Managing an orchard floor as a wildflower / hay meadow

Blog home
Posted Jul 15 2018 by Laurence Green of Orchard Origins
A wildflower meadow in an orchard

With careful management the orchard floor can become a thriving wildflower meadow, a habitat which is not only good for the wildlife, but also good for the soul. 

Traditional orchard meadow is an important refuge for many species of birds, bees, bats and butterflies as well as the perennial wildflowers on which they depend.  A popular and effective way to support biodiversity in your orchard is to manage the sward as hay meadow.

Hay making developed as a means of providing a nutritious food source for stock over the winter.  The value to wildlife is just a happy by-product of a traditional farming practice.

An orchard meadow should be cut once a year – normally in July – when it is at its richest and contains the most carbohydrate and protein.  This depletes nutrients from the soil.  Since grasses struggle to dominate in poorer soils, the abundance of wildflowers and herbs increases.

Allowing animals to graze after the hay has been cut further depletes the soil and their hooves introduce seed very effectively.

This soil depletion will not harm the trees on the more vigorous rootstocks, as in a healthy orchard they have symbiotic fungal associations that deliver the essential minerals they need.

If your orchard could benefit from an introduction of native wildflowers, we recommend strewing sweet hay as an effective and natural method.  Our friends at Gwent Wildlife Trust have small bales of sweet meadow hay for sale.

Pentwyn Farm has small hay bales for sale at £3.50. This hay is from the wildflower -rich meadows at Pentwyn Farm that have survived virtually unchanged for centuries.

It is one of the largest areas of flower-rich grassland  remaining in Gwent. It’s packed full of wildflower seeds and would be really useful as wildflower seed source if you are looking to increase the botanical diversity of your field.

In addition, wildflower-rich hay has been shown to be of great value to stock that eat it because of the nutrient content which results from the wide diversity of wildflowers and grasses that it is made up from. To get your bales contact [email protected].