Establish Prairie from Seed
We will outline several key steps that should be followed to maximize success of native prairie establishment. Read through all the directions completely before implementing any one part.
Caring for Native Seed
Keep the seed in a cool, dry, site until planting time. A dry basement or garage will work just fine. Make sure the seed is protected from rodents. If cold stratification is desired you will need to mix the seed together with an equal part of sterile sand, sawdust, vermiculite and then wet the mixture until it is very damp but not dripping wet. Store this damp mixture at 30-38 degrees F for 15 to 120 days, checking periodically for mold. If it starts to mold store it colder or dry it down and plant it immediately.
Because of their slow growth, native plants struggle when they are young plants competing with weeds. Weeds are non-native plants that were brought over from Europe, Asia or other regions. They are now growing nearly everywhere, spreading aggressively, competing with natives and causing problems. Examples of weeds include quack grass, lambs quarter, pig weed, dandelion, wild parsnip, Canada thistles, some mustards, reed canary grass, plus hundreds of others. Removing weeds before you plant is essential to a successful native planting. Below are listed several common methods to reduce the weed
- Use a vegetation killing herbicide (Roundup®) at least two times
- Cover the area with black plastic, cardboard, or mulch for one growing season
- Rototill the area at least every month for at least one entire growing season
- A combination of the listed methods
Planting Native Seed
Plant your seed mix either before June 15th or after October 15th for the best results. Soil seed contact is necessary for seeds to germinate; either rototill the soil well or use a special drill for no-till seeding. For best results incorporate soil amendments (lime, fertilizer, organic matter) before planting. If possible, after planting, mulching and watering may help depending on the time of year and the size of the plot. If watering, do it consistently until germination is complete (usually less than 3 weeks). Soil-seed contact is critical however; do not plant the seed any deeper than inch or it will not survive!
Mixing the Native Seed
Agrecol can premix the seeds for you. We can mix all the seed together for a broadcast application or we can mix small and fluffy seed separately for drill seeding. You may also choose to mix the seed yourself. The seed will arrive in several separate bags, along with filler or cover crop (if ordered). At this stage all the seeds can be mixed together for hand broadcast applications. For hand-broadcast of the seed you will need to mix the seed together with sterile sand, sawdust, cracked corn, vermiculite, or other similar type of filler material in a sterile pail or garbage can. You will want to mix your seed thoroughly with at least an equal ratio of one or more of the above sterile medias. In many cases additional media can be added to achieve a more even distribution by mixing the seed with enough media to equal a bulk media and seed mix at a rate of 1 to 5 gallons of dry measure for every thousand square feet to be seeded area. Take time to ensure that your seed is mixed thoroughly throughout the media and mix often during the seeding process to insure the heavier seeds do not settle out.
It is best to break the mix into several equal portions according to your division of the site and spread one portion at a time, looking at how fast you are spreading verses how much area you have covered, adjusting your planting rate such that you will run out at the end of your planting area. During planting always spread the seed conservatively, and use the remaining seed by planting it in the opposite direction. It is much better to run back and plant the extra than to run out before you are done!
Caring for your Planting
To care for your native planting, consider methods to control weeds after you have planted. The methods are dependent on the size of your site. Larger sites will require several key mowings the first two years. Mow at 6-12 in height just as the weeds flower or when they exceed three feet in height. Mowing too often or too short can be hard on the prairie plants. Mowing too often also trains the weeds to grow short and bushy even worse for your native plants. After two growing seasons, burning the planting will also help control weeds. Burn as late in the spring as you can for maximum destruction of weeds (late April). Smaller plantings can use a power sting trimmer, hand clipping of perennial weeds and seed heads. Alternatively, you may monitor the area to hand weed or spot spray weeds as needed. In the fall or spring, it is good to either cut back or burn the dead vegetation. Most times this is best done in the spring to preserve winter nesting. This will help the perennials come back faster and stronger in the spring!