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Yellow rattle, commonly known as the meadow maker, is one of the most important plants you need for a meadow. Without it, vigorous grasses can grow unchecked and smother flowers you want to encourage.

As Yellow Rattle Rhinanthus minor grows in a meadow the grass will become thinner, making room for plants like Oxeye Daisy, Knapweeds and Vetches to appear. And if you’re lucky, maybe even an orchid will pop up.

Yellow rattle close up

The life cycle (a year) of Yellow Rattle:

  • The seeds germinate in early spring and grow quickly
  • As the roots develop, it seeks out the roots of plants growing nearby, especially grasses
  • Once it makes contact, Yellow Rattle draws water and nutrients from the nearby plants
  • This leaves space for flowers to grow

Then large bees, especially bumblebees, move in and pollinate the flowers of yellow rattle and it’s large seed pods dry and ripen. This leaves the seeds rattling around inside. Farmers used to use the sound of the rattling seeds as their cue to cut the hay – hence the name.

How to grow Yellow Rattle?

Yellow Rattle is a very useful starting plant when making a wildflower meadow, but it can be a little tricky to establish. Here are some top tips to get you started:

1. Getting some seed

  • Yellow Rattle seeds are very short lived so they must be sown as fresh as possible and ideally will have been harvested in the most recent summer
  • You can pop over to the Plantlife shop to buy some
  • Or even better, if you know somewhere locally with Yellow Rattle, then ask if you can collect some seed
  • Seeds are collected by picking the stems (on a dry day) and shaking them into a paper bag
  • The seeds must be collected between June and August – once ripe they will begin to fall to the ground so there’s only a short window of opportunity! Ripeness is dependent on the summer weather and is likely to be soonest in the warmest parts of the country such as the south east.

     

2. Planting the seed

  • Firstly, you must prepare the area – cut the grass as short as you can between July and September and remove the clippings
  • There may be a layer of dead grass, which should be removed by raking through the area with a soil rake, to expose some bare soil throughout – this is crucial so the seed can reach the surface of the soil, and won’t be choked as a seedling
  • The seeds can then be sown by hand by scattering
  • This needs to be done by November at the latest, because the seeds need about 4 months below 5C to germinate in the spring

3. Watch it grow

  • Seedlings will start to appear in the spring, from as early as late February. But there is no need to worry if only a few plants germinate in the first year as they will shed seed and numbers should rapidly increase
  • The wildflower meadow should be cut once the Yellow Rattle has shed its seed – between July and August. Cutting times will vary depending on where you live and the seasons
  • In a garden, cutting the grass and removing the clippings once or twice before December ensures Yellow Rattle has the space to germinate and grow by February

If you have very fertile soil, it might be trickier to grow Yellow Rattle. Poor and infertile soils are best and following the steps above will help reduce the fertility of your soil over time.

FAQ

  • 1. When should I sow Yellow Rattle?

    Late summer (August-September) is the best time to sow Yellow Rattle. It will not grow successfully if sown in the spring. The seeds can be sown no later than November because they need about 4 months below 5C to germinate in the spring.

  • 2. How do I collect my own Yellow Rattle seed?

    Yellow Rattle is easy to collect by hand. Simply hold a paper bag under the ripe seed pod and shake it gently with your fingers. Collecting larger quantities can easily be done using a vacuum or leaf blower.

    WATCH: Plantlife’s Sarah Shuttleworth collects Yellow Rattle with a vacuum. 

  • 3. Why has Yellow Rattle disappeared from my meadow?

    There are a number of reasons why Yellow Rattle may disappear from a meadow, including:

    • Cutting before the rattle has set seed
    • Leaving the cuttings on the meadow
    • Grazing in early spring when the seedlings are out and vulnerable
    • The meadow is too fertile
    • Grass is out-competing the Yellow Rattle
  • 4. How much Yellow Rattle should I sow?

    For meadows, we recommend 0.5-2.5kg per hectare/10-20g per m2 if you are collecting your own seed.

  • 5. Why hasn’t my Yellow Rattle geminated?

    There are several possible reasons:

    • The seeds were more than a year old (we advise buying from a reputable supplier).
    • Not enough bare ground was created before sowing. It is best to create at least 50% bare ground.
    • The meadow was too fertile and the grasses out competed the rattle.
    • Rattle was sown at the wrong time of year (sowing in the late summer is best). If sown in the spring it should have been stored damp mixed with sand at 4C for 6 –12 weeks.
    • The grass was too long in the early spring, when the rattle germinates. Cutting the meadow in February and removing the clippings can help. This gives the rattle seedlings a better head-start when competing for light with the surrounding grasses.

     

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