Planting Yellow Rattle in the Orchard - September 2011

Report from Nick Gray, BCOG Biodiversity Adviser
yellow rattle copy

On Sunday 10th September, a strong-armed crew of volunteers raked patches of the sward in a chosen area of the Orchard and strewed yellow rattle seed. Recent soil tests in the Orchard have revealed marvellously high fertility. This means that establishing wild flowers in the grassland will be difficult as they will be comprehensively out-competed by aggressive ‘coarse’ grasses which utilise phosphorous in the soil much more readily than flowers like knapweed and scabious. However, yellow rattle or ‘hay rattle’, is parasitic on coarse grasses.

If we’re lucky with vernalisation (a nice cold winter to awaken the seed from dormancy) and we can optimise germination by making sure the grass is nice and short at the end of March, yellow rattle will grow in our sward and suppress the aggressive grasses by parasitising their roots. Ultimately this will create space for other wild flowers leading to a more herb-rich sward, a diverse array of pollen and nectar sources and more wildlife in the Orchard!

So the seed is now resting on the bare earth that we all raked up, we’ll keep our fingers crossed for a frosty winter (!), make sure the grass is nice and short at the end of March next year and be looking out for the little rattle seedlings in April – exciting times!