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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.


  • 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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Wildflower meadow landscape with a variety of species near Cardiff, Wales

How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow

Whether it’s your back garden, local park, community field or lawn, wildflower meadows are amazing spaces with so much to offer.

Creating a meadow is a really simple way to bring the local community together, whilst doing something positive for nature.

You don’t need to be an expert to start one – we’ve shared our tips for how to begin, what to plant, how to manage your green space year-round and how to engage the community.

So, what are community meadows? They are areas, predominantly of grassland, that are owned and managed by the community, such as parks, road verges, school grounds, village greens, church land or fields.

A meadow with Oxeye daisies, lush green grass and woodlands in the background

Why should you start a community meadow?

  • For the benefit of nature
  • To create an ecosystem where wildlife can flourish
  • Bring the community together
  • To bring nature into towns and cities
  • Help tackle biodiversity loss and store carbon

Read more: How to grow a wildflower meadow

Getting started

Now you’ve decided to try and start a community meadow, it’s hard to know where to begin. We’ve got plenty of experience and advice to help you along the way.

Contact your local council – Whether it’s parish, town or district council, reaching out to your local decision makers to promote wildlife-friendly management can make a big difference. Local support can really help to bring about change, whether that’s through a volunteer group or social media page. Check out our Good Meadows Guide for some convincing arguments.

Positive perceptions – Some people might be concerned that not cutting a greenspace as regularly might make it look neglected and untidy. But, framing a greenspace by cutting narrow strips around the wildflower area can offset some negative perceptions. Other concerns about plant height for road safety can be tackled by growing shorter species, which can still support an array of pollinators such as clovers, trefoils, Selfheal and Yarrow.

Communicating at every step – Telling people what and why you are creating a meadow is crucial for understanding. By bringing the community with you and working together, it will be easier to explain the benefits of meadow making. You could write something in the local magazine, talk about your meadow-making journey on social media or put up a sign.

Community activities – Bringing the community together to help create a meadow can be very beneficial. You can run activities, join campaigns or hold events to gather momentum.

  • Plantlife’s No Mow May is a great starting point to encourage the community to take part in a community meadow and see the benefits. People without their own gardens can actively get involved in helping wildlife, tackling pollution and even locking carbon beneath the ground. And those with their own green spaces can take their enthusiasm home and do #NoMowMay in their own gardens. Sign up your green space or garden here.


How to fund a community meadow?

If you need some help funding your community meadow, these places might be able to offer support:

  • Charity Commission – A range of charities offer funding for community meadows. You need to complete an advanced search under ‘how the charity helps’.
  • Local Supermarket Community Grants – Most supermarkets support local causes through tax on carrier bags or instore tokens such as Tesco, Asda and Co-op. 
  • Postcode Local Trust – Grants of up to £2,000 for community interest groups and voluntary organisations are up for grabs.
  • Local Community Foundations – They channel funding to local projects and will be able to advise on where to access support.
  • Local Councils – Contacting your local authority and asking them about available funding is definitely worth a shot.
  • Area’s of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and National Parks – If your meadow lies in either of these areas, it’s worth contacting your local organisation to see if there is any funding available.
  • Lottery – Small lottery grants, worth £300-£10,000 are available across the UK.

We hope that this helps you in creating a wonderful community meadow. Do let us know on social media when you have tried these methods and your progress in creating a meadow by tagging us.

Find a meadow group near you:

Are you feeling inspired, but not sure where to start? Aside from Plantlife’s guidance, a great source of  knowledge and personal support can be from meadow groups. A huge variety of groups exist across the country, who manage meadows for hay, livestock or community benefits. These groups could also be good places to start when searching for local seeds or advice.

If you would like to add your community meadow group to our list, please get in touch here.

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Meadows come to life in the spring and summer, bursting with vibrant wildflowers and buzzing with insects and animals. But species-rich grassland areas, which used to occur commonly throughout Britain, are now amongst the most threatened habitats in the UK.

Approximately 97% of wildflower meadows have been lost across the UK since the 1930s. That’s why wildflowers and meadows are not only beautiful staples of the British countryside, but also crucial habitats that need restoring.

Why are meadows so amazing?

  • They are important ecosystems
  • Species-rich grasses can significantly improve carbon storage in the soil
  • They provide a brilliant habitat for bees, butterflies, birds and small mammals
  • Old grasslands can have very diverse fungal networks
  • In fact, 140 plant species can be found in a single meadow

WATCH: Not just a pretty space, this is a living space

So, the more areas that can be turned into wildflower meadows, the better things get for nature.

