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meadowCape May Garden Journal: Blazing Meadow

By Jane Kashlak
Garden Columnist
March 6, 2005 -

Cape May gardeners Ro and Larry Wilson have a spring gardening ritual they've been observing for 8 years - they watch their wildflower meadow go up in flames.

New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection Fire Service does the actual igniting, setting the meadow on fire in a carefully controlled blaze.

In a half hour, a winter's worth of dried grasses and sticks, weeds and brush is gone, replaced by dark, ash-enriched soil ready for a new round of meadow flowers.

It's one way to deal with the nagging problem of encroaching grasses and upstart seedlings that threaten to strangle or shade out wildflowers.

The perennial meadow flowers like goldenrod and Joe Pye Weed make it through the annual March burning just fine. Their roots are deep below the soil surface and the plants are still dormant, unlike those nasty grasses which stay green for much of the winter in Cape May.

After the fire fighters burn the meadow, section by section, they make sure there are no hot spots that could ignite later.

Only the state's fire service can conduct such burns. The Wilsons apply to the State of New Jersey for a permit every winter.

(Don't even think of doing it on your own - you'll be breaking the law and endangering yourself and others.)

After the smoke clears, the meadow's ready for new flowers and a whole new round of butterflies.

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