Managing the Oldfield Meadow
September 19, 2014
Photo by David Copps: Lopsided Indian Grass in an Oldfield Meadow.
By David Copps
Located between Tallahassee and Thomasville, Georgia is the heart of a very special place known as the Red Hills region. For more than a century these 300,000 acres of private hunting lands, owned by some of the most prominent families in America, have been carefully managed to provide high quality hunting opportunities, particularly for the bobwhite quail. The resulting landscape of upland pine forests interspersed with a patchwork of oldfields supports a rich groundcover of wildflowers and native grasses. These conditions provide refuge for quail and an abundance of other wildlife as well. Open-country songbirds including bluebirds, indigo buntings, and Bachman’s sparrows thrive in this habitat as do rare and endangered species such as gopher tortoises, Sherman’s fox squirrels and red-cockaded woodpeckers.
The beautiful and biologically productive oldfields and pine savannas of the Red Hills serve as an important landscape design and management model for conservation-minded property owners seeking sensible alternatives to large expanses of high-maintenance turf grass lawn. Oldfield meadows enhance the landscape with forms, colors and textures of foliage and flowers that change throughout the year. The activities of the songbirds and butterflies that are attracted to this habitat enliven the meadow and add to its appeal. Spring is dominated by an array of wildflowers including black-eyed Susan, coreopsis, white indigo, coral bean, butterfly weed and downy phlox. In the summer the native grasses such as bluestems, Indian grass, love grass, switch grass, and purple-top begin to make a show. By October their flowering stalks are thrust high above the leaves that have taken on beautiful shades of russet, tan and gold. The grasses support the tall, lanky fall blooming wildflowers including narrow-leaf sunflower, blazing star and goldenrod. The seed stalks of both grasses and wildflowers last through the winter providing a much needed food source for over-wintering songbirds.
Oldfield meadows generally require mowing every one to three years to prevent the establishment of trees and shrubs. Late winter or early spring is a good time to cut as this provides opportunities for the lower, spring-blooming wildflowers to grow in advance of the taller, warm-season grasses and wildflowers. If possible, divide the meadow into three zones and cut on a rotation with each zone being cut once every three years. In this way, there will be three different meadows – one three years old, one two years old and the newly cut meadow of the year. This type of management provides continuous food and cover for meadow-loving wildlife through the year.
If you care to see how this looks, simply go to the Alford Arm greenway where the Leon County Parks and Recreation regularly uses this three zone rotation to inexpensively keep former agricultural fields open and productive for wildlife.
With all of the benefits, in terms of beauty, wildlife, energy savings and recreation, the oldfield meadow is a landscape feature whose time has come. Property owners that provide this type of habitat will be rewarded with a bounty of nature and the satisfaction of participating in the long tradition of Red Hills wildlife conservation and ecological land management.
David Copps is a certified arborist, conservation landscape designer and volunteer writer for Leon County UF/IFAS Extension. For gardening questions, email us at email@example.com
Learn more tips to attract wildlife to your yard by watching David Copps, Landscape Designer and Certified Arborist talk with Stan Rosenthal, UF/Leon County Extension Forester on WFSU’s TV show Dimensions. Just go to the link below.