No matter the size of your land, the process of making a wildflower meadow is pretty much the same. Follow these steps to start your meadow-making journey:

Cut the grass

Before sowing seed, in late summer or autumn, you must cut the grass as short as possible. The cuttings must then be removed because most meadow species thrive in nutrient-poor soil with low fertility levels. Leaving the cuttings on the grass to rot down, both stifles delicate seedlings, and adds nutrients.

This can easily be done using a strimmer or mower and the cuttings removed with a rake.

Tackle any problem plants

It is really important to control any problem plants that could prevent your meadow from thriving. For example, species such as Nettle, Creeping Thistle and Dock can rapidly spread and crowd wildflowers in poorly managed meadows.

To stop this, it is best to pull these plants out by hand, cut their heads before they set seed or spot spray them. Bramble and scrub will also need to be controlled before creating a meadow.

If you have lots of problem plants, it will be easier (if possible) to try and create a meadow on another piece of land.

Create bare ground

Bare ground is simply an area that has no plants living in it. It provides germination gaps and growing space for meadow flowers and grasses. Having about 50-70% of land as bare ground will increase your chances of creating a wildflower meadow.

This can be done by hand with vigorous raking, strimming or using a rented garden scarifier.

Sow seeds

Sprinkle and gently trample in your seeds, which can be mixed with sand for easier spreading. During drier spells, water the ground if possible, but do not wash away the seeds.

Then, over the next few months pull up any Creeping Thistle and Dock or cut the flower heads off and remove before they set seed (these can spread fast and smother wildflowers).

Knowing a bit about your soil can also really help you to choose which seeds to sow. There are many factors that can influence what will grow including the soil type, fertility, location, weather, availability of light and what’s already growing there.

Don’t worry if your meadow looks a bit plain in its first year, many perennials take at least a couple of years to establish.

We hope that these tips help you in creating a wonderful meadow. Do share your meadow-making journey with us on social media by tagging us.

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From bumblebees to birds and moths to mammals – meadows are micro-cities of wildlife. Here's what to spot in your wildflower meadow.

Wildflower meadows, a staple of the British countryside, are a buzz of activity, especially in the spring and summer. It’s not just the wildflowers and fungi that rely on their diverse vegetation, in fact, a range of wildlife can call these habitats home. By growing a meadow, you can also create a home or hunting ground for bees, butterflies, invertebrates, birds, mammals and reptiles.

Here are some of the animals you might spot in a meadow:


A Flower Beetle resting on a large Oxeye Daisy, image by Pip Gray
  • Creating a meadow can really make a buzz and life in the centre can be like rush hour for insects
  • You can see everything, from ants to grasshoppers and huge armies of beetles and bugs
  • For many invertebrates, the stems, roots and leaves of meadow grasses and flowers provide food and shelter
  • The Cockchafer Beetle, commonly known as the May Bug, relies on grassy areas to lay their eggs
  • The common Bird’s-foot-Trefoil alone is a food plant for 130 different species of invertebrates

Our friends at Buglife can tell you more


Buff tailed bumblebee feeding on Knapweed
  • Pollinators, such as bees, commute to meadows every day to feast on nectar and pollen
  • Managing a meadow appropriately will increase the number of wildflowers that it supports, thus increasing the foraging habitat for bumblebees and other foragers
  • Red-tailed Bumblebees, found across the UK, rely on a plentiful supply of wild plants including dandelions and red clovers to supply them with nectar and pollen
  • If you’re in a meadow, look out for bumblebees, burrowing bees, flower bees, carder bees and honeybees
  • There are about 270 species of bee in Britain

Buzz over to the Bumblebee Trust here.

