at Carvel Research & Education Center 16483 County Seat Highway, Georgetown, DE 19947. The garden is open 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. We ask visitors to stop in the office to let us know you are visiting. Master Gardeners are usually working in the garden on Tuesday mornings 8:30-11 a.m. if you have questions. The meadow plots are labeled.