In the autumn tidy up, long grass and meadow areas should be trimmed over the next few weeks. Our gently rustling carpets of grass with a stunning palate of flowers have become a straggly eyesore. So scything or strimming keeps these wilder areas in better shape for next year. More importantly, we should avoid damaging our meadow residents when doing this. Our meadows, after all, have become home to many thousands of creatures.

But scything or strimming and then removing the vegetation suits the flowers and grasses. As a general rule, wild flowers thrive in low nutrient soil and raking prevents the felled plant debris from enriching the ground.

Early autumn is the best time for clearing. Birds have finished nesting and insects, like bumblebees, have done their work. The queens have flown the nest but haven’t started hibernating. Seed from flowers and grasses has ripened and fallen.

This approach applies to a large meadow or an uncut part of the lawn. I’m lucky enough to have quite extensive meadow ground. And in a demonstration garden in a plant nursery I’ve also shown the benefits of simply leaving part of a lawn uncut. A lot of visitors liked the idea.

When tackling the cut back, a traditional scythe is undoubtedly the best tool. But you do need to know what you’re doing and Youtube videos, though often good, do always make things look easier than they sometimes are. Demonstrators always perform in optimum conditions with perfectly shaped and balanced tools designed for the user. To avoid back and elbow damage it’s probably best to do a course, so the tutor can see what you’re doing and show how to correct mistakes.

Whether you scythe or strim, choose dry conditions if possible, as it’s easier to cut through the vegetation, removing a swathe roughly twice the swing of the tool. This way, any disturbed mammals can escape in one of two directions. And if there’s a slope move uphill.

Cut no lower than 5-7cm to avoid disturbing any sheltering invertebrates. I can always tell I’ve succeeded, as my ducks immediately fall upon freshly strimmed ground to feast on any wee insects and cocoons. You can’t win, can you?

This annual strim helps foster our preferred plants in several ways. It reduces, but doesn’t entirely eliminate a build up of thatch which acts as a mulch that gives seed little bare ground to germinate.

Its easy to get carried away felling vegetation but it’s a fair hassle carting off seemingly endless barrowloads of compostables. So don’t strim more than you can remove at one time

These compostables would feed the soil, making it harder for wild flowers to thrive. They would be replaced by greedy, nutrient-hungry nettles and docks which would quickly choke out the more diffident plants. Toughie dominance is all too obvious in the bank below my kitchen garden, where there’s inevitably some nutrient run-off. I’m engaged in a thankless war against nettles if I’ve to give choicer goodies a chance.

This meadow clearing does provide a valuable source of compostables. It contains a fine mix of green sappy and brown stalky material so is genuinely ‘oven ready’ for the compost heap.

Inevitably some woody stalks may be long and slow to break down so, if dry, they could be shredded. Alternatively, when strimming, gradually reduce stalk length by taking 2 or 3 swings at vegetation rather than felling in one go.

If you’re concerned about the waste containing too many seeds, process it through a hotbin which works at a high enough temperature to kill seed. Otherwise mix in fresh grass clippings as they too inject heat to the pile.

Plant of the week

Dahlia ‘Bishop of York’ has warm yellow flowers with a hint of orange. They are especially attractive to bumble bees with a generous central boss of stamens.