Prairie Seeding Procedures
Hand Broadcasting | Mechanical Seeding | Mulching & Watering
PLEASE NOTE: Many traditional seeders are not appropriate for seeding prairies. Flower seed will flow through too rapidly and many “large light” native grass seeds will cause clogging.
Hand Broadcasting: Seed can be sown by hand broadcasting on small areas. Broadcast seeding a prairie is very similar to planting a lawn. Prairie seed should be mixed into a larger volume of a lightweight, inert material such as sawdust, peat moss, or vermiculite. This inert matter should be slightly damp, so that the seed will stick to it. Use one to two bushel baskets of inert material per 1,000 square foot planting, for a tenth acre planting (4,400 square feet), use four to eight bushel baskets of inert material. The more seed is diluted, the better the seed will be distributed.
Hand broadcasting seed
- Start with a freshly-tilled seed bed free of rocks or soil clumps greater than two inches in diameter. (If seeding in fall, please see the special fall planting tip below.) Do not plant in wet soils, especially heavy clay soils. Please wait until the soil is workable before planting.
- Mix all seed (including the nurse crop) with slightly dampened sawdust or vermiculite (approximately two bushel baskets of sawdust per 1000 square feet, or one pickup truck per acre).
- Divide the seed mixture into two equal groups.
- Hand broadcast one half of the seed evenly over the entire site.
- Hand broadcast the second half of the seed over the site, walking perpendicular to the direction walked when seeding the first half. This ensures even seed distribution.
- Cover the seed lightly, with one-fourth to one-half inch of soil with a rake or drag.
- Roll the site with a roller, or drive across it with a truck or tractor tires to firm the seed into the soil. Do not roll the site if the soil is wet. Wait until the soil is dry to avoid soil compaction.
- Mulch the designated planting area with approximately 1 inch of weed free straw such as winter wheat or marsh hay. The mulch will help to control erosion on steep slopes and keep sand or clay soils moist during the germination period. If working on steep slopes, cover the mulched area with a photo-degradable plastic mesh with a one half inch openings to allow for un-impeded wildflower seedling development. Secure the mesh with staples placed at one to two foot intervals.
Mechanical Seeding a Prairie
For larger areas, mechanical planters can be used. No-till drills that can successfully plant prairie grasses and flowers include the Truax drill, Tye drill and John Deere Rangeland drill, which plant the seed in rows by opening slits in the soil into which the seed falls. These no-till drills cause minimal soil disturbance, and do not require that the soil be worked up for planting. This typically results in less weed seed germination.
If you are working up the soil prior to seeding, you can use a properly outfitted “double seed box” Brillion seeder. This has two separate seed boxes, one for grasses and one for flowers. The Brillion seeder broadcasts seed rather than drilling it, creating a more natural effect. The Brillion seeder requires a worked-up seedbed with loose surface soil. The heavy cast iron rollers firm the seed into the soil, so that additional rolling is not necessary. Make two or three passes with the Brillion when seeding light sandy soils. This firms the soil and favors increased germination. Never mix prairie seed with inert materials when using mechanical seeders.
Most wildflower and prairie grass seeds require firm seed-to-soil contact to promote good germination and survival. Rolling the seeded area after planting is very important to success, especially on light, sandy soils. This procedure firms the soil around the seed and reduces moisture loss during the germination period. Hydro-seeding is not recommended for wildflower and prairie grass seedings.
Special Fall Planting Tip: This technique works only on sites that have had all weeds eliminated by spraying, smothering, or cultivating. If all of the vegetation is completely dead by autumn, prairie seed can be hand broadcast or machine planted on top of the soil in late fall with no soil tillage. The seed will work its way down into the soil as the soil freezes and thaws throughout the winter.
Most native wildflower seed germinates better after exposure to a period of cold temperature, called stratification. This is a natural protective mechanism that prevents the seed from germinating at the wrong time of year. For more information on seed propagation order the Prairie Propagation Handbook online at: www.prairienursery.com.
Mulching: A covering of 1-2 inches of weed-free straw or marsh hay after seeding helps hold moisture and increases germination. This is particularly important on dry sandy soils and heavy clay soils. Straw should completely cover the soil surface. Chopping and blowing the straw onto the area is best, as it is less susceptible to being blown away. On steep slopes and windy sites, hold the straw in place by staking down a jute or plastic mesh netting over it, or apply a light erosion blanket instead of straw. Never use field hay, as it invariably contains innumerable weed seeds. In swales and ditches, a “high velocity” erosion blanket may be required. Use erosion blankets that contain weed-free straw, or excelsior mulch material. (Mulches or erosion blankets do not need to be removed).
Watering: Water spring and summer seedings regularly during the first 6-8 weeks after planting for higher germination and seedling survival. Water just enough to keep the soil moist, every other day for 15 minutes to half an hour. Over-watering can drown seedlings, especially on heavy clay soils. Water in the early morning, as watering during the day can be ineffective and wasteful.
After eight weeks, water only if it does not rain for one week. Afternoon and evening watering encourages seedling loss by fungal attack.
Nurse Crops: Nurse crops, such as annual rye and oats, can be planted with the prairie seed to stabilize the soil and reduce weed growth. When planted at the recommended rates, these annuals grow rapidly without competing with the wildflowers and grasses. Nurse crops occupy the ecological niche that would otherwise be taken by annual weeds, thus reducing weed growth. Nurse crops generally do not reseed themselves.
|Selected Nurse Crops Seeding Rates
Warning! Never use winter wheat, winter rye, or perennial rye as a nurse crop. Studies have shown that wheat and rye produce chemicals in their roots that can suppress germination of other plants. Perennial rye is a fast growing cool season rye that can outcompete your prairie seedlings, and should never be used as a nurse crop.
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