Butterflies and Moths

A butterfly on a blue Scabious Flower
  • Even in a small meadow, wildflowers can be a magnet for butterflies and moths
  • When you’re planting for butterflies it’s good to have a constant procession of flowering plants throughout the summer – something that is in flower for as long as possible – ideally from March to November
  • This means local populations of butterflies and moths will not have to travel too far to find food
  • The Meadow Brown butterfly is one of the most common species found in grasslands
  • While the brightly coloured Cinnabar Moth relies entirely on one of the sunniest wildflowers – the yellow Common Ragwort. The tiger-striped caterpillars munch on the plant before pupating underground over the winter, ready to emerge as moths the next year

Flutter over to Butterfly Conservation for a bit more


  • The many insects that call meadows home also support other wildlife like swallows, skylarks and yellow wagtails
  • Goldfinches and linnets feast on the abundant seed heads
  • While lapwings, curlew and starling search the ground for insects from early autumn to spring

Fly over to the RSPB for a bit more



Brown hare
  • Meadows provide a place for wild animals to forage, breed and nest – and if the grasses are tall enough, they can provide shelter
  • A large number of small mammals can call meadows home – including mice, voles and shrews
  • They also attract birds of prey to meadows, especially owls and kestrels
  • Other mammals you might spot in a meadow include moles, rabbits, hares, badgers and grazing deer
    • And we can’t forget bats – who can be seen in the summer months flying low over grassland

Meander over to the Mammal Society to find out more

Reptiles and Amphibians

  • Allowing lawns or green spaces to develop into meadows can provide a great habitat for amphibians, reptiles and their prey – unlike closely-mown lawns
  • The tall grasses and flowers (vegetation) provide these animals with cover
  • Reptiles and amphibians also prefer native plant species and minimal use of pesticides as they mainly feed on invertebrates, other amphibians and small mammals

Slither over to Amphibian and Reptile Conservation to find out more

In recent years, the public has been alerted by the media to worry about declines in insects, especially bees. As a former bumblebee research scientist, this wasn’t news to me because the range of many bumblebee species contracted significantly in the middle of the last century. There is little doubt that big changes in UK agriculture (and therefore most of our landscape) were responsible. 

To put it very simply, there aren’t as many flowers in the countryside now as there were (for over 1,000 years) So, for us, it was always an ambition to have a little bit of countryside of our own that we could manage for biodiversity, and after my getting early retirement, and Helen being made redundant, we were off like a shot to rural Wales in 2012. 

Yellow Rattle growing in grass

Planting the seed

Our fields had been sheep grazed for as long as anyone locally could remember, and they were still being grazed by a local sheep farmer who rents lots of small fields along the Tywi valley. 

We decided to manage one of ours as a hay meadow. Research has shown that in a new meadow the plant diversity increases more quickly if you introduce Yellow Rattle, which is partly parasitic on grasses and inhibits their growth. So, in 2013 we collected Yellow Rattle seed from a neighbour’s field about a mile away and sowed it in the field. We began excluding the sheep every year from the end of March and by April 2014 the Yellow Rattle was growing well. 

Making hay in Carmarthenshire  

A man drives a red tractor in a meadow

In mid-June 2014 we got the neighbouring farmer to cut and bale the field, but decided that it would be better in future to choose when to cut and so acquired a 1963 tractor and some small-scale haymaking implements. 

I’m not particularly keen to produce a hay crop, but for floral diversity the main thing is to ensure that all the cuttings are removed from the field to reduce the soil fertility; and the easiest way to do this is to cut and bale the hay. All we produce is sold to the farmer whose sheep return after the hay cut when grass regrowth begins. I leave the hay cut as late as possible, to allow more species to drop seeds. 

Which species appeared?

Each year, different species’ dominance rose and fell as the county plant recorder predicted they would.  For a couple of years there was so much Yellow Rattle, but soon it settled down to more of an equilibrium, while other things rose in frequency then settled down. Eyebright appeared after a couple of years, as did Whorled Caraway (the County Flower), and Cat’s Ear. 

A field of buttercups

Some plants (like Meadow Buttercup) were probably there already, but never got to flower because the sheep ate themBroad-leaved Helleborines appeared in 2016, and in 2017, a single Southern Marsh OrchidCommon Spotted and Heath Spotted (with hybrids between them) followed, and each year the orchid numbers have increased, it was up to 50 a couple of years back and well over 100 now. 

The field looks different as different plants come into flower in succession, but it even looks different on the same day in the morning and in the afternoon because the Cat’s Ear flowers close about lunchtime, so the field is much more yellow in the morning. 

Our countryside and wildlife need fields like this one.

Plantlife has done valuable work towards achieving that aim (especially with the recent “Magnificent Meadows” campaign). County Meadows Groups also do their bit to help small landowners to get results like this field, and in the group I chair (Carmarthenshire) we’re also trying to raise the profile of species-rich grasslands generally with the UK wide “Big Meadow Search” (   

There are few people left who can remember when every farm had a hay meadow, but I hope we can succeed in bringing some back.  

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