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Planting Prairie

The following sections provide general information on the various activities involved with preparing, planting, and maintaining a newly established tallgrass prairie. Many of the maintenance activities required to restore a prairie are similar to those used for managing an existing prairie, so read the page on Prairie Maintenance for additional information. Your county Conservation District agent may also be helpful.

Site Preparation
Prior to seeding, but after the completion of site grading, the prairie re-establishment site must be prepared to provide the proper seed bed for native seed. Site preparation involves light tilling of bare ground, followed by compacting to firm up the soil. If at all possible, a minimum of six inches of topsoil is preferred in order to establish a good stand of native prairie. On vegetated ground, herbiciding can remove weeds and turf, followed by light tilling or no-till seeding.

Seeding is often conducted in the early spring (as soon as the soil is free of frost and is in workable condition but no later than June 15) or as a late fall dormant seeding (after December 15). Seeds should be native to Northeastern Kansas and obtained from within a 100-mile radius of the project site.

Seeding Methods
Depending on the size and configuration of your prairie re-establishment site, your prairie seed can be hand broadcast or drilled into the site. Sites on steep terrain, with odd configurations, or that cover less than a half acre, are typically hand broadcast. On other types of sites, seed can be installed with a no-till drill such as the Truax or equivalent to limit soil disturbance. The Truax-type seed drill accurately meters the seed types and mixes all seeds uniformly during seeding.

Broadcast Method
After broadcast seeding, incorporate seed into soil with light raking or harrowing. Seeded areas should then be rolled or dragged perpendicular to the slope to work in the seeds. The application of weed-free mulch will improve establishment success by keeping moisture in the soil. On sloping ground, erosion matting can be installed on top of the mulch to limit erosion and keep seed in place. Watering of your small prairie planting is advisable if no rain has been received within 10 days of seeding. To add color and diversity to your prairie, wildflower drift areas can be established by broadcasting additional seeds of selected species, such as pale purple coneflower, wild bergamot, and black-eyed susan.

Seed Mixes
Seed mixes and species proportions for prairies will vary depending on the conditions of your land, the purpose of your restoration, plant species aggressiveness, seed costs, and habitat type (dry, mesic, wet mesic, or wet prairies). Seed mixes may vary greatly from having the 4 dominant grasses (big and little bluestem, switch grass, and Indian grass) and 4 common wildflowers or forbs (e.g., black-eyed Susan, wild bergamot, Illinois bundle flower, and gray-headed coneflower) to 6 grasses (add Canada wild rye and side-oats grama) with 10 to 12 forbs or more (pick your favorites). Typically, 6 to 8 pounds of grasses and sedges and 2 pounds of forbs are applied per acre. However, for quicker establishment or a showier site, seed mixes can be adjusted to a higher poundage such as 10 to 15 pounds of grasses and forbs. Often an annual cover crop (e.g., annual rye, oats, or sterile wheat) is included in the mix to help suppress weedy vegetation as the prairie becomes established.

Herbaceous Live Plants
Live prairie plants can be installed in your prairie planting to improve aesthetics, add color, and improve establishment. The number and type of plants installed will vary depending on the type of project, site conditions, and the purpose of the planting. Typically, wildflowers are planted, and only in portions of your site in areas where seeding is less effective such as steep slopes, stream banks, and shorelines of lakes and ponds. Live herbaceous perennial plants can be clustered into groups of 10-20 individuals of randomly mixed species. Recommended plantings are on 1- to 2- foot centers when using deep cell plugs. Installation of live plants or plugs can be completed after May 15, after the last possible freeze, but no later than July 15, when precipitation drops off and temperatures are higher. Live plants should be native to Northeastern Kansas and obtained from within a 100-mile radius of the project site. All live plants should be protected from desiccation, and should be installed as quickly as possible.

Herbicide application, mowing and burning can be important maintenance methods for newly-established prairies. See Prairie Maintenance for more information.

Herbicide Application
Application of herbicide can be used to prepare vegetated ground prior to planting as well as to control weedy growth during the first few years of establishment, and to control woody resprouts and weedy vegetation that appear in between mowing and prescribed burns. Herbicide treatments often are required twice yearly for the first two years after installation.

Mowing is another important tool in the establishment of native grassland, especially in the first few years after seeding. It controls weedy growth and the cover crop to allow for the establishment and continued growth of seeded species in native grassland areas.

Planned burning or prescribed burning is an indispensable tool to maintain and restore native grasslands. Fire controls woody growth, either new seedlings or existing vegetation, while stimulating the growth of grasses and forbs (wildflowers) in native grassland or wetlands.